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.

  • Hate Crime Laws

    This comment is bubbling below, and its a question I have myself, so I thought I'd pull it out:

    I have to confess that I'm a bit meh about hate crimes legislation. Matthew Shepard was murdered, after being kidnapped and beaten, etc. So, many crimes were committed. And absolutely, they were committed because he was gay. We punish the crimes of murder, kidnap, and battery. I'm sure that in Montana, the punishments are quite severe. Why isn't that enough?

    I'm not engaging in rhetoric, I'd like a real answer.

    The thing that made me leery of Hate Crime Law was the infamous Fat Nick case, in which a kid got 15 years for what really sounded like beef--with a quasi-ethnic twist. The victim had literally come to the neighborhood to steal a car. Read about the whole story here:

    It is true that Fat Nick chased Moore through the streets that night, and after finding him hiding behind a porch set upon him with the softball bat, saying, "What up, nigga? This is what you get when you try to rob white boys." But it was also true that Glenn Moore and his two friends had come from East New York (one of Moore's friends, Richard Pope, lived there), on a failed excursion to steal a car in Lindenwood. Moreover, there had been a spat of robberies in Howard Beach in the weeks preceding Nick's attack, documented by letters to the editor of the Queens Chronicle. "Where were the press, Mayor Bloomberg, or Police Commissioner Kelley when they held my family hostage?" said Edward Benedetto, the author of such a letter, as he described being robbed at gunpoint by three black men to a Chronicle reporter after the media descended on Howard Beach.

    In his confession, Fat Nick seemed accepting of the presence of black people in East New York, whereas detective D'Angelo seemed coercive, as though he had a bigger arsenal of generalizations about race at his disposal than Nick did, albeit for different purposes. In other words, it seemed possible that Nick had selected Glenn Moore because he was black, but it seemed uncertain as ever that Nick was a racist, as opposed, say, to a street punk with an anger problem who acted with the instincts of a racial profiler, and who should only have been charged with aggravated assault.

    The law isn't my area, and I'd love to hear a solid defense of hate crime laws. It strikes me as weird that the mere utterance of a racial slur during a violent act automatically makes it worse.

  • David Souter On The Outs

    But you already knew that. John Nichols argues that this is why Arlen matters:

    No matter who Obama picks, the chances that his nominee will be confirmed with relative ease have risen significantly in recent days. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's switch from the Republican caucus to the Democratic caucus moves a key member of the Judiciary Committee into the majority-party camp. If and when Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidate Al Franken is finally seated, Democrats will have the 60 votes they need to advance a nomination without having to contend with a Republican filibuster.
  • Byron York Is Not A Racist

    Byron York claps back with this shocking claim:

    A few commentators on the left are calling me a racist for my post, "The black-white divide in Obama's popularity."  I suppose if you haven't been called a racist by the usual suspects on the left, you haven't been writing for very long...

    I wrote that citing Obama's "sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are." I thought the word "overall" conveyed the idea that there was a difference between the total job-approval number and the complexities of opinion of Obama on various issues.  Maybe "across-the-board" would have been better than "overall," but I doubt that would have kept a left-wing activist like Matthew Yglesias, or Andrew Sullivan, who has himself been accused of racism and, quite recently, anti-Semitism, from branding me a racist.  The numbers inside the Times poll are newsworthy, if the critics would take the time to read and analyze them.

    The fact that York, at no point, quotes a single "left-wing activist" calling him a racist should tell you something about the honesty of his rebuttal. For employers of the "not a racist" form letter, the unsubstantiated charge is the heading.

    One reason I spent so much time yesterday talking about people who play the "not a racist" card is because I was fairly sure this would be York's response. I can't tell you how comical it is to see that he actually followed the script. (Meekly defend your position and feign victimhood for having been called racist--whether you were called one or not.)

    In fact neither Matt nor "left-wing activist" Andrew called York a racist. But "you're a racist" is the  easiest argument to respond to, so York just pretends that they did. It's an incredibly dishonest and intellectually cowardly move, but it's the stock and trade of your average pundit  looking to "score points." Instead of evaluating your adversary's critique, you simply stick your fingers in your ear and exclaim "not a racist" and "left-wing activist" and hope no one's the wiser.

    Meanwhile, York never responds to the fundamental critique of his column summed up here by noted lefty, flagrant race-card dealer, and former aide to Newt Gingrich, (and self-professed friend of Byron York!) Robert George:

    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.

    Ironically, this Schneider segment -- as pernicious as it was in itself -- actually undermines York's even-worse piece: Simply put, because blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly black Democrat at the presidential level, there is actually very little difference between black support for Barack Obama and that of any "generic" Democratic president.

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  • Orgins

    A.O. Scott says the new Wolverine flick kinda blows:

    "Wolverine" is shorter and less pretentious than "Watchmen," but almost programmatically unmemorable, a hodge-podge of loose ends, wild inconsistencies and stale genre conventions. Vengeance is the default motive for most of the mayhem that is perpetrated, and for good measure there is a military-scientific government conspiracy overseen by a reptilian bad guy (the excellent Danny Huston).

    A flotilla of secondary characters parades through the scenery, mostly mutants with various powers and questionable franchise-enhancing capabilities. Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch and Will.i.am show up and do what they can, but prove hopelessly unable to compensate for the absence of, say, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin or Ian McKellen.

    "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" will most likely manage to cash in on the popularity of the earlier episodes, but it is the latest evidence that the superhero movie is suffering from serious imaginative fatigue.

    I'll catch it on DVD. Not because of its merits or lack therof, but because the theater's are just too damn loud these days.

  • Speaking Of Jigga

    I was just scrolling through some old videos, and came across the Feelin' It video. My son came in and asked me the name of the song--I told him and mentioned to him that I play it all the time. He remembered. I told him the sound sucked, and decided to play the real one.

    I have a general rule about most hip-hop in this house--more important than what the boy hears, is who is willing to talk to him about it. So we've had our share of conversations about everything from Ghetto Boys to Ghostface--that last one was hard. I like to think of myself as liberal. Still, no Dad is prepared to hear his 8-year old say, "If you feel it raise your L in the sky"--even if you've done exactly that in last, uhm, decade.

    Hip-Hop wasn't created with the idea that one day heads would be fathers. Anyway a much better--and tagentially related--video is below. This is actually probably my favorite hip-hop video ever, and one of my favorite period. This is so how it feels...The life of a black male in four minutes, "Everybody start to rush\Swinging through is your friendly neighborhood lush..."

  • 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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