Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

  • Live From Ward 8

    Always nice to get some reporting from the ground. Adam, tempers some of my enthusiasm for my old home, and notes that this weekend's victory probably has a lot more to do with strategy than with war against homophobia:

    I would say that it's very early to draw too many conclusions from the results in Ward 8. The marriage equality resolution passed in large part because the people who really cared about the issue showed up, and those people were in favor. Thirty-two people can hardly be seen as an accurate representation of views in Ward 8, which has a population of 70,000 people. Polling suggests that in a citywide referendum, supporters of marriage equality would be facing an uphill battle, which is precisely why opponents support a referendum and gay-rights advocates oppose one.

    At the same time, I think polling on the subject has largely overstated the intensity of black opposition to marriage equality in D.C: My theory is that if gay marriage was legalized, no one would care. But if it were put to a vote, the result would be very close. That's because while black people tend to be more opposed to gay marriage, it's not an identity-defining issue in the same way it is for white folks in the religious right. The memory of institutionalized oppression creates doubt where in others there might be religious certainty.

    I think black voters, particularly in D.C., are malleable on this issue. (We did, after all, have domestic partnership laws "before it was cool"). The line that got the most applause during the entire meeting was the Rev. Wiley's declaration that "we would be in serious trouble if, as slaves, our freedom was put to a referendum." But that's just what might happen, and if gay-rights activists drop the ball in reaching out to the black community like they did in California, they'll lose.

    I think this pretty much on the money. It's a winnable fight. And a lose-able one. That said, I'd be shocked if this came up for referendum. Although part of me almost wishes that it would. I really believe we could win it.

    Look at me, talking that we shit. I mean, I like boobs as much as the next guy, so take this with a grain of salt...

  • How We Talk About Abortion

    Our debate yesterday over how pro-choicers talked reminded me of this Fresh Air piece an Ayelet Waldman. From my perspective, whatever the moral problems presented abortion itself, the specter of a ban instituted and enforced by the State, present many more.  But then there's another debate, which we hinted at yesterday--how we talk about abortion. My own pro-choiceness doesn't really procede from the question of whether a zygote is a life, as much as it does from a rejection of utopianism. Still, I was struck by how Waldman talked about her abortion. I don't think it much helps to render a moral judgement here--at least I didn't find it helpful. That said, I think the difference in how Waldman thinks about abortion, and how her mother thought about it are arresting.

  • GOP Previews Its Outreach Strategy To Women




    Seriously, is there anything left to say? I don't know why I'm amazed. The politics of this are obvious--this thuggish, moronic excuse for a political group is eating itself alive. The Ignorance of the Southern Strategy begets the ignorance of this video. But we already knew that.

    I'm here to talk about something else. I was actually shocked to see this. And then I felt stupid for being shocked.  I think this points to something that men just don't think much about: That being, how it feels for your looks to be fair game. I think this is what makes bigotry so tough to fight. It's not about the limits of empathy--it's the limits of imagination
    .
    Women make this point all the time about the pressure of being judged for their looks. And I sorta of nod in that, "Yeah, that's fucked up, I'll take your word for it" sort of way. But the truth is I can't see it. I don't get it. It's like when women describe walking down the street and getting cat-called all the way. Because it never happens when I'm walking with a woman, I don't quite get it. It's not that I don't believe it--it's that I can't imagine it.

    And then one day you see it naked, hateful, right in front of you. It must be akin to being white and seeing the Rodney King video--you'd heard black people say that this sort of thing happens. But to see it...

    Rush Limbaugh attacking Nancy Pelosi's looks is beyond sureal--I can't even think of a good metaphor. It's beyond him giving a lecture on drug abuse. It's more than him giving weight loss tips. It's like watching Martians land, like watching a major party--in this era--hand the mic off to an unrepentant bigot.

    Amazing. Don't they know who the fuck votes? Do they really think Sarah Palin can fix this?

  • Foolish (NSFW)

    If you're offended by strong language, don't read any further.

    James Harrison doesn't want to go to the White House because anyone who wins the Super Bowl gets invited to the White House. The Steelers are special however, and deserve to be invited when they're 1-15. Right.

    This is, to paraphrase  MF Doom, how you talk white and act niggerish. If you don't want to go--don't go. But trying to cover it up with some overly clever explanation that fools no one just makes you look stupider. In other news, Skip Bayless is just as bad.

  • Ezra Has A Blog

    A new one actually. Here's one of his early, and typically smart, posts on food policy and menu labeling:

    The key insight here is that small changes in behavior can have large impacts on outcomes. A Health Impact Assessment (pdf) prepared for the city of Los Angeles estimated that if calorie labeling convinced a mere 10 percent of large-chain patrons to order meals that were merely 100 calories lighter, then menu labeling "would avert 38.9% of the 6.75 million pound average annual weight gain in the county population aged 5 years and older." Get 20 percent to reduce their meals by 75 calories? You've knocked out 58.3 percent of the projected 6.75 million pounds. That's huge.
  • Seattle

    What a gorgeous city. It's weird. I've been so sheltered and unexposed for much of my life. I stayed in Baltimore as a kid, went to school in D.C., had a kid and that was it. I was all East Coast. One thing about rising up in the writing game (just a little folks, it's still gully over here!) is that I've seen so much more. I think I've traveled more in the past two years, than I had in my entire life.Kind of sad, huh?

    A lot of times I feel like Malcolm off to Mecca--race exists in a really specific way on the East Coast and in the South. But out West, it just feels different. I can't even describe it. I was in Colorado last summer, in an area where you probably could have counted the black folks on one hand. (including me and Kenyatta) Normally, in those situations out east, I get my guard up--half expecting the Skinheads (or worse the cops) to materialize out of nothing. But out there, I never thought twice about our diminished numbers. It just felt different.

    Sometimes, I wonder how long I can exist like this. I'm not saying it's gravy everywhere else. But it'd be nice to take a load off. To not constantly think about this shit, to not have it weighing down on you. It'd be nice to just exist. I love being black. I love the food. I love the culture. I love the dancing. I love the music (most of it). I love the basketball (watching it). I love humor. And I think the language, in all its dialects, is just beautiful.

    But (quiet as it's kept) I hate talking about it. I hate justifying the humanity of it. I hate explaining to people that we are not interchangeable, and yet that doesn't mean that one of us is more, or less, black than the other. I hate, as Du Bois would say, being a problem. It'd be nice to just live a little. Kiss my woman. Take the boy for a hike. Breath some air.

    Peace to commenter Breadandroses for coming out--and Glenn for buying a book. For the horde, indeed.

  • Gay Marriage And D.C.

    I think the fight for gay marriage in D.C. is classic example of why it's misleading to think that black communities--and black people--are interchangeable, that what holds for Inglewood necessarily holds for LeDroit Park. That's a strained metaphor--as we now know, what people thought held for Inglewood was, in fact, deeply flawed. (How am I doing on my geography, Cali people?)

    A few weeks ago Marion Barry promised that Ward 8 would lead a "Civil War" against gay marriage in the District. Some of us found his comments not only repulsive, but preposterous. And frankly, here is why:

    ....yesterday, gay rights advocates declared victory in a key battle to set the tone for the issue when the Ward 8 Democrats voted 21 to 11 to support the legalization of same-sex marriage, in preparation for legislation expected to be introduced in the D.C. Council this year.

    The Ward 8 vote came after almost two hours of discussion about religion, referendums and civil rights among the crowd of about 100 people at the Washington Highlands Library on Atlantic Avenue SW.

    Marion Barry, the elected Councilmember who so inveighed against gay marriage, who promised a "Civil War," didn't even bother to show up. Folks should have known it was farce because the first shots in this "Civil War" were not, in fact, fired by Ward 8, but by Tony Perkins and the usual suspects.

    Look, black Washington is black Washington. It isn't Harlem. It isn't Selma. It isn't West Baltimore. It's a city existing on its own individual terms, with it's own specific individual history. The District's black community extends back to the city's founding. They boast a university which has been a beacon for black progressives for over a century, and a progressive tradition which extends back to home rule.

    Indeed, for all the heat over black homophobia, Chocolate City passed a domestic partnership back in 1992--when it wasn't cool. But it had no teeth--not because of a band of black homophobes--but because of white homophobia. (that's intentionally absurd) The GOP-led Congress refused to allow it. Even Barry himself is not so easily pigeonholed. In his movements you see, not the actions of bigot, but something colder and more sinister a Wallace-esque demagogue appealing to hate to put some shine on his last days.

    [MORE]

    But most importantly, Washington has black gay activists who've been fighting this war in black communities for years:

    Gay rights advocates have been strategically tapping into every corner of the city to get the support of Democratic committees in each ward. And the faces of those advocates come in color: Michael Crawford, who is black, is the founder of DC for Marriage, and Jeffrey Richardson, who is black, is president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, a political group for the LGBT community.

    They will not be done in by the likes of Tony Perkins. Give them a chance to do their work, and you never know what might change:

    A May 2006 poll of 800 likely D.C. voters -- 100 in each of the city's eight wards -- showed that if presented with an initiative to ban same-sex marriage, 49 percent of African Americans would vote yes, and 42 percent would vote no. But the poll, commissioned by the Foundation for All D.C. Families, found that African Americans were sympathetic to the "rights, benefits and legal protections" of gay and lesbian couples. For example, 26 percent said same-sex couples deserve full marriage rights while another 41 percent supported legal recognition such as domestic partnerships...

    However, David A. Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, notes that African American attitudes about same-sex marriage appear to have shifted even more dramatically in recent years than they have in the white community.

    In 2004, the center conducted a poll a few months before the presidential contest, finding that 46 percent of African Americans supported no legal recognition for gay relationships, compared with 37 percent of the general population who felt the same way.

    According to a New York Times-CBS News poll conducted last month, 38 percent of African Americans and 40 percent of whites support gay marriage. Only 26 percent of African Americans and 30 percent of white voters in the poll said they do not want legal recognition of gay relationships. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, also conducted last month, found that 48 percent of white voters and 42 percent of African American voters strongly or somewhat favor same-sex marriage.

    More »

  • Making Your Enemies Look Petty

    Obama really excels at it. I was a kid during Reagan's day, so I'm not sure if that was the key to his success. But I watched Obama's speech yesterday, and he did it again. His basic pose is--"I'm willing to concede your good will, and maybe even a couple of periphery issues." When his adversaries can't do the same, they just look small-minded.

    It's almost unfair to people who disagree with him--if I truly believed that abortion was the murder of children, I don't think I'd be interested in trading "fair-minded words" with pro-choicers. It's murder, and I think I'd pursue it with exactly the sort of zeal as those who were booing Obama. But that's my perspective, and my outlook--obviously it isn't the outlook of all pro-lifers. I'm just saying, I can see why you might be an extremist on the issue.

    Politics aside, I think you have to give Obama credit for stepping right into the issue. I've seen weaker politicians drowning in handlers, reading from a carefully prepared text which fails to acknowledge the elephants dancing in the room. Obama, like he did in his race speech, went right at it. It likely won't please a lot of folks on either side, but if your goal is to grow the base, and expand the party, you've got the best man for the job--even if it, at times, grates on people like me. But, hey. Expanding the party isn't my job--it's his.

  • I Really Hope Seymour Hersh Is Wrong

    It's important to me that there not be a tape of American soldiers raping Iraqi kids. This needs to be a hoax or something. I really need for this to be a hoax. What a fucking mess. What a goddamn mess.

    UPDATE: Sorry for anyone who doesn't read comments. I was undone by some carelessness here. This link is four years old. Yolk on the face.

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

From This Author