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.

  • The Book List

    Stephen Hahn's A Nation Under Our Feet came in the mail yesterday (thanks for the recommendation, guys). Today, I got the second volume of Louis Harlan's Booker T. biography. I thought Norrell's was really well-written, but I found its polemical aspects unconvincing. I'm going to knock out Capitol Men by week's end, then tackle this Wells Towers joint. I need a fiction break.

    I'm having a rather layered reaction to all this reading on Reconstruction. It's surreal to read about P.B.S. Pinchback, or any of the seemingly numerous dudes who were slaves, walked to another state, went to college and then became lawyers. But at the same time it's very hard to take the tragedy of it all. On a personal level, it's hard to read about getting your ass kicked repeatedly by the most vile elements of the country. I've got a bio on "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman waiting for me, but I'm scared to read it. All you need to know about this dude is that his name was "Pitchfork." Pitchfork Tillman. He just sounds like he should be leading a lynch-mob.

    I get a lot of comments about my blogging style. A lot of folks want me to twist the knife more, or go a little harder, or throw a few more elbows. I understand the impulse. Part of its racial--they're just so few black writers who get to get on the mic. And there are so many sucker MCs spewing weak shit about black people. You want to see someone force some humility on these dudes.

    But the one thing about reading a quality book is that, if you're in the right frame of mind, you're reminded that you're in no position to humble anyone. I remember being young, with my beads, with my tie-die book-bag, my Bob Marley tee-shirt, and my baby dreads. I thought all you needed to know of the world was somewhere between Cointelpro and Kimet. What did I know of class struggle, then? I didn't know even Jack & Jill existed. What did I know of "women's issues?" What do I know now?

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  • Change You Can Believe In

    I'm going to wait for Nate Silver, and others, to do the math on this, but I'd be lying if I didn't say this is exciting:

    Support for gay marriage, legalizing illegal immigrants and decriminalizing marijuana all are at new highs. Three-quarters of Americans favor federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Two-thirds support establishing relations with Cuba.

    In one respect, a lot of this reflects where Americans have been trending--these are basically the opinions of the young. But I also think it shows how a strong leadership can transform how people see an agenda.

    Frak me, I've already said too much. It could just be a bad poll. The temptation to pontificate is strong. My only salvation is to get my kicks by watching you guys go at it.

  • This Is Excellent News. For Palin.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is incredible:

    The historic gap between blacks and whites in voter participation evaporated in last year's presidential race, according to an analysis released today, with black, Hispanic and Asian voters comprising nearly a quarter of the electorate, setting a record.

    The analysis, by the Pew Research Center, also found that for the first time, black women turned out at a higher rate than any other racial, ethnic and gender group...

    Together, black, Hispanic and Asian voters made up nearly 24 percent of the voters, compared with about 12 percent in 1988.

    The analysis found that southern states with large populations of black eligible voters recorded the greatest increase in turnout rates. In Mississippi, the rate increased by 8 percentage points, from 61.7 percent in 2004 to 69.7 percent in 2008.

    Mr. Obama scored upsets in several southern states, which were attributed to the growing number of migrants from other parts of the country, younger voters and a surge in turnout among blacks.

    Obviously, part of this is history. I doubt it will be the same in the next few presidential elections. That said, I think we're getting a glimpse of the future here. I'm thinking back to that meme about Mark Penn and him writing off states that "don't really matter." How'd that work out? Yeah...

  • More On "Not Counting"

    It's worth noting, as Robert George does here, that this notion that Obama's share of the black vote is a problem in a way that, say, George Bush's share of evangelicals weren't. George notes a particularly egregious example, where Bill Schnieder did a whole piece for CNN about the Dems "dependency" on the black vote:

    The "problem" with this analysis is -- what's the point? Analysis of the GOP's relative strengths and weaknesses comes down to geographic assessment. Schneider doesn't devote a segment to "What would the Senate look like if white Southerners didn vote for Republicans (which in some states they do to upwards of 70 or 80 percent)?" But blacks voting for Democrats is staged as some sort of "exception" that should implicitly invalidate the reality of the current political situation.
    I'd go even further. The best kept secret amongst people like Obama is this--the black vote is the best bargain in politics.

    The Democrats monopoly on the black vote is almost wholly based on the perception of the Republican party as racist, and the brand Kennedy built, but LBJ really enacted, in the 60s.
    Now, because of the black community's demography, it's likely that Democrats would still get a majority of black votes, even if this weren't the case.

    But the GOP could probably peel off a 20-30 percent or so, and here is why they should be trying: Unlike evangelicals, black voters of this era, don't have a list of polarizing demands. Obama doesn't have to fear a Terri Schiavo incident, for instance.

    Which is not to say that black voters don't have issues, but in the last election, I'm hard pressed to think of one that would crack  the top three (health care, the war, the economy) that differ from those you'd find among white people that voted for Obama. All they ask is that you not have people at your rallies who feel comfortable (on camera!!) saying that they don't want a black president.

    What was Obama's great strategy for securing the black vote? First, winning Iowa. Second, as Marc has reported, going on Tom Joyner. Repeatedly. I'm a black guy that would like to see torture investigated--but that's not because people in Harlem are out in the streets. It's because of what I believe individually.

    People need to understand that this isn't 1988. Welfare was reformed, and Bill Clinton didn't lose a black supporter for it. The Crime Bill was passed, and they still called Clinton the "First Black president." You can't do Willie Horton today. You can't run a presidential campaign on Affirmative Action. There simply isn't a national issue that black voters are pushing for that white voters hate. The South Side isn't organizing around reparations. Maybe they should be. But they aren't.
  • Fatal Attraction Remakes

    A lot of folks have written in about Obsessed  with some version of the following argument, "What's the problem? It's just Fatal Attraction for the hood!" In that light, I this comment from Daphne is worth highlighting:

    So this film is a remake of Fatal Attraction? It sure sounds as if everybody has forgotten the feminist critique about that film, after it first came out. It was a highly convenient vehicle for a lot of sexist crap, with Glenn Close in the role of unmarried psycho bitch. Fatal Attraction delved into the psyche of unmarried successful career women, who, it transpired in that film, must be crazy and violent. A deep well of blatant sexism was opened up there.

    Obsessed has not reached Europe yet, so I am judging from the trailer only. But it sure sounds as if that particular sexism debate has only moved backward. The psycho unmarried blonde in the remake looks as if she has become even more weird and emotionally unstable than the original character, who at least had some real sex with Michael Douglas to back up her 'claim'. Also, the power dynamic is even more screwed up. Glenn Close's character was a professional woman, working in publishing, if I remember correctly. Her character, twenty-odd-years on, now has no power in the workplace at all, and works as a temp.
  • Calling Spades

    Let me precede what I am about to say by noting that I've written some of what follows before. But I think it bears repeating, and so with that in mind, I offer this:

    Yesterday somebody asked if I'd comment on the following passage from Byron York:

    On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

    At first, I said I wouldn't--mostly because I don't want to be that guy who patrols the net looking for right-wingers who say dumb shit about black people. Moreover my fellow Left-Coast Avengers were already on the case. But then the quote stayed with me. And after thinking on it, I realized why--Even by the standards of a National Review alum, I think that Byron York's column is incredibly racist.

    We spend a lot of time attacking people for playing the race-card--I've done my share. But what largely animates this idea that crying racism is an overused tactic (as opposed to say crying antisemitism) is this notion that among polite, thinking people, there are no employers of racism. Racism is the trade of the American savage--the man who flies the Confederate flag,  has an undiscovered dead dog under the porch, and lives in West Virginia. This man doesn't walk among the civilized.

    But here is your political correctness run amok:

    James Watson argues, not simply that there may be a biological explanation for IQ differences, but says of notions of intellectual equality, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not to be true," and be held up as a truth-teller.

    A series of newsletters entitled the Ron Paul Freedom Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report, The Ron Paul Politcal Report are revealed to be incredibly racist. ("Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks" Martin Luther King "seduced underaged girls and boys.") But Paul knows nothing about them, and is the farthest thing from a racist. ("Ron thinks Martin Luther King is a hero.")

    Duane "Dog Chapman is recorded repeatedly calling a black woman a nigger, but his son says the following of him, "My dad is not a racist man. If he was he would have no hair. He'd have swastikas on his body and he would go around talking about Hitler. That's what a racist is to me."

    Geraldine Ferraro claims that a black guy has only succeeded at presidential politics because he's black (twice!) but is most offended by the notion that someone would think she was racist. (Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist.")

    Michael Richards, repeatedly, yells at a black heckler, "He's a nigger!" then goes on national TV and says he's bothered that people think he's racist. "I'm not a racist," Richards said. "That's what's so insane."

    We live in a country that may well be offended by racism, but it's equally offended that anyone might actually charge as much.

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  • Obama Presser

    Here it is for those who didn't see it. I don't have much to say. I think it's worth looking at some old Bush pressers. The difference is, even now, shocking. That we could elect both of these guys says something about us, though I'm not sure what. Otherwise, I thought his answer on torture was dead on. He did what all great debaters do--he focused on the strongest arguments.

  • White Woman Obsessed

    Postbourgie writes about the new Beyonce\Ali Larter\Idriss Elba flick obsessed, and in the process, goes where I've feared to:

    But come on. Who isn't into this flick for the beatdown? Trust. You won't be disappointed (unless you're looking for an abundance of punny smack-talk). Just turn off your brain, embrace the derivativeness, and close your ears to the Beyonce power ballad playing over the credits. ("I wanna run smash into you," Beyonce? Really?)

    On one level this is just flicks like Trois, going mainstream--Obsessed carried the weekend. But I've stayed away from this, mostly because I feel the film is feeding on a hostility toward white women.

    I'm haunted by an old memory: Back in college I went to see Waiting To Exhale. The theater was overrun with black women, which was cool with me. I actually like seeing films in the hood, given that there's often something participatory, if ignorant about it--Only negroes bring their two-year old to see The Two Towers.

    Anyway, the thing that got me was the scene where Anglea Bassett barges in the boardroom and slaps the shit out of the white woman her husband has been sleeping with. The whole theater lost it--I'm talking damn near a standing ovation. Word is that this scene was repeated around the country. Now maybe Negroes just liked Bassett's bop. Maybe they just were happy to see the "other woman" get hers. Maybe everyone just wanted to stand at the same time. But I don't think so. I think race was essential to that scene and the crowd's reaction.

    I could have this wrong, but I think pitting a blonde homewrecker against and upwardly couple played by Elba and Beyonce is speaking in crude code to black women. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm stuck on race. Maybe I just need to see the movie. Kenyatta saw the flick at Court Street in Brooklyn, a theater which I love almost as much as the one up here on 125th. She said fools lost it on the fight scene. Anyway here's the trailer, for those who don't know.

  • The Battle Flag

    I found this note from frequent commenter Sporcupine to be revealing:

    The flag we're discussing, the "Battle Flag" with the big X across it, became the overwhelming symbol not in the 1860s, but in the 1950s. It's about revolt and rejection, heavily on race, but not entirely so. It includes a heavy helping of "Don't tread on me." It also has a loud, rambunctious, beer-and-pickup truck style. It's Lester Maddox and George Wallace and the Dukes of Hazzard.

    I'm told my grandfather's comment on the Klan was "When they go marching in their sheets, just look at their shoes." He meant that they were poor men, with few options and a large helping of desperation. And he also meant that he, a man with a college education, a law practice, and inherited land, was too good for that.

    My grandfather was raised in home that displayed a flag with two red bars with a white one in between, and a blue field at upper left with thirteen stars in a circle. That's the "Stars and Bars." It goes with verandas and juleps and cavalry officers and gentility. It's Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. It's a different symbol than the one we're puzzling here.

    Seeing that divide may help untangle what's up with the heritage v. hate argument about the Battle Flag.

    When we ask someone to let the Battle Flag go, I think they hear a request to let go of those other loyalties too, to say they wish they'd grown up in a bigger house, with a newer car and more educated parents and a life style Martha Stewart would approve. They think we're asking them to say they look down on what their parents were able to provide, and on their parents. They think we're asking them to sign up not just for my grandfather's relatively decent views on race, but his smug, witty, indecent view of social class. And, of course, they're not entirely wrong.

    The heritage thing isn't the whole truth. It isn't even half the truth. But it is a part of the truth, and very few people who fly the Battle Flag will take it down if they have to let that family pride element go to do it.

    (My current take on the issue in small Kentucky towns is to say "I'm a one-flag Southerner" and "When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I mean it all." I've gotten at least a few Battle-Flag fans to chuckle and nod in response.)


  • The Long-Term Effects Of Bullying

    UPDATE: This is one response. Please don't take it as a decleration of what happens to all people in all places, or even most people in most places. It's freestlye memoir. Not science.

    It's worth spending some time with Terry Gross's piece on the new Mike Tyson doc. I appreciate the fact that Gross didn't just hand the megaphone to James Toback, the director. Instead she also talked to journalist Elmer Smith who was able to balance out Toback's partiality. This was particularly important for the discussion of Tyson's rape case and the events leading up to his infamous bite.

    There's a lot of time spent discussing the fact that Tyson was bullied as a child, and how he learned to master that fear. It led me to want to read more journalism on the psychological effects of bullying. I don't mean the "Ban Bullying!" placard waving kind, but some investigation of the long-term effects.  I don't think I ever recovered from getting my ass kicked--a few times--in middle school by the local hard-rocks. But I'm not sure I want to recover either.

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  • We Don't Believe You. You Need More People.

    Michael Steele's statement on Arlen Specter deserves a hard look:

    Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not. Let's be honest-Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record. Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first.

    This is an amazing statement when you think about it. Steele is basically arguing that the left-wing stretches from from Dennis Kucinich to Arlen Specter. That's quite the big tent--and it's being pitched by the head of the Republican party. It's based on the notion that you can just say "liberal," "socialist," "lefty" 100 times and then say "Vote for me!" I know a lot of us think people are that stupid, but they aren't. And they especially aren't in these times.

    The purpose of name-calling is to draw contrast, to draw dividing lines, with the understanding that if do the math right more people will end up on your side. But the GOP of late have excelled at drawing lines that leave them with less voters on their side. The implicit message in Steele's statement is that if you think like Arlen Specter, if you voted for the Iraq War, if you oppose card check, if you think government should have some role in health care, you're "left-wing." So much for a center-right nation.

  • A Black Man On White People's Money

    Nate Dimeo makes the case for Frederick Douglass replacing Ulyssess Grant on the $50 dollar bill. I'm reading about Reconstruction these days--you know what I think of this idea. The obvious choice for a black man is King. But I'd go with Douglass. I see him, in many ways, as a founding father. He really helped finish the work the Jefferson, Washington, Madison etc. started.


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