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.

  • Some Great Points Over At Obsidian Wings

    Take it away Publius:

    In the 1960s, both parties were in flux.  The Democrats had traditionally been the racist party, while the Republicans had been far supportive of civil rights.  But then both parties made a fateful choice.  The Democratic Party - and its base - decided to support and fight for civil rights.  It also made a lasting, long-term commitment to equality, and has actively embraced and promoted diversity for the past 40 years.

    The Republican Party - institutionally, that is - went a different way.  They adopted the Southern Strategy.  They demagogued welfare queens.  More generally, the party was institutionally hostile to laws and regulations and practices intended to correct centuries of state-sanctioned discrimination.  To people like John Roberts, the world apparently began anew in 1964. 

    For years, the Republicans benefited from this choice.  Nixon won.  Reagan won.  The South shifted to the GOP, giving it nearly 12 years of Congressonal control.  Times were good.

    But the checks are now coming due.  The Democrats are beginning to see the benefits of the choices they made in the 1960s - the choices they remained firmly committed to over the years.  Demographically, the country is getting less white.  Individually, the most promising young African-American candidates and officials (people like Obama, Artur Davis, and Deval Patrick) are all firmly within the Democratic Party.  Indeed, an entire generation of African-Americans have come of political age knowing nothing but hostility from Republicans and loyalty from Democrats.

    Admittedly, Obama is an once-in-a-generation political talent.  And I'm not taking anything away from him.  But his rise must be seen in the larger context of the institutional commitment that the United States (and the Democratic Party specifically) made to diversity.

    Some of my commenters will, rightfully, point out that the Dems civil rights roots go back even further than the 60s. But I think Publius's point holds up. LBJ was playing long ball--even if he didn't know it.

    Anyway, most of the post is about Jeff Sessions, a man about  whom I have nothing enlightening to say about. I don't know why, I just don't. I'm unsurprised by his past. I'm unsurprised that he's been a GOP senator for some time. Thus I'm unsurprised by his elevation. Again, as with Marion Barry yesterday, "GOP Senator Old Comments On Race Cause Controversy" doesn't scream headline. At least not for me.

    This is your party of Reagan, with the Gipper's smile fallen away. This is your party of States' Rights in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In the words of Bill Parcells, You are what your record says you are. I don't what else there is to say.

  • Why My Days Of Arguing Are Numbered

    I stand by what I said about the Ricci case. I think there's a horrid history of discrimination in the firefighting ranks. I also think that the city of New Haven's means of addressing that history was hamfisted, ill-thought and will ultimately retard the fight to remedy the wounds of history.

    But it's sobering to wind up on the same side as Pat Buchanan, who thinks that the Ricci case is the equivalent of Jim Crow. For a reminder of who Pat Buchanan is, here is his racist assessment of black America:

    First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

    Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the '60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream.

    Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks -- with affirmative action, contract set-asides and quotas -- to advance black applicants over white applicants.

    Churches, foundations, civic groups, schools and individuals all over America have donated time and money to support soup kitchens, adult education, day care, retirement and nursing homes for blacks.

    We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?

    I always found this quote interesting because it originates from the same racist thinking that Byron York employed last week--that black people don't actually count. In this instance, the idea isn't about polling, it's about taxes. By Buchanan's lights, black people do not exist as tax-payers, but as social sponges. And the converse is true--no white people use government services, they simply pay taxes that are transferred to blacks

    But Buchanan's not a racist. Or an antisemite.

    Andrew had this great quote from Orwell last week:

    The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.

    I think Buchanan's opinion on Ricci comes out of his own quasi-white nationalist impulses. He's one of a legion of people beating the drum on this case, who aren't so much concerned with discrimination--as they are concerned about discrimination against people like them.

    The dishonesty of it all is bracing. I don't believe in argument for sport, and so I'm somewhat ill-equipped. Still, it's times like these when you wonder whether argument has any real point.

    UPDATE: Edited this post for a few embarrassing errors. Among them, Pat Buchanan as a black nationalist.

  • Sympathetic Interpretations

    I think Reihan is extending an undue helping of generosity here:

    Jeff Rosen has been raked over the coals for his not-positive assessment of Sonia Sotomayor. What I find remarkable is this -- Rosen was being so cautious and careful that he acknowledged his limitations in passing judgment, a good and responsible thing to do, and his humility is being used as a lacerating strike against him.

    Maybe. As I've said, the headline was "The Case Against Sonia Sotomayer." The subhed was "Indictments Of Obama's Frontrunner To Replace Souter."

    Reihan continues:

    Rosen explicitly invited readers to take a different view, and to discount his assessment. Some of Rosen's detractors say, "Well in that case, why did you write anything at all?" Rest assured, most people who weigh in on public controversies of this kind know far less about the subjects of these controversies than Rosen knows about Sotomayor.

    Right. But, in the age of blogging and 24-hour commentary, that's an appallingly low standard. If all it takes to occupy the "respectable intellectual center" is to know more than your average commenter, than there isn't much respectable or intellectual about the center. Perhaps that's the point.

    Having recognized that he was relaying strongly negative assessment, Rosen checked himself before he wrecked himself, which is the best one can do. Should Rosen not draw on the knowledge of legal insiders to sketch out potential criticisms?

    Reihan is a colleague and one of my favorite writers from across the ideological way. But I don't find this very credible. I don't think anyone is seriously arguing that Rosen should "not draw on the knowledge of legal insiders." It's helpful to read the damning graph again:

    I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.

    The very process of journalism is exactly what Rosen said he didn't do. I'm fairly confident that if you turned in a piece with a graph like that to any competent J-school professor, you would fail. I'm not sure why Rosen should be held to a lower standard.

    Reihan wants us to lay off on Rosen because he exercised "humility." But "humility" is the floor for a decent writer--not the ceiling. You don't get credit for not beating your wife. You don't get credit for admitting that you didn't do your job.

  • One Last Bit Of Rosen-Gate

    It's worth reading Reihan's response to me, Glenn's response to Rosen. I don't know that I have any more to say,except this: I know a number of commenters are P\Oed by this whole affair, as they should be. But, for me, at some point, I need to stop swinging and get back to studying.

    My views on all of this here and for all to see--I change nothing. But I can't repeatedly restate those points.I'm not built like that.

  • Another Point On Barry And Gays

    I meant to bang on this more, but I got so pissed off when I was writing. Anyway, this point was made in comments:

    Focusing on Barry's opposition to recognizing gay marriage causes us to miss the forest for the trees; in a majority black city with a majority black political leadership, the City Council voted overwhelmingly (12 to 1) IN SUPPORT of recognizing gay marriage (albeit ones performed outside of DC). This represents a great political victory for the gay rights movements, and refutes the meme which claims that the African-American community is monolithically, implacably, and irresolutely opposed to recognizing gay civil marriage.

    I don't think that can be said loudly enough. There are 12 members of the City Council. Seven of them are black. One is Marion Barry. To anyone who's followed Barry's career, I'm not sure why "Marion Barry Is A Demagogue" is breaking news. It's really wrong to erase the other six votes on that measure, and make Barry the face of blacks on the Council, and blacks in the City.

    Here's something else--consider the fact that D.C. is in the South. Not the deep South, but the South all the same. It's bordered by two slave states, and one Confederate state. I can't think of any other southern jurisdiction that's gone this far on gay marriage. To the contrary, most Southern states have set about the business of a constitutional ban.

    That leaves with a very uncomfortable fact--the most progressive place for gays in the South, is also the blackest. I wouldn't draw too much causality from that statement. Much like I wouldn't draw too much causality from black and Prop 8. But that didn't stop anyone then, did it? Why should it stop them now?

  • A Brief Ill-Considered Rant

    Andrew is concerned about Barry anti-gay marriage position. I think a few things should be said:

    1.) Andrew is vulnerable on this in a way, that I am not. This is serious business for gay people. I think it's a mistake to totally disregard Barry and to disregard Ward 8. I suspect that if you did, indeed, poll Ward 8 you'd find a lot of opposition to gay marriage.

    2.) I have some deadlines looming over me, and if I didn't, I'd expend a little shoe-leather myself and try to get a picture of what's actually happening in my old home. I feel like the Post's coverage has been pretty one-dimensional and wanting. Maybe that's a sign of the times.

    3.) I think having said all that, that is another case of the worst of us repping for all of us. Barry represents one Ward, in a majority black city. It is true that it's a heavily black Ward--but Southeast, and by extension Marion Barry, can't speak for all of D.C., any more than Harlem can speak for Jamaica, Queens. Eleanor Holmes Norton is just a black as Marion Barry.

    I've argued strongly against white gay people expecting automatic sympathy from blacks, on the basis of shared victimhood. There was no shared sympathy extended to blacks from the Irish, or the Italians. There likely will be none in the future from Mexican-Americans.

    That said, as a black person, it is painful and infuriating to watch this unfold. There is something utterly unreflective about people who can only use their pain to advance their own narrowly-defined interests, who can't use it to see the humanity of others. I think people who argue that gay marriage is going to "destroying our youth" are a fucking joke, and I will treat them as such.

    Nothing threatens "our youth" more than credentialed ignorance--especially when the credentials are claimed from up high. Somewhere on the internet there is a place where reasonable people are interested in high tea with bigots, and converting those who are on the fence. I don't want any part of it. Compassion is a resource too. My stores are limited. There will be no quarter here.

  • OK, This Is Just Creepy

    I don't get with the Mormon-hating. Didn't get with it when Romney was running. I won't get with it now. But dig this:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints confirmed Tuesday afternoon that someone improperly, posthumously baptized the late mother of President Obama into the Mormon faith.

    Last June 4 -- the day after then-Sen. Obama secured enough delegates to win the Democratic presidential nominee -- someone had the president's mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who died in 1995 of cancer, baptized.

    On June 11, she received the endowment.

    I think the arrogance of "baptizing" someone posthumously says a lot. I think the arrogance of baptizing someone who's child, only 30 years ago, would have been scorned in your church says even more.

  • The Meme Builds More...

    From my colleague Marc Ambinder:

    Conservative talk radio hosts have begun impugning Sotomayor's credibility. And the respectable intellectual center -- see Jeffrey Rosen's case against her temperament and inherent intellectual abilities -- is beginning to have doubts.

    The case against Sonia Sotomayer is, at the moment, built on a haphazard reading of her opinions, anonymous quotes, and this amazing admission by Rosen:

    I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.

    I can't get past that line--mostly because, as Greenwald said yesterday, it drips with unintentional irony--Rosen is attacking Sotomayor's ability to do the necessary intellectual heavy-lifting, while explicitly neglecting to do any of his own. In this instance, His piece reads like a burglar's brief against rampant criminality. Authored mid-robbery, no less.

    I mean him no disrespect. I'm sure he is a hard-working, talented writer. Journalism is difficult, and in this age, the urge to immediately have an opinion on everything is quite strong. But this is exactly why that urge has to be resisted. Opinions matter--even ill-informed ones. You don't get to be the "respectable intellectual center" and then practice your craft in the gossip-laden, ignorant muck. Not for long anyway. You know what this is--Great power. Great responsibility.


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