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.

  • While Our Hearts Were Young...

    I was reading Brendan's entry on Manimal (Dude it's Manimal!!!) and it got me thinking about the era when I actually had a TV in the house, and my life revolved around this fact. Long story short--Crime Story and cool-ass Dennis Farina (Peep the 'stache, son.) owned face. I've always loved Chicago--even before I knew it.

  • Outing Gay Politicians

    It's worth listening to this interview with Kirby Dick, about his new film Outrage, which investigates closeted politicians, who presumably are supporting an anti-gay agenda. I think I get the impetus--there's certainly a kind of cowardice at work in being in the closet and supporting homophobes.

    That said, I'm deeply skeptical. When white gays compare their experience to African-Americans, the response is often to note that blacks have no closet, and thus no choice about how to live. They're going to experience racism, no matter what. It's a fair distinction and an important difference. But I suspect (though I'm not sure) that it undervalues the way blackness in this country forces you face yourself, while overvalue the virtues of concealing yourself.

    I'm in the realm of theory and imagination here--being black is elemental to me, almost in the way that religion is elemental to the devout. I can't imagine myself without it, and more to the point, I think I'd be deeply unhappy if I had to conceal anything that important from my family, friends and colleagues. And it's not just concealing, it's accepting a presumed inferiority, an assumed deviance, and in that acceptance, a spiritual corruption. The closet may be choice--but it isn't one I'd want, anymore than someone who's white wants to afraid of the police.

    I find these discussions of who has it worse ("black male/black female" "white woman/poor white man" "gay asian" "straight native American") to be reductive. They smell of my conversations hatched at midnight in Howard's dorms, when I should have been out chasing girls. Who can know what is worse? I'm black and straight and thus would never want to be white and straight, or white and gay. Were I white and gay, I think I'd never want to black and straight. You take life as it comes.

    My point is one of basic human compassion--I have no idea what was going through Larry Craig's head. I have no understanding of his own private hell. What I know is I watched a "reformed" Ted Haggard and thought he was being torn apart by vultures on the inside.

    I'm skeptical of man's ability to bring justice to these people, in this fashion. It smells of divine retribution dispensed by childish mortals. What if the guy you outed kills himself? Can you wash your hands of that? Would you truly feel no guilt?

    As I said, I'm out of my lane. I'd love to hear from more experienced hands.

  • Politicians And Comedians Don't Mix

    Robert Gibbs complaining that his steak dinner taste too much like beef:

    "I think there are a lot of topics that are better left for serious reflection rather than comedy," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday. "I think there's no doubt that 9/11 is part of that."

    I think respectable comedians should keep their distance from politicians, and specifically from Obama. This is the second time he's willing attended a comedian's performance and either feigned shock (shock!), or had his henchmen feign shock. Here's Bernie Mac during the campaign:

    "Being a president is tough 'cause you're not just running the county. You got to run your family too," Mac said. "Having a black first lady is different. You're still going have to do the dishes and the laundry and all that ...you got to pick up the kids. You didn't pick up the kids? I just came from Korea, talking about nuclear weapons. You were on Air Force One and you couldn't stop to pick up the kids?"

    Mac also told Obama to be cautious of the rumor mill. "People like rumors. They are going to say things like, you know, you was in the club with Lil' Kim and you and Kanye West got in a fist fight."

    Here's Barack Obama trying to be cool and straight all at once:

    "We can't afford to be divided by religion, or by region or class. Or by gender," Obama said and joked, "That means, by the way, Bernie you got to clean up your act. This is a family affair. I'm just messing with you!"

    Shortly after the fundraiser ended, the campaign issued a statement denouncing Mac's comments. "Senator Obama told Bernie Mac that he doesn't condone these statements and believes what was said was inappropriate," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

    I re-watched Sykes show yesterday and I thought the Limbaugh/20th hijacker was the least funniest part. But not because 9/11 shouldn't ever be joked about, but because it felt forced. ("I hope his kidneys fail" didn't by the way.) But so what? Some jokes work, others don't. This idea that there are certain topics that can only be talked about in serious, solemn ways, by all people at all times, is ridiculous. I don't want Wanda Sykes near the launch codes. Conversely, I think artistic advice from the president is, with all due respect, an oxymoron.

    Bleh. Anyway here's Chris Rock joking the Iraq War, Anthrax in the mail, and James Byrd's death. I laughed all the way through. I'm still laughing. And let me keep laughing until they put my dick in the dirt. Otherwise, what the fuck is the point? Run the damn country. And if comic's jokes make that too hard, save it for retirement.

  • How Bad Is It For Newspapers?

    Even the politicians are feeling bad. Still, I'm with David Carr on this one--I'm not sure government funding is the answer:

    I'm all for journalists swarming the Hill, especially now that about half of the reporters who used to work there are gone, potentially leaving much of government to its own devices. But to leave our industry tin-cupping its way around a government it covers seems desperate and ill-advised: a cure that might be worse than the disease.

    No one is arguing that the situation is not dire. Though Marissa Mayer, a Google vice president, calmly told the senators on the panel led by Senator Kerry that "it's still very early," we all know better. In the past six months, five major American publishers have filed for bankruptcy.

    Given that monopolies that drove the business are falling apart, some antitrust relief that would allow the industry to collectively hit the reset button seems reasonable. But how exactly is the rest of it an agenda item for an elected government? Besides all the esteem we seem to hold ourselves in, it is difficult to make a rational economic argument for granting special favors to a relatively minor part of the American economy. Alan D. Mutter, who blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur, said that newspapers "collectively employ a mere 0.2 percent of the nation's labor force and generate only 0.36 percent of the gross national product." In other words, we are not, like the bankers and the auto industry we have covered so ferociously, too big to fail.

    Wasn't it up to publishers when things were fat and happy to invest for this foreseeable crisis? And wasn't it the publishers themselves who leapt into the arms of online aggregators and now want government intervention for what seems to be a business negotiation gone bad?

  • The Deeper Meaning Of Star Trek\Wolverine\Terminator

    Alyssa Rosenberg's take on fanboyism and the summer blockbuster is pretty damned good, and a welcome counter to those of us (me included) who like to inveigh against the horror of Hollywood's marketing of geekdom. Forgive me for quoting at length:

    Despite that financial success, the critics are growing restless. The New York Times' A.O. Scott declared that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is "the latest evidence that the superhero movie is suffering from serious imaginative fatigue." Slate's Dana Stevens announced that "I'll be holding comic-book-based blockbusters to a more robust standard" this summer. And Anthony Lane, a film critic for The New Yorker, took a nasty shot at comic book enthusiasts in his review of Watchmen earlier in the year, saying the film "should meet the needs of any leering nineteen-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex."

    It's easy to dismiss sci fi flicks as clumsy and loud, but the critiques miss a key virtue. Unlike other genres, fanboy blockbusters are a constantly innovating form, with an important message about the present even as they outline visions of our future. In romantic comedies, the scene can shift from the Civil War to the Los Angeles real estate market as long as boy meets girl amidst the bayonets or billboards. Horror movies can switch weapons with no fall-off in audience long as there are coeds to dice. Come Oscar season, World War II films are such a reliable source of nominations that Kate Winslet's turn as a sexy Nazi became a simultaneous joke on the genre and a lock for the Academy Award.

    Science fiction and superhero movies don't have the luxury of simply finding the latest neighborhood where attractive singles are settling or the flashiest car on the market and plugging those accessories into a formula. By nature, those films have to imagine the future, to put something on screen that audiences would never see in their everyday lives. Sometimes, those visions are farfetched, unrealistic, paranoid, immature, or deeply cheesy. Of the four major sci-fi movies being released this spring and summer, two feature vengeful giant robots. Another centers on a guy who metalizes his skeleton, and the fourth plants spaceships in Iowa cornfields. They'll vary in quality, and plausibility, but at least they have something to say about the perils and opportunities of the future.

    X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first of these movies, is a perfect example of the power of a bad fanboy movie. The film is far too full of cheap-looking special effects and dialogue that seems ludicrous outside a cartoon bubble to be really absorbing. But Wolverine has far more to say about its chosen subject, the scientific manipulation of the human body, than, for example, the romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has to say about relationships between men and women.

    I think Anthony Lane has constructed three or four of my all time favorite sentences. (Of Yoda's tripe ramblings in the Star Wars prequels, he once quipped, "Break me a fucking give.") But I think Rosenberg makes a great point here. At some point critics (once again, including me) will have to start judging these flicks on their own terms.

    And with that, I guess I now have to go see Star Trek. Damn. I thought I'd be able to worm out of that one.

  • The Irrelevant Dick Cheney

    Andrew on Cheney:

    Here is a former vice-president, who enjoyed unprecedented power for eight long, long years. No veep ever wielded power like he did in the long history of American government. In the months after 9/11, he swept all Congressional resistance away, exerted total executive power, wielded a military and paramilitary apparatus far mightier than all its rivals combined and mightier than any power in history, tapped any phone he wanted, claimed the right to torture any suspect he wanted (and followed through with thousands, from Bagram to Abu Ghraib) and was able to print and borrow money with impunity to finance all of it without a worry in the world. But even after all that, he cannot tolerate a few months of someone else, duly elected, having a chance to govern the country with a decent interval of grace.

    There's obviously part of me that wants to see a guy like Dick Cheney brought to justice. But there's another part that sees a justice in his post-VP life. Cheney was once asked about public opinion and polls. Cheney responded that he didn't care. He was lying. I haven't meant a single human being who didn't care what other people thought of him. I don't think Cheney's a sociopath--I think he's a megalomaniac.

    Moreover, Dick Cheney is/was a politician--a hard job, at any level, for someone who doesn't care about polls to occupy. He is now one of the most hated political figures in Washington. His personal poll numbers are shockingly low--only 19 percent of all Americans, and only 50 percent of Republicans view him favorably. Think about that. Even among his own party, Cheney--hardcore conservative--isn't exactly a unifying figure.

    Were one to accept Cheney's notion that he really doesn't care about polls, perhaps this wouldn't matter. In fact, since the nadir of the Bush-era, Cheney has repeatedly tried to re-inject himself into the public dialogue. The last thing John McCain, running in a general election, needed was a Cheney endorsement. And yet there it was unprompted. And since Obama's entered into the White House, the ex-VP has been going to the public via the press. People who don't care, don't spend their days making their case to the very people who they don't care about.

    Something deeper is at work--a need to matter, a need to be understood, a need to cleansed, a need for the people to know that he did it all for them. He's not going to get that. Barack Obama barely acknowledges the guy. And every time Cheney steps in front of camera to wash his laundry, it seems like the opposite happens.

  • Limbaugh As The 20th Hijacker

    Meh, I think Wanda Sykes Limbaugh bit was so/so. The treason part was weak, but the "I hope his kidneys fail" was pretty hilarious. Anyway, hand-wringing over Wanda Sykes is pretty useless. She's a comedian. She's not there to respect the line.

    Moreover, I think people need to remember the context. Sykes belongs to three groups which Rush has made a career maligning--blacks, gays and women. I don't have time to dig up the Rush-file. But I'm willing to bet that if take together all the abhorrent things Limbaugh has ever said about those three groups and measured them against Sykes few minutes, it wouldn't be a contest.

  • The Wimmins Factor

    One other thing that should be said about Rosen's piece is the extent to which gender played a role in how Sotomayor came across. I'm out my league on this one. But some people who I trust are right at home. Here's Emily Bazelon over at Slate:

    Rosen quotes a bunch of negative comments from attorneys-"overly aggressive," "abuses lawyers"--followed by a brief acknowledgment of a couple of tepidly positive ones--"good legal ability." She sounds like a bitch. Who'd want her on the Supreme Court?

    Or many other women judges for that matter. Because this is how lawyers often talk about women on the bench. It's an old story. In 1994, in writing up the findings of the Ninth Circuit Gender Bias Task Force, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that "attorney evaluations of judicial performance revealed a 'pattern of bias;' 'female judges were rated lower consistently than their male counterparts on every attribute measured.'" O'Connor was quoting a 1993 study by law professor Joyce S. Sterling.
  • Some Interesting Advice

    Just got this note over the intertubes-maily doodad:

    Dear TNC,

    I meant to write this a while back so it's not as topical now, but I just wanted to offer you a very quick piece of advice. You have a beautiful (writing) voice and and interesting mind; don't get dragged in every time somebody writes you saying, "some hick say XYZ about black people, please respond." Your commentary on race issues is, of course, interesting and always well thought out. But some of the shit you respond to deserves neither your attention nor that of your readers. Just my two cents.

    This is always such a tough one, and I highlight this note because it mirrors some things I've been turning over in my head. A solid half of my e-mail consists of links from my readers cataloging the dumb shit people say about black people--often by "serious" people. Do you respond? Or do you ignore?

    First, the groundwork. I think that many people (I won't say most) who make money doing opinion journalism aren't very curious. Their interest isn't in expanding their view of the world, or refining their analysis. Their interested in scoring points, and the only relevant information is the kind that helps them score more points. It's understandable--nuance won't get you on Hannity, or turn you into Keith Olbermann for that matter. You get paid to score points, and rev up your side.

    This is a temptation of the trade--and it's one I struggle with mightily. I try not to take TV and radio gigs if I don't know what I'm talking about. I try not to blog too much about areas where my understanding is thin. But I get caught out there sometimes. And I'm sure some missive I've authored, at some point, has been sent to some other blogger as an example of liberal "dumb shit."

    Second, the perils of race-related opinion-journalism--particularly the sort that features no original reporting--are compounded by the demographics of this country.  Black people are the most segregated minority in America.  The people who interpret black people for the world are, in the main, white, and thus not likely to have spent much time in the company of their charges.

    More than that, even if you're black, the nature of race in America is so complicated and so twisting, that being black isn't really enough. Writing about race requires walking and chewing gum, and yet often it's left in the hands of people who aren't particularly interested in either--be they black or white.

    And then there's one final problem--people aren't convinced that black people are human. That's a pretty blanket accusation, but I think it bears out pretty well. I think it explains why the pathologies of poverty are so easily transformed into pathologies of blackness. I think it's why people actually believed that a handsome, Ivy-educated lawyer from the South Side of Chicago, whose married to a black woman, wouldn't be "black enough" for African-Americans. I think it's why people think Bill Cosby is saying something that's never heard in black communities. I think it explains why George Will believes that a guy who wrote a book subtitled "Why We Are Excited By Obama And Why He Can't Win," is nonetheless "America's foremost black intellectual."


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