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.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • All My Spanish Bloggers Love Us

    The original Raekwon line is, of course, "All my Spanish niggers love us..." Man, The Atlantic is really mellowing my style. If I don't go on a profanity-laced tirade in the next day or so, I might go into shock.

    Anyway, it helps to live in New York to really get that Raekwon line. It really helps if you live in Harlem. It helps even more to read some Junot Diaz. I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Whenever I hear people talking that black vs. brown isht, I just roll my eyes, not because I believe in rainbows, but because I know that how the Jamaicans relate to the Dominicans, how the Senegalese relate to the Puerto-Ricans, and how my non-pedigree having black-ass (all I've got is slavery, and the Eastern Shore of Murlin') relates to is all can't really be understood via a CNN segment.

    Furthermore that relationship is different than the relationship between the Mexican-Americans and the blacks in Texas, the Cubans and the Haitians in Florida, the Salvadoreans and the blacks in D.C. It's just different wherever you are--and it's kind of criminal to throw it all under the rubric of black vs. brown. That's a constant theme on this blog. When it's no longer happening, I think I'll retire to Vail, Colorado. Or maybe just Humboldt Park.

    This rambling missive was prompted by long-time poster, and if I recall right, Dallas Cowboys fan, Keith, noting the lack of love for the brown. I was gonna just post this old Mellow Man Ace joint. It's so weird. This song came out when I was 14, in West Baltimore, where the Puerto-Rican population was, in those days, minimal. I remember thinking, "Why is this black guy speaking Spanish?"

    Amazing to think about that now. The other day, Kenyatta and me took my son to one of his pre-season games (best defensive end on the field, Coach told him) and we gave a ride to one of the parents and an assistant coach. They're both dating, and both Puerto-Rican--though of different class background. Moreover, the Coach, who knows Harlem and was all hood (in a good way) could pass for white. The parent, who'd been raised around white people most of her life, was darker than many of my relatives.

    But they both talked about race as black people. No, that doesn't quite get it--they talked about race the way a cousin may talk about your family, as opposed to an utter stranger. That still doesn't get it. I can't really explain how Puerto-Ricans and Dominicans here relate to blacks and blackness. It really is fascinating. Someone with deeper roots will have to break it down. I think it has to do with proximity. I can't think of another group that's lived so closely to African-Americans, for such a long time. Harlem is their's too. Hell it's their's more than mine.


  • The Best Who Ever Did It On A Pete Rock Track

    I watched this on a lark, but it turned out to be instructional. I voted for Obama, not because I thought he was as liberal as I was, but because I thought he was a deliberative thinker, a progressive and a masterful politician. The Obama attraction, for me anyway, isn't about a guy who will be for the Left, what George Bush was for the Right. I think Bush hurt the right, not simply because he was inept, but because he was uninquisitive, and utterly unreflective. Folks should read Nic Lemann's The Promised Land, to see what happens when the Left is  uninquisitive and unreflective.

    Anyway, I'm getting off course. I think this is a great example of what a great politician does. For weeks there's been this controversy over ASU not giving Obama a doctorate. Obama doesn't politely ignore it. He certainly doesn't wallow in it (no sensible politician would). He steps right into it, and then advances the ball. I'll stop saying this eventually. But it's nice to have some intellect at the top.

  • Addendum To Cheneyism

    I keep hearing this notion repeated that, when we think about the Bush administration and torture we should consider the context. It was post-9/11. The country was under attack. We were at war etc. The basic idea seems to be that torture may be indefensible in normal times, but under pressure it's fine. Or better put, principles are something you cling to when they are convenient.

    A political leader who blaming "context" for his bad decisions, is a quarterback blaming crowd noise for his five interceptions, or a writer blaming his fact-checkers for flubbing names.

    They put your byline at the top for a reason, dude.

    People are judged by what they do under pressure, not what they do at the company picnic. If being a leader was simply a matter of doing the right thing, when it's easy to do the right thing, then anyone could lead. Of course, they think they did the right thing. Which makes me wonder why they keep bringing up context.

  • Cheneyism

    Joan Walsh argues that Cheney is influencing Obama:

    It's easy to say this is good news for Democrats. It certainly seems as if Cheney won't be happy until there are two people left in the Republican Party, him and Rush Limbaugh. Gen. Powell? Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. But I also think what Cheney's doing has disturbing political consequences, for the Obama administration and for the country. I'm also starting to worry Obama is internalizing Cheney's values, with a string of bad decisions on torture, culminating in today's move to reverse his prior commitment to transparency and block the release of more torture photos.

    I think crediting Obama's decisions on torture and transparency to the ex-VP, inflates Cheney. That said, I think Joan is on to something in noting the corrosive nature of "looking forward," and ignoring people who did not simply torture, but now take to the airways to defend waterboarding.

    As for Obama, again, he is who I thought he was. I can't quite get why people feel betrayed, or are even surprised.

  • Now Here's Some Good News

    About that War On Drugs

    The Obama administration's new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting "a war on drugs," a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

    In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation's drug issues.

    "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country.

    Let's see what comes of it. Time to walk the walk.

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