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.

  • 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.

  • Unwed Mothers On The Rise

    It's worth reading the latest report from the National Center for Health Statistics on the rise in the number of births of unmarried women. Still, for our purposes let's skip to what everyone cares about:

    Birth rates for unmarried women have varied fairly consistently by race and Hispanic origin. The rates for Hispanic women (106 births per 1,000 unmarried women in 2006) and black women (72 per 1,000) were highest. Birth rates for unmarried non-Hispanic white (32 per 1,000) and Asian or Pacific Islander (API) women (26 per 1,000) were much lower.

    From 1995 to 2002, the nonmarital birth rate for black women declined 12%. Rates for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women were essentially unchanged during these years.

    In the recent period 2002-2006, birth rates for unmarried non-Hispanic white women rose by 14% and for black women by 9%, while the rates climbed 20% for Hispanic women and 24% for API women.

    I'm never sure what to make of any of this. Obviously, you'd like for the rates in black and brown communities to not be double and triple what they are in white communities, respectively. Weighted for income, and better still wealth, I suspect the gap would close some--though not totally. Anyway, here's a bit of good news:

    At one time, references to births to unmarried women and births to teenagers were considered one and the same only because births to unmarried women were disproportionately, although certainly not exclusively, among teenagers. In 1970, 50% of nonmarital births were to unmarried women under age 20.

    In the years since the mid-1970s, this proportion has fallen steadily. In 2007, 23% of nonmarital births were to teenagers. The decline largely reflects the drop in birth rates for unmarried teenagers concurrent with the large increases in birth rates for adult unmarried women.

    Sixty percent of nonmarital births in 2007 were to women in their twenties, significantly higher than the 42% level in 1970.

    About one in six births to unmarried women in 2007 were to women aged 30 years and over, much higher than the proportion in 1970, 1 in 12.

    And yet even looking at that, I'm not sure what to say. On the one hand, I'm glad teen pregnancy is declining. But on the other, when considering the rise in unmarried mothers, I wonder if the way we live is just changing. Forever.

    Not a lot of answers here, folks. Sorry. I'm sure there will be nuff hand-wringing and finger-pointing to come.

  • The Mail He Carried With Him

    Some awesome entries from the Inbox today:

    Can you write an article...any article. Without mentioning race?  No one really gives a crap about your race. Just write something that's informative.  We or at least I get it. You are not white. No one cares. Every single thing that happens in this world is not about race. You are doing a disservice to yourself and this web site.  I stopped reading your articles. Once in a while I check back and yep...it's about you... not being white...

    Well, no. It's about you...not being black...

    Here's a more benevolent one:

    Its very simple. As a a recent convert to your blog (being a huge reader of your neighbor Andrew), I have learned more about race in three weeks than Lord knows how many years.

    Its nice to hear your voice. Franklin Douglass would be proud that the baton was passed to you.

    You're now on my mac toolbar. Pressure's on! heh heh heh Keep up the good work.

    White people: I appreciate your patronage. In fact, you comprise most of my audience. My black readers are cool, but I deeply suspect that none of them bought my book. Plus Negroes don't click through ads.

    That said, I do have one request--I'ma need for ya'll to not call Frederick Douglass, Franklin Douglass. The man was too bad-ass for that. Give em his 'spect.

  • The Fierce Politics Of Expedience

    Heh, that headline from Andrew's post was so cool, I had to rip it. Anyway, here he is with a typically great take on Obama and the gays. I think the post is, for the most part, spot on. I think he may be a little too hard on Obama--but only a little. That said, I think this statement deserves some consideration:

    And it's tedious to whine and jump up and down and complain when a wand isn't waved and everything is made right by the first candidate who really seemed to get it, who was even able to address black church congregations about homophobia.

    Longtime readers know about the respect I have for Andrew as a thinker and writer. That said, I think, like a lot of whites, Andrew has a particular blind-spot on race--one that I think Obama greatly benefited from  during the election.

    The problem with this thinking is the presumption that there is some monolith called "The Black Church" which Obama should, and has, confronted. In fact, I deeply suspect that the way the "The Black Church" responds to gays is varied. Obama went to Atlanta on MLK Day and said the following:

    And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean.  If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.

    We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community.  For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

    I understand why this could be read as a powerful, courageous statement. But it actually is a pretty vague call for tolerance, made on MLK day, in a city with arguably the most politically potent black gay population in the country. I'm aware of Ebeneezer's problems with Rick Warren. But somehow, I just don't see that as the sort of statement that risks any political capital. Seriously, what's the constituency he's offending? Did Nikki Tinker teach us nothing?

    It's the same with black men--Obama got a lot of mileage among white people for his Father's Day Speech. The sense was that Obama was saying something that blacks could not say themselves, that we were so immature, and so corrupted that we actually excused deadbeat-ism.

    I think people who think that black men who address homosexuality deserve a medal of courage, need to go back and re-read Huey Newton. I think people who think Obama is the first person to say "Any fool can make a baby. A real man is a father," should really listen to more Ed O.G. They should study the Million Man March. Atonement was the theme for a reason.

    I'm thinking of Will Smith in Six Degrees. White writers (whose contact with black people often seems to be limited to Harvard Law, Crown Heights and Northwest D.C.) believe us to be a gang of Farrakhan-quoting, Marion Barry-supporting, homophobic deadbeats. And then Obama shows up, and is not only not that, but actually attacks the homophobes and the deadbeats. And white writers stand up and applaud.

    But the whole game is based on a deep ignorance, and arrogance--an inability to confess how little they know about race. It really is the twisted vestiges of segregation that allow Obama to stand up in front of a bunch of black Democrats, and say something as banal and qualified as "The scourge of anti-Semitism, at times, revealed itself in our communities" and then get credit. It's what allows Obama to say what black mothers have been saying for three decades now, and garner applause.

    White people should demand a little more.

  • I'm In Ur Base, Imitatin Ur Doodz!

    Often when a white person wants to give his opinion on something racial, he'll preface it with something like "Now, I'm not black but..." or "Hey, I'm just white but..." or "Hey, I'm the spawn of Yakub, so take this with a grain of salt.."

    Whenever someone says that to me, I just kinda shake my head and give them that annoyed "Will you just make your fucking point, white boy" look.

    And then I started writing about gay marriage, and yesterday, about the ethics of outing, and I found myself in my head saying, "Now, I'm not gay but..." or "Hey, I'm just a straight guy but..." or "Hey, I'm totally obsessed with boobs, but..." It's the weirdest thing. You keep thinking to yourself, "Maybe I should shut the fuck up now." And yet, you don't...

    Anyway, I think this is part of my continued evolution into a white guy. I'm digging on your music. I'm working at The Atlantic (first black guy, since Frederick Douglass). And now, I'm even lecturing oppressed minorities on how to respond to their oppression. Pretty soon, I'll be foreclosing on motherfuckers.

    Yes, yes I know. Patience, young grass-smoker. Your time will come...

  • The End Of The Torture Debate

    I think Digby is right--we've lost this one. It's deeply disconcerting to watch journalists embrace the language of politicians. I think it says a lot that we hear those claim to be "keeping them honest" using terms like "enhanced interrogation." 

    This is a deeply depressing failure on so many levels--and yet I feel like I should have seen it coming. My own deep personal experience with police violence says that people will accept the brutality of the state, if they think the state is trying to protect them. Not to flog this, but I keep going back to how my buddy was killed in PG County, and nothing happened to the officer who did it.

    The fact is that that officer represented something about us, something about our hatred of drugs and crime, as well as our self-absorbed lack of empathy for any innocent--especially an innocent who we consider as "other"--caught in the crossfire. Likewise, Cheneyism says something about who we are, and where we're willing to go.

    I think our politicians failed us. But it's weak to put it on them. I think journalists failed us. But it's weak to put it on them. We have too much faith in our innate goodness, in our exceptionalism. And if there's one big failing of Barack Obama it's that he continues to sell us on this notion that we're special. Maybe that's how it has to be. I'm admittedly confused by all this. I just suspect that someday soon we're going to find out how "special" we really are.

    We really have no idea how low we can really go. And when confronted with evidence of it, we obfuscate. As a black man living in this country, I should have known better. It all makes too much sense.

  • A Little More On Outing

    I think a couple things bother me:

    1.) The notion that one can actually betray the gay rights agenda. This feels dangerous to me. I think it's easy on bright line issues like gay marriage, or even gay adoption. But my experience in the post-civil rights era says that the further you move forward, the more complicated the issues becomes. It's not hard to see a point (and maybe we've reached it) where there are serious fault-lines over what makes the agenda and what doesn't. But once you've embraced the tool of outing, it really can be deployed by any one claiming the sword of righteousness.

    This, from a commenter, gets at what I mean:

    I'm not concerned for the Ted Haggards and Larry Craigs of the world. This is what bothers me- who draws the line at who is "important" enough to forcibly out? I am worried that someone will interpret this as open season for anyone in any sort of leadership position, no matter how loosely defined. To add to that, while there might be legitimate evidence for people like Larry Craig, what happens when everything trickles down to the micro level and it becomes a battle of (s)he said-(s)he said? Bigotry is unacceptable at any level, but when one outs the head of the neighborhood association (S/he is in a leadership position, after all) over hearsay evidence, is that really advancing the cause.

    It's worth listening to this interview with an RNC staffer who was outed. He's a conservative operative who was working, in 2004, to help Bush get re-elected. He despised the GOP's stance on gays, but was, in his heart, a conservative. He was outed because the GOP disseminated anti-gay fliers, and the belief was that he could have (or should have) stopped them. I think it's fuzzy enough to make me uncomfortable. Who draws the line on this stuff? It's not enough to feel like it's justice. You have to be able to live with all the implications.

    2.) Which brings me to this: How do you know you're right? Seriously. What if you're wrong?

    UPDATE:
    Here's a response from Dan Savage to the earlier post. He concludes:

    And here's the funny thing, Ta-Nehisi: these outed politicians--the Craigs, Haggards, Crists, et al--they never off themselves. Everyone talks about the potential of suicide when a high-profile hypocrite like Charlie Crist is outed. But they never kill themselves, do they? That cocksucker Crist just announced his run for US Senate. Outing "victims" either come out or they burrow deeper into their closets. You know who kills themselves when they're outed? The nobodies rounded up when the police departments conduct stings on cruising areas. Small town newspapers typically print names and mug shots after raids on rest stops and cruisy parks, a practice that has lead to suicides.

    But no one gives a shit about these guys--they're nobodies, just small-town closet cases looking for a little cock, not powerful politicians doing violence on a daily basis to gay people and our families while scarfing down cock in toilets and bedding their aides.

    It seems to me that your sympathies are misplaced, Ta-Nehisi.

    It's true that the suicide thing is a hypothetical, and an unlikely one. Fair enough. But I think the "sympathies" critique misses the point. Being against the death penalty isn't the same as having sympathy for ax-murderers, or a lack of sympathy for the victims.

    UPDATE #2: Meh, so much for legs to stand on. I just re-read my post. I actually did strongly imply sypathy for people like Craig and Haggard

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