Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.
So I slept on Michael Kinsley. Sue Me. For whatever reason this cat sort of melded in my mind with the array of Slate-ish, New Republic-ish writers who've made counterintuitive arguments their hallmark, and contrarianism their religion. My mistake. But this is what happens when you make cartoons of people. Kinsley comes correct this week with a beautiful meditation on that great equalizer--death:
The baby-boom generation in America is thought to have found something approaching genuine happiness in material possessions. A popular bumper sticker back in the nineteen-eighties read, “He Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins.” This was thought to be a brilliant encapsulation of the baby-boom generation’s shallowness, greed, excessive competitiveness, and love of possessions. And it may well be all of these things. It’s also fundamentally wrong. Is there anything in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue—or even listed on Realtor.com—for which you would give up five years? Of course not. That sports car may be to die for, but in fact you wouldn’t. What good are the toys if you’re dead? “He Who Dies Last”—he’s the one who wins.
To my mind though, the story turns especially beautiful when Kinsley turns to his own battle with Parkinson's and what it says about his own mortality:
I was around fifty when I went public about having Parkinson’s, and the effect was like turning sixty. A person who is sixty and healthy almost surely will live many more years. But sixty is about the age when people stop being surprised if you look old or feel sick or drop dead. (It’s another decade or so before they stop pretending to be surprised.) It’s often said of people that “she’s a young seventy” or “he’s thirty, going on forty-five.” And it’s true: there is your actual, chronological age, and then there’s the age that reflects how you look, how you feel, how much hair you have left, how fast you can walk, or think, and so on. At every stage of life, some people seem older or younger than others of the same age. But only in life’s last chapter do the differences get enormous. We are not shocked to see a seventy-one-year-old hobbling on a cane, or bedridden in a nursing home, and we are not shocked to see a seventy-one-year-old running for President. The huge variety of possible outcomes—all of them falling within the range considered “normal”—makes the last boomer competition especially dramatic. So does the speed at which aging can happen. Sometimes it’s even instantaneous. Fall, break your hip, and add ten years. Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. It’s easy to imagine two sixty-year-olds, friends all their lives. One looks older because he’s bald: no big deal. Ten years later, when they’re seventy, one has retired on disability and moved into a nursing home. The other is still C.E.O., has left his wife for a younger woman, and, in a concession to age, takes a month off each year to ski. Contrasts like these will be common.
Sorry for the extended quote. But that was just beautiful. Every once in a while, OK more than every once in a while, the NYer really lives up its rep. What a lovely piece.
So my response to Jim Sleeper is up. They wanted us to keep our responses a little shorter, so I neglected to tackle Carmen's question about the nature of racism. Even if I don't get to take a stab at it over at TPM, I will here, because I think it's important. Again, briefly, I think it has a lot to do with how things are defined. A guy commenting on Carmen's post compared racism to spousal abuse and argued that the abuser also is victimized by the process. While I don't think the analogy follows all the way, I do think that there's a good point to be made in the logic that spousal abuse is bad for men, also. Anyway, more later.
Nice segment on Real Time. Bill and Tavis make some great points comparing the incredible racism of Pat Buchanann with the treatment of Jeremiah Wright
There is so much fair and right about Kelefah Sanneh's piece on Jeremiah Wright that I think I'd be wrong to even try and quote from it. Just read it. It's fairest and most complicated rendering of Rev. Wright thus far.
Few posts up now including contributions from, respectively, Glenn, myself, John, Joseph and Carmen. For me, the biggest questions which linger in my head are Carmen's thinking on how we redefine racism, and John's point about policy stricltly aimed at blacks. I'm not completely sure what I think yet, and I want everyone to get to chime in once before I pop off.
Heh, with friends like these, eh?
In an unusually frank interview on Canadian public radio, CBC, Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City -- a Hillary supporter and superdelegate -- gives a sense of how tenuous Clinton's hold on many black superdelegates is.
"If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd say Barack Obama is going to be the next president," he said just after 18:00. "I will be stunned if he's not the next president of the United States."
Seriously though. Brother just spoke the truth. Hopefully folks won't come down on him. Cleaver is one of the cats who was feeling some heat from black folks once Obama went on a roll. Peace out to TPM for the heads up.
Because defending black men who rape black women is apparently now the province of the movement's leaders. Witness, the one and only, Al Sharpton--backed by local NAACP officials, no less--weighing in on the fantastically gruesome Dunbar Village rape case. Instead of standing for some decency and conceding that, yes, some people do deserve to go to jail, Sharpton has decided to argue that this group of black gang rapists are being treated harsher than a white group of gang rapists.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP activists stood outside the State Attorney's Office Tuesday morning, protesting what they say is disparate handling of black teens accused in the rape of a Dunbar Village woman and her son and white teens from suburban Boca Raton accused in the rape of their drunk friends.
Sharpton said the black teens remain jailed and the white teens are free on bond, despite them committing the "same act."
"To have different reactions to the same set of circumstances is a crime in itself," Sharpton said.
In the Dunbar Village case, four teens are charged with armed sexual battery for the June crime where they allegedly forced the woman at gunpoint to have sex multiple times, including with her son. Police say the teens then used cleaning agents on the victims afterwards in an attempt to cover their crimes, including stuffing a bar of soap inside the woman. They face possible life in prison.
In the Boca case, five teens are charged with sexual battery on a helpless person because the then 13- and 14-year-old female victims had downed repeated shots of vodka.
Both heinous, no doubt, but come on dude. In 2008, this is really what it's come to?
Interesting story on the Defense Department's attempts to keep a gay Congresswoman from bringing her partner on a fact-finding trip. The problem isn't blatant homophobia, but the end-result of a policy of blatant homophobia. Turns out the military brass were worried about what message they'd be sending in the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell:
The Pentagon appears to be self-conscious about transporting gay domestic partners at a time when it continues to enforce a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in its own ranks. The speaker is sensitive to the gay rights issue but doesn’t want to be drawn into a situation where it appears she is dictating policy for the use of military planes.
I'm not sure what we need more--a national convo on race, or a national convo on sexual prudes.
E.J. Dionne argues that the Clintons have damaged their brand in the fight for the nomination:
Bill Clinton's approach to the South Carolina primary, the Clinton campaign's effort to ignore everything it once said about the irrelevance of the Florida and Michigan primaries, Hillary Clinton's willingness to say (or imply) that John McCain is more prepared to be president than Obama--all this and more have created a ferocious backlash against the Clintons. The result is that when the word "Clinton" crosses their lips, many Democrats sound like Ken Starr, Bob Barr and the late Henry Hyde.
Hmm, maybe. But wasn't there always a large contingent of Clinton-haters in the party? The Clinton Camp was in power during my high school and college years, and they always came across to me as extraordinary hedgers. I mean these are the folks who invented the Sista Souljah moment, I don't know how you get more unprincipled than that. Furthermore, I always smelled the stench of political ambition wafting off of Sen. Clinton's war vote. In the words of Denny Green--They are who we thought they were, no? Here's Peggy Noonan, last February, pointing out how tenuous the Clintons' position was in their own party:
Hollywood titan David Geffen, who now supports Barack Obama, this week famously retagged the Clintons as an Ivy League Bonnie and Clyde. Bill is "reckless," Hillary relentless--"God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary?" In an interview that seemed like an audience, with the New York Times's Maureen Dowd, Mr. Geffen said, "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling." In this he was, knowingly or unknowingly, echoing Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, who said in 1996 of the then-president, "Clinton's an unusually good liar. Unusually good. Do you realize that?"
I think it is true that President Clinton has done serious damage to that bipartisan aura that surrounds all ex-presidents, as well as his reputation as a politician. But I don't see how any of this is going to hurt the Dems.
This is a good point, and I'd forgotten about it:
Just a quick history note for those who are shocked by Condoleeza Rice publicly stating that America has a "birth defect" when it comes to race: Rice grew up in Birmingham, Alabama in the late 50s and 60s. One of her childhood playmates was among those four little girls who were murdered by a Klansman's bomb in the basement of their own church. Stop and think about that: four beautiful little black girls, attending church on a Sunday morning, blown up with dynamite by a white racial terrorist. This was not an event that Condoleeza Rice heard about on t.v., or saw in the paper. It was her personal friend torn apart by racial hatred. Rice has every right in the world to have the opinions that she does when it comes to race. To suggest that she does not, that somehow she is out of line to voice those opinions (as Dobbs did below), is simply obscene. It is an insult to the history that Rice has lived through firsthand, and a devaluation of the price that she has had to pay for America's racial sins.
That puts the profound stupidity of Lou Dobbs in greater perspective, no?
Yet more evidence for why any national conversation on race should ban all squawkers from the Cable news blabberfests. Witness the buffoonery that is Lou Dobbs. I don't much care that he almost said "Cotton Pickin black leaders." What I want to know is, who are all these black leaders telling Lou he can't talk about race? Names please, screw the weak, lazy generalities. Then I want to know why he listens to them. Oh right--he doesn't. Roll tape please.
From my good buddy Brendan Koerner, whose book will be hitting in May;
Interesting post re: McCain claiming to be a descendant ofCharlemagne. This is actually very common practice among American genealogical fanatics. Funny how no one wants to admit that they're descended from some dude who spent the 11th century whacking the soil with a stick, praying that a passing knight wouldn't chop off his arms for sport.
Also, note the importance of lineage claims to Arab politics--the head of virtually every Arab regime claims to be descended from the Prophet Muhammad. That includes our friend Saddam, as well as his Hashemite cousin in Jordan.
Here it is. The Essence:
We err when we talk about racism as this force that ultimately helps whites, but hurts blacks. The truth is that white people have paid terribly for America's original sin. Consider that while other countries were able to relatively peaceably excise themselves from slavery, America had to sacrifice some 700,000 of its young in order to move forward. That is a horrible toll. Look at the Civil Rights movement and compare, say, the fates of Atlanta and Birmingham, and then look at how the two cities handle the impending epoch of integration. I confess no hard evidence here, but is it a mistake that some of the least prosperous states in the country are also some of the most historically anti-black? Beyond history, from the perspective of cold capitalism, we are in a dog fight for dominance with rising powers. Isn't every black child we lose to a broken educational system a soldier lost before we could even enlist her for the coming battle?
At some point, this has to move beyond a "do the right thing white people" discussion and become a "this is for the good of America" discussion. We have to start convincing people that closing the racial gap helps everyone. The good news is we're starting to see some action that moves down that path. Glenn rightly alluded to the continuing crisis of the large portion of black men residing behind bars. One of the more promising developments is that states are starting to own up to some of the foolishness of their criminal justice policies. But they're not doing it out of any love for black folks, they're doing it because it's in their economic interest—they simply can't afford to keep warehousing black men. I think there's a light in that reasoning. We have to begin to show people how this discussion benefits them.
So the folks over at Talking Point Memo are holding a discussion around race and Obama's speech. I'm one of the guest asked to comment. But truthfully dog, I'm just gonna try to keep with Glenn Loury, knowahmsayin? Naw, seriously though, it should be a good panel. In addition to me and Prof. Loury we have Prof. Joseph Lowndes, Prof. John Skrentny and Carmen Van Kerkhove. I've some of what will being going up throughout the week. Definitely some good stuff going down. Stay up, folks.
Heh, people kill me when they attack black folks for the whacky isht we believe and for transforming Africa into this glorious continent, pre-whitey. Over the years I've been one of the people doing the attacking. But I never act like white folks--indeed all folks--don't do the same damn thing.
Witness John McCain who claims that he is not just a descendant of the 13th century Scottish King Robert The Bruce, but also of the first Holy Roman Emperor and founder of modern Europe, the 9th century monarch Charlemagne. Understand with that means. John McCain would have had to have traced his lineage through literally millions of relatives, and over a millenea. Haha. Bridge in Brooklyn anyone?
...the ancestral link appears to originate from a 1999 family memoir, Faith of My Fathers. In it the senator said his great-grandparents "gave life to two renowned fighters, my great-uncle Wild Bill and my grandfather Sid McCain."
Wild Bill, he wrote, "joined the McCain name to an even more distinguished warrior family. His wife, Mary Louise Earle, was descended from royalty. She claimed as ancestors Scottish kings back to Robert the Bruce." The passage goes on to say that Mary Louise Earle was also "in direct descent" from Emperor Charlemagne.
Not so, according to Dr Katie Stevenson, a lecturer in medieval studies at the University of St Andrews. "What wonderful fiction," she said. "Mary Louise Earle's claims to descent from Robert the Bruce are likely to be fantasy. Earle is not a Scottish name. I think it is incredibly unlikely that name would be related to Robert the Bruce. Charlemagne and Robert the Bruce were not connected - that's ludicrous."
Gotta love this, at least as someone who wants Obama to win. Who does James Carville think he's helping with his foolish fulminations? Does he think people are gonna see his full-throated defense of that stupid Judas remark and say, "I had it all wrong. I think I'll vote for Clintons." These guys are a hamfisted bunch I tell you.
I know enough to know that comparing a former Cabinet secretary and sitting governor to Judas is inflammatory and provocative.
Ahh but you don't know enough to see how it just stains the candidate you claim to endorse. Oh, the humanity.
This bears reading. It's interesting in that it cuts against the stereotype of the black conservative as shill who will say anything to get over. I don't know if the world is more open to comments like these, or what. But as I've said before I think a viable cadre of black conservatives is a good thing. Black folks shouldn't have to reject Republicans because of the whiff of latent racism. They should be free to reject them because they are wrong--at least in the opinion of this flamin' lefty.
Sorry guys, blogging will be an off and on affair until Monday. I'm running around doing promotional stuff for the book. I'll be back at it by mid-Sunday, early Monday. Have a good weekend all.
So there's this game that media plays--find a few black people who've got a beef with something and then tar all black people with it. Typical is this Lebron/Gisele foolishness. The story in question is headlined, "Vogue Cover with Lebron stirs up controversy." The Essence:
...the image is stirring up controversy, with some commentators decrying the photo as perpetuating racial stereotypes. James strikes what some see as a gorilla-like pose, baring his teeth, with one hand dribbling a ball and the other around Bundchen’s tiny waist.
It’s an image some have likened to “King Kong” and Fay Wray.
Well yeah, if you define "some" as a writer at ESPN's website, some guy who analyzes magazines, and a woman on the street. This is the sort of thing editors publish because they know if you even whisper "racism" a bunch of white people--preconditioned to believe that blacks are always complaining--will come running. DIg the poll at the end of the story. Of course Jason Whitlock ways in with his usual illogic. Whatever. White people out there. Are you listening? Most black people could give two flying monkeys about who Vogue puts on the cover.
UPDATE: The Today Show featured this "controversy" apparently. I think this ultimately about white people's need to turn racism into a dumb debate about magazine covers, and thus quickly dismiss it. When will you Negroes get it? There is. No. Racism.
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