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.
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.
I'm a fan of diverse (and preferably complex) representations. They
don't have to be reflective or realistic, as long as everything is not The Cosby Show and everything is not Shaft.
Perhaps people are up in arms because in the gaping absence of national
minority representation in media, Perry has the authority of being the
foremost employer of black actors/actresses and the most widely watched
storyteller amongst black audiences. But that is an issue of lack of
representation and shouldn't be addressed by attempting to narrow down
the few existing representations into an image we prefer. Regardless of
how artistically or politically progressive Tyler Perry's films may
seem, he is pulling in record-making numbers at the box office which
means he is reaching sizable audiences on a consistent basis. And
because these audiences are predominantly black and latino, white
critics have been drastically off the marks with their predictions, and
are having to cope with a loyal audience that was previously rendered
invisible. But this is an important audience, TP is an important
filmmaker, and to dismiss him would be to dismiss the spectatorship of
a bunch of people who -- to the dismay of many film and culture critics
-- are basically dictating what's popular right now in Hollywood.
Basically. I think I've seen all of one Tyler Perry flick. His movies just aren't made for me. But neither is the new Star Trek. Or the latest rendition of Saw. Or the new Transformers. Whatever. Let Tyler do Tyler. It isn't his fault that everything ain't Love Jones (nor should it be).
No subgenre of journalism deserves to be put out its misery more than the "trend story." Heavy on the breading and light on the catfish, the trend story is typically the work of young reporters whose editors don't care enough to smack them down, or older reporters who are simply unionized hacks. The trend story's evil is only surpassed by its wicked spawn--the "political trend story," a work which applies methodology reserved for light fare ("Stalking With Cougars: Giving New Meaning To Ladies Night!") to actual weighty issues. Like race:
As the nation's first black president settles into the office, a
division is deepening between two groups of African Americans: those
who want to continue to praise Obama and his historic ascendancy, and
those who want to examine him more critically now that the election is
The political trend story stands out from its older sibling in how it reeks of condescension and bestows upon a lazy-ass writer the unearned privilege of drawing conclusions about millions of people based on a few interviews and a survey. In this case we have the Washington Post attempting to analyze black talking heads who've had to suffer actual black people who don't agree with them:
During the heated Democratic primary, Smiley questioned Obama's
decision not to attend his annual State of the Black Union conference
and said he hoped Obama would make it through the campaign "with his
The push-back was "brutal," Smiley recalls. Angry listeners called
him a "sellout," an "Obama hater" and "Uncle Tom." Surprised and hurt,
Smiley left Joyner's show but now uses the rough patch to make the case
for a new book he co-wrote, "Accountable: Making America as Good as Its
Typical of the political trend-story, the reporter simply accepts Smiley's version as fact and does no digging to see if there's more to the story. (Hint: There is.) I respect Smiley's pivot--he got aired out last year, but he turned it all into a book deal. I can't say the same of reporters who take any sources line as received truth. The hack indulging in the political trend story, isn't worth the unblemished shoe-leather which his stories are allegedly built upon. These are the sorts of articles which force you to cackle in the face of any dead-tree patrician holding forth on the sacred links between newspapers and democracy. Whatever. Do your job. We'll decide whether your worth mourning.
I think, in a post-9/11 era, folks would do well to check out Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower. The beauty of the book is that it clearly shows the roots of Al'Quaeda in both religious fundamentalism, and America's support of a brutal Egyptian dictatorship. And yet it never skimps in assessing the ruthless evil that animates Ayman Al'Zawari and Osama Bin Laden. Likewise, it critiques our endorsement of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, while at the same laying bare the thuggism of the Taliban. Check out the book. It's a gripping read.
A lot of us would do well to learn from that, to understand that one can condemn Dick Cheney and condemn the Taliban. And in case we're wondering why these nut jobs should be condemned I offer the following--a man tortured on suspicion of being gay, and 17-year old girl tortured for the following...
One account said she had stepped out of her house without being
escorted by a male family member, according to Samar Minallah, a rights
activist. Ms. Minallah said she distributed the video to local news outlets after it was sent to her by someone from Swat three days ago.
account said a local Taliban commander had falsely accused the teenager
of violating Islamic law after she refused to accept his marriage
The local authorities said that punishment was unacceptable--because it was conducted in public. Here's the tape. Watch it if you like. It could just be more media lies.
Mr. Poplawski's view of guns and personal freedom took a turn toward
the fringes of American politics. With Mr. Perkovic, he appeared to
share a belief that the government was controlled from unseen forces,
that troops were being shipped home from the Mideast to police the
citizenry here, and that Jews secretly ran the country.
"We recently discovered that 30 states had declared sovereignty,"
said Mr. Perkovic, who lives in Lawrenceville. "One of his concerns was
why were these major events in America not being reported to the
Believing most media were covering up important events, Mr.
Poplawski turned to a far-right conspiracy Web site run by Alex Jones,
a self-described documentarian with roots going back to the extremist
militia movement of the early 1990s.
Around the same time, he joined Florida-based Stormfront, which has
long been a clearinghouse Web site for far-right groups. He posted
photographs of his tattoo, an eagle spread across his chest.
"I was considering gettin' life runes on the outside of my calfs,"
he wrote. Life runes are a common symbol among white supremacists,
notably followers of The National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group linked to
an array of violent organizations.
I basically agree with Hilzoy--I don't have any strong gun control politics. But that said, it's amazing to me that these guys are allowed to stockpile this sort of heat.
Headed to Cali today guys to do some reporting. Posting will be light. Entertain yourselves. Jay Culter is a Bear. Chicago must be having a party right about now. I actually think he was worth the two first rounders.
I don't know what to do with people who think I literally believe white people should show the same sort of solidarity they've shown for the past centuries. Or that the nigras are really dead-set on marrying their daughters. But for the record, I don't think white people have to answer for Glenn Beck. It was a joke. I can deal with arguments. But the inability to see ones tongue planted in the cheek is too much. You don't have to think the joke is funny. You don't even have to like it. But you have to at least be able to recognize when someone is kidding. If you're looking humorlessness and dispassion, the web is full of it. We don't need more of it here.
He also resigned. That's actually about all I would want. It seems logical to me that such behavior would make your badge forfeit. Anyway, here's video with the Moats fam interviewed on Good Morning America. You do have to wonder how this would have went down without video. Or if Moats weren't in the NFL.
The point was made yesterday that there are white people on TV, every day, who make a living speaking in a manner that's twice as insane as anything you hear on the corner. Indeed. If you're a nut and you happen to be black, you're Cynthia McKinney. If you're a nut and happen to be white, well...
I know white people aren't embarrassed by Glenn Beck. But seriously, you guys really should be. Come on white folks, where's that sense of solidarity you've showed for centuries? You guys are a sorry bunch. Keep this up and the nigras will be marrying yer daughters!!
Sometimes you can't say it better than the people who are going through it. From Andrew, who I will quote at length:
Moreover, far from nihilistically renouncing nature, the marriage
movement aims at reclaiming the mantle of nature for homosexuals
alongside our heterosexual peers and siblings and parents. We know now
that same-gender attraction, bonding and sex is ubiquitous in nature,
and almost certainly has some evolutionary explanation. We know too,
experientially, that the love cherished by many gay couples is real and
beautiful and deeply human. It is not merely "contractual" or
"nihilist". It is organic, natural and completing. It is humanizing and
it is civilizing. History is full of such relationships, and they stand
proudly alongside their heterosexual peers. The reduction of these
shared lives and loves to abstract sexual acts is itself a form of
bigotry. It is an attempt to reduce the full and complex human being to
one aspect of his or her humanness. It is, in my view, anti-Christian
to speak of gays the way this Pope does. The Christian calling is not
to guard ferociously the ramparts of the 1950s out of fear but to
listen to the experiences of gay people - what the Second Vatican
Council calls the sensus fidelium - and try to integrate
their humanity into the structures from which they have been so cruelly
excluded, with such horrible human consequences, for so long.
is Rod's self-evident panic at the thought of such an integration that
has made some of us sit up and take note. There is some lurking fear
that if this form of being human is recognized as equal in the civil
sphere, let alone the sacred one, then the entire edifice of
heterosexuality and marriage and family will somehow be destroyed or
undermined. I do not believe that in any way. And I don't think it's
possible to believe that without, at some level, engaging in homophobia
- literally an irrational and exaggerated fear that the gay somehow
always obliterates the straight, or that 2 percent somehow always
controls the fate of 98 percent. This is where paranoia and panic take
over. It is where homophobia most feels like anti-Semitism.
Be not afraid, as Pope John Paul II kept telling us. Of what should we not be afraid? We should not be afraid of the truth about ourselves.
That last point about paranoia is key, and it really defines, not just anti-Semitism, but bigotry itself. The most laughable aspect of America's long war against racism, is the justification racist would always trot out--the specter of interracial union. I can remember being a kid and reading about black folks struggling for some small right, that, these days, we take for granted. So you'd have some black dude who'd been born a slave, in some one room shack, but had risen to become a lawyer, arguing for, say, school funding for black kids in rural Alabama. And then you'd see some bigot responding with, essentially, the following, "If we give the nigras school funding, they'll take our women! Do you want a nigra marrying yer daughter?!?!?"
I would read that and think, "What? The dude just wants some textbooks, WTF??" There's this great riff in Wattstax where Richard Pryor talks about Southern whites accusing a black dude of raping some white guy's wife. The guy brings out his wife and says something like, "The nigger raped her!" The assembled black folks look at the guy's wife who, let's just say is not Scarlett O'Hara, and go, "You sure??"
But in the white male paranoid mind, the deepest ambition of all black men lay between the two legs of some white woman--any white woman. And white women, of course lacking any real agency in the narrative, joyfully go along. Or are forcibly carried along. From that perspective, white racism really is a fear of a black planet--and (paradoxically) of white women.
John Cole refers us to this discussion about Journolist. I don't know what else to say except that the smallness of men extends into the microverse. But more importantly, John notes that he's starting his own group:
For the record, I am starting a secretive email list called the
"Johnolist." Everyone is invited, except for Mickey Kaus. I expect to
talk a good bit about sex with barn animals and the management of TNR.
Fuck Ezra's group. I'm much more interested in barn animals. I'm saying son, can I be down?
Seriously, are we really shocked that Michelle Obama is more popular now, than she was on the campaign? Did fools really believe she was gonna hoist the Red, Black and Green in the Rose Garden, raise her right fist, and break into a rendition of "Redemption Song?" Wait. Don't answer that...
A few people have asked me to comment on this. I'm a bit hesitant, because this tape hits me somewhere very personal, and requires that I say some critical things about people I like. I think Mos Def was offering up that corner consciousness, in which brothers preach nihilism under the cover of an alleged "Knowledge of Self" or "Thinking for oneself." I think Christopher Hitchens, rightfully, sonned him. As a Mos Def fan, and member of the hip-hop generation (whatever that means) I felt embarrassed. That's probably not my right, but I felt that way. Here's where it gets really weird, I held one person responsible for the whole debacle--Cornel West.
I don't know that this is fair, but I immediately thought back to when West and Mos Def were on The Bill Maher show and Mos basically said he didn't believe Bin Laden brought down the towers. West pointed out that he disagreed, but instead of pushing Mos, he went into this explanation for why black people tend to be paranoid. His explanation was perfect in substance, but bad for Mos Def. I thought the elder radical owed it to the younger radical to challenge him, to push him past nihilism and paranoia.
Again, this is all about me and my constant ruminations over my status as a lapsed black nationalist. With that in mind, two things need to be said.
The first is about what I still hold on to. I came up in the "conscious" community, and the one value that the Babas and Mamas taught me, that I hold with me to this day, is the sanctity of the relationship between the elders and the young, the sense that the elder doesn't exist to simply cosign the emotions of the young, he exists to push the young past that, to challenge them, to force them to be better despite themselves.
The whole notion of "It takes a village" was pushed by the conscious community. That idea has been wailed upon by people who don't know what the fuck their talking about, who've never sat on a stoop in a ghetto, who file reports and columns about people who are Martians to them. At its core, it simply means caring about people who are younger than you, in the way that you care about your child. I get the conservative critique of that ideal--it's certainly Utopian, but no more so than, say, "love thy neighbor." My interpretation (others may not share it) of the "It take a village" mantra would have called on West to pull up Mos Def, as opposed to making excuses for why he would think that way.
The other thing I learned in the conscious community was the value of critical thinking. The idea was that you live in a world where the Tuskegee experiments actually happened, where the FBI did plot to destroy the Panthers, where J. Edgar Hoover terrorized black leaders from Garvey to Huey Newton. In that vein, you should be skeptical of what you see and hear. This is the perspective Mos is coming from. (Note the Assata reference.) But here's the thing--if you really get that message, it ultimately leads you to be critical, not just of the larger white narrative, but of the narrative put forth by those around you.
So here's the deal--I was a history major at Howard University. I came to that school believing very much in an Afrocentric view of history. From that perspective, my first semester was just devastating. I had a professor, Dr. Linda Heywood, who specialized in taking on kids like me (the ones who believed ancient Egypt built fighter jets) and forcing us to face facts. She was, of course, a trained historian who was used to debating kids like me, and for every Chancellor Williams or Diop I whipped out, she had a David Brion Davis or a Eugene Genovese.
I couldn't escape by dismissing her as part of a white plot--she was not just a black woman, but a black woman with a PhD in African History, who was teaching at the most storied black university in the country. I couldn't attack her street cred, and so I had to engage the argument. I found her infuriating--which led me to take two more classes from her. A buddy of mine recalls the most poignant moment for us under her tutelage. At the end of a particularly debilitating lecture, she looked at us and said, "So with all the evidence I've given you, explain to me why blacks are not inferior to whites."
She didn't believe that of course. The point was preparation for what we'd encounter out in the world. Here is thing--my best professors at Howard (and there were many) knew that those of us who fashioned ourselves budding intellectuals would have to debate people who did not believe that it took a village, people who'd gone to the best schools in the world, and who were armed with the latest facts and science, and Ma'at would not save us. We could not hide behind myth--even if our opponents could. We were black. We had to be better than they'd heard.
I watched that clip of Mos Def, and thought back to my own rather tortured relationship with my past. I guess I'm a bit narcissistic. But you guys already know that. Still, I couldn't help but feel that someone should have prepared him, should have made him better than what Christopher Hitchens had heard. That people who loved him should have pulled him aside after his last appearance, and said "Like it or not, you represent us. You can't lean on myth and paranoia. You do a disservice to yourself, and to black people, when you do."
I thought Cornel should have pushed him away from being slippery with the facts, away from media conspiracy, away from that "I'm from the projects" pose, and out into the real. I thought he should have went at him brutally. Because somewhere out there a Christopher Hitchens was waiting, and when they met, he would have no mercy.
What you are getting here is the raw. Words and emotions that will likely come back to haunt me. I don't know that it's right--but it's what I feel, it's what I aspire to, even as I fall short on a daily. I believe that we have to be prepared for these motherfuckers. I believe we have to be equipped. I believe that the world is not Martha's Vineyard. But I also believe that the world is not the ghetto. I'm due for shape-up, like all the rest of us. But there's a reason this sort of shit stays in the barbershop.