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.

  • Black Immigrants (Again)

    In a blog post entitled "Africans Still Trumping American Blacks," Keith Josef Adkins observes:

    In 2004 Dr. Henry Louis Gates insisted that African and Caribbean immigrants as well as bi-racial students were trumping American Blacks in numbers at top-ranked universities.  In 2008 I blogged extensively about my experience within the Afropolitan culture, the social/intellectual circle where Africans [from abroad and second-generation] mingle and organic global consciousness is commonplace.  My 2008 assessment?  Africans and Caribbeans were trumping American blacks on the corporate climb as well as the artistic.

    I couldn't decide whether I should address this or not. I think this was written with the intent of garnering more heat than light--or without regard to either. I can't know a man's heart, but I suspect that when you use a phrase like "trumping American blacks" you aren't exactly interested in reflection or conversation. I think anyone with any serious knowledge of how immigration works, understands the problem with comparing self-selecting group to a native mass. Indeed, if you follow through to the original article you'll note that immigrant blacks aren't just doing better in these areas than native-born blacks, they're doing better than whites also:

    The data showed that 75 percent of first- or second-generation immigrant blacks enrolled in college after high school. For whites, the figure was 72 percent. For blacks whose families had been in this country for more than two generations, only 60 percent of high school graduates went on to college.

    Slightly more than 9 percent of immigrant black high school graduates enrolled at the nation's most selective colleges. Only 2.4 percent of native-born blacks and 7 percent of whites enrolled at these schools.

    I'm not really surprised by any of this, and I'm not sure why anyone else with a cursory knowledge of immigration history would be. And yet we keep hearing this whisper. In the context which Gates raised the issue--around Affirmative Action, not who's trumping who--I think it does, indeed, point of the problem with race-based AA. But beyond that, I don't know what else to say.

    And now allow me to digress to a broader, more existential dilemma. Every time I read something like "Africans Still Trumping American Blacks" I'm struck by the fundamental limitations of argument and dialouge and consequently the limits of blogging. One of my great qualms about this whole enterprise is that settled debates are rehashed, not because of new evidence, but because of the nature of punditry, because of a profession (??) that boils down to a kind of vulgar exhibitionism.

    Punditry is often disparaged as a sport or theater--but this is demeaning to sports and actual theater. It's more like wrestling--it cloaks itself in the veneer of truth-seeking, but beneath the surface is all the bombast and overstatement that can be mustered. Except wrestling bills itself as entertainment and punditry is self-regarding. Thus even this comparison may be demeaning to wrestling. 

    I don't mean to come down on Adkins--anyone who's watched Sunday talk shows knows this is the form argument has taken. Nor do I mean to absolve myself. I have, in my time, allowed outrage to get the best of me. But it's something to turn that outrage into a mode of argument, into a business model.

  • Obama On Cuba

    What I like about this answer is the paucity of ideological abstractions ("tyranny' "communism" etc.) and the focus on specifics issues. I think being proud of the fact that all the summit leaders are democratically elected, despite the fact that you may not like all of them, is evidence of why I voted for Obama. The dude is the un-Bush. Nuance isn't weakness. Hopefully we've learned that.

  • Tortured Logic

    I think we'll talk about torture quite a bit today--lotta thoughts swimming around after digesting it all this week. I think people should read this post by Andrew. It contains one of the ugliest statements I've heard made in relation to the War On Terror:

    So we had Deroy Murdock in one of the most repulsive columns ever printed in that magazine declaring:

    Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proud.

    Not reluctantly forced to contemplate torture in the last act of desperation to save mass death. But proud. Nonetheless, Murdock was at pains to tell us:

    But the bigger point that Andrew makes is that even after the Justice Department set parameters for torture, the CIA still violated them.  Khalid Shiek Muhammad was waterboarded 183 times in one month--roughly six times a day, and more than double the number of times that a sympathetic Justice Department said was legal.

    It would boggle the mind if it didn't make so much sense. This is what happens when you cross over to the "dark side." When you embrace the tactics of those you decry. The law exists to curb the worst instincts of men. Why would anyone think that once those boundaries are crossed, newly erected boundaries will be respected? You can't regulate "the dark side." That's why they call it the dark side.

  • Even Tom Delay Deserves Some Respect

    Oh how it pains me to do this. But do it I must. Lots of folks wrote in about that Texas and wealth post below. I think this is the best illustration of what was wrong:

    You fuckers are killing me today. I say that with love. Seriously. Fuckers is a term of endearment. Mostly.

    Oh, wait. Not that one. This one:

    I can't believe you picked this up.

    Texas is like a poor man's Alaska, with the substantial natural resource wealth but with the wealth spread across a much greater population.

    This is pretty ignorant. The GDP of Texas, in 2007, was 1.14 trillion dollars, close to nine percent of the national GDP (13.7 trillion). In this Texas stood just below California (1.8 trillion) and above New York (1.10 trillion). Taking the median income may say a lot about wealth distribution in Texas, but it's a stupid measure of how "wealthy" the state is. Tell me again how Texas is a "poor man's" Alaska (GDP 44 billion).

    By the way -- this means Texas' economy would make it the fourteenth-largest in the world, larger than Australia, Ireland, Italy, etc.
    Note: I think the secession talk is stupid grandstanding (albeit, grandstanding drilled into us by the mandatory Texas history course we public schoolers take). But it shouldn't be dismissed as an operationally insignificant possibility.

    The central question, as I understand it, is how wealthy the state is, not what is the centerpoint value of the wealth distribution. Using the median confuses wealth with income equality. California's median income was $56,000 for 2006-7, Texas's $45,000 for the same period. But if you divide GDP by population, California's GDP per person was $49,000, Texas' 48,000 (rounded up from 47,581). What this suggests is that the *wealth* on a population basis for Texas is roughly equivalent, but distributed much less broadly than in California. If we're talking about just policy, then California looks a hell of a lot better. But in terms of whose policy is better at generating wealth, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. THAT's why the "flaws" of median income make its use in this context misleading (if not ignorant).

    I apologize to Tom Delay, and all the fine residents of Texas. Every so  often, while licking shots, I hit the wrong target. By and by, I hope it happens less and less. To all the commenters who shot me full of holes, as I've often said to Kenyatta after she's deflated my burgeoning ego with some snide (yet perceptive) shot, "This is why I keep you around." Anyway Sgwhite, points us to this small addendum:

    Just one minor issue: you really shouldn't use median income, which can be distorted to the extent that inequality differs across states. You should instead use income per capita. As it happens, the comparison is even more striking. Texas, with its glorious free market regime and deeply incentive-creating 25 percent rate of health uninsurance, has a per capita income of $37,187; nanny-state New Jersey, with its oppressive taxes and regulation of everything (what it takes to get permission to cut down a dying tree ... ), has a per capita income of $49,194.

    Not that that makes the kid right.

  • The Political Case

    A reader writes:

    Given that the Bush-Cheney torture program reflected the will of the people at the time, and to your point, reflects a smaller but large chunk of the will of the people today, President Obama's semi-selective enforcement makes sense to me.  Purity to the rule of law in the face of overwhelming popular will is something only for constitutional law professors.

    This is a point that a buddy of mine made this morning, and that we see in comments below. Politically, prosecution is a loser. That doesn't make Obama right. But I think it offers an opportunity to examine why it's a loser. We live under The Constitution. But do we all really believe in it?

  • The Party Of Stupid

    Witness Tom Delay...

    Matt claps back:

    One problem here is that Texas isn't a wealthy state. Its median household income of $47,548 made it 28th in the country. Below average, in other words. New Jersey is second, California is eighth, and New York is nineteenth. Indeed, of the top ten states in per capita income nine are "blue" states.

    The exception is Alaska, whose wealthy is due not to "hard work" on the part of the population or a business-friendly policy environment but to the combination of substantial natural resource wealth and a small population. Texas is like a poor man's Alaska, with the substantial natural resource wealth but with the wealth spread across a much greater population. Absent oil, Texas would probably look more like its even poorer neighbors Louisiana (46), Oklahoma (44), Arkansas (49), and New Mexico (45).

    Matthews should have called him on that. I don't even give Delay enough credit to say that he was lying. He's just ignorant.

  • Ramblesauce

    I think just a few notches below "I can take a phrase that's rarely heard\Flip it, now it's a daily word," is "We knew from the start, that things fall apart and tend to shatter..."

    Heh, when me and Kenyatta first hooked up we used to always say that. Like all couples there's a kind of risk involved, and we weren't sure what would happen. But the only way to make it work was to leap into it violently, to go all in like Atwater on Okoye. And then there's Samori. Unplanned for, but there it was--we're in our early 20s, dangerously in love, and now there's someone growing between us. I wish I could tell you that there was something solemn, deep, profound and spiritual that pushed us forward.

    There were a lot of conversations. But more than anything I think it was the spirit of adventure that bonds us. It was less a feeling of being awed by the beauty of life, than a kind of "What the hell, right? We're all going to fall apart and shatter anyway--let's go for it." Yeah, not exactly great family planning. And yet now I think that worse things could have come of such randomness.

    That line "things fall apart and tend to shatter" has a deep resonance of death to it. But it's a great statement on the human condition, this idea that though everything we are will one day be wiped from all existence, we act anyway. Not a thing we do ultimately matters, and yet we act. Meh, better men than me have tackled this one. But I love that line because it's so much bigger than itself. The video's pretty awesome too.

  • The Awesomeness Of Jason Statham

    Jody Rosen explains:

    Statham's real genius, of course, is physical. Jaw clenched, sinews tensed, pate gleaming, Statham churns across the screen, as aerodynamic as the Audi A8 he drives in the Transporter movies. (Given a choice, you'd rather collide with the car than the chauffeur.) The athleticism is not a special effect. Before getting into acting, Statham was a member of the British National Diving Team. And he is an accomplished mixed martial artist, which explains his finesse in the kinetic Transporter fight scenes and in the climactic showdown in War (2007), where Statham and Jet Li face off, armed with sledgehammers and shovels. In fact, Statham's combination of brawn and flair is very Li-esque, very Hong Kong. Turns out, Hollywood's biggest Asian action star in years is a white guy from Sydenham, South London.
  • Oh by the way...

    Was looking for some old Madden calls, and came across this gem. How many of Cowboys remember this? I'm embarrassed to say that I actually cut this game off in the the third quarter--we were just getting mauled. And then the Cowboys come charging back in the Fourth. There's so much poetry here, starting with the fact that Boys were supposed to get Rocket anyway, but he went to the CFL and we got Russell Maryland. Dig Dave Lefluer in there too--who we took over Tony Gonzales (gah!!!). This OT bomb had actually been tried earlier in the game, and The Rocket dropped the ball. I remember thinking it was crazy because it was third and short and we had Emmitt. It's one of those "great call if it works" things.

    This was probably Troy Aikmen's last truly great game. It was also likely the last truly great Aikman/Irvin/Smith peformance. This was also the first time I saw Champ Bailey, who was able to stick with Michael Irvin in a way that Darrell Green never could. But if I recall correctly, Bailey got hurt in the third, and the game shifted.

    I watched this clip, and it was suddenly 1999 again, and I was back in Chocolate City, shit-talking all my Redskin-loving friends. Football is incredible that way. It really transports.

  • Torture

    Bearing in mind yesterday's revelations, this really sticks out for me:

    Mr. Obama condemned what he called a "dark and painful chapter in our history" and said that the interrogation techniques would never be used again. But he also repeated his opposition to a lengthy inquiry into the program, saying that "nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

    I think this is wrong. More than that I think it's dismissive, silly and bordering on insult to any literate human being. In point of fact "spending our time and energy laying blame for the past" is exactly what the justice system does. By Obama's logic murderers would go free in the streets. The real question is not whether you're going to lay blame for the past, but who your going to lay it on, and for which past. What Obama is really saying in this statement is he won't hold this particular group accountable, for this particular past.

    This is a dangerous course because it doesn't simply not "lay blame for the past," it shrugs off arguably the solemn responsibility of safeguarding the future. The price of doing nothing, of not enforcing laws, is the implicit statement that it really is OK to torture, that the most you'll face is a wag of the finger. The concern isn't mere vengeance.

    All of that said, what really disturbs me about all of this, is that most Americans still don't think torture is a big deal. I think in the case of Bush, particularly after 2004, we--the American people--got the government we deserved. I think Bush said a lot about who we were post-9/11. I'd like to see some exploration into how to make this torture argument directly to the people. Maybe we can't. Maybe people really don't care that much. But if we're wondering why Obama isn't willing to press forward, I think it's fair to also wonder why the people aren't pressing him to press forward.

  • Madden 5000

    John Madden taught me to love football. Short of late night D&D sessions with my brother Malik, nothing was was better in the mid-80s than Sunday, Redskins vs. Cowboys, Madden and Summerall on the one and two. And the Cowboys sucked then. I didn't care. People say Madden's skills declined in recent years. I guess. But I watch football the way men pilot time machines. There's something so boyish about the game, about the physicality of it, and how all your hopes hang on stupid things. Madden always took me back. He will be missed.

    Also, my apologies to Packers fans, but I love this clip, in part because you can feel Madden's passion.


How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.


A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

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What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?


The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.



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