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.

  • Cadillac Records

    I finally saw this flick while I was on vacation in Chicago this weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've generally avoided movie theaters lately (Too damn loud. I need to see The Dark Knight again, mostly because I feel like I couldn't pay attention to the movie because of the sheer volume.) but I really regretted not seeing this one, especially because it apparently didn't clear budget. Beyonce was pretty damn good. Adrian Brody was good. Eammon Walker kicked ass. Mos Def played Chuck Berry with a perfect mix of humor and pride.

    Jeffrey Wright was Jeffrey Wright--which means he was not even himself, nor was he playing someone else, so much as he was walking in someone else's skin. Truly amazing. As always. But I was most surprised by Columbus Short's take on Little Walter, mostly because I'd never seen the kid. He really brought it.

    It's weird, but the older I get, the less attuned I am to plot, and the more interested I become in character. The movies and TV shows I hate are the ones where I can feel the director reaching in and steering events in a particular direction or because the formula calls for a "twist." I'm much more interested in something more organic--watching actors inhabit interesting characters, and then watching those characters bump off of each other. I wasn't so much interested in what was going to happen, or how it was going to happen, as I was captivated by the chemistry of Wright, Gabrielle Union and Short. Ditto for Wright and Walker.

    Right before we watched Cadillac Records, me and Kenyatta tried out Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and we cut it off, mostly because we could see the plot unfolding. My general sense is that if you find yourself calling out scenes before they happen, you're in trouble. I like the lead actors, but like a lot of film and television, I thought the plot was overpowering, the MacGuffin forced, and the whole exercise artificial. I'm not picking on Nick and Norah--perhaps it got better after the friend earled in the toilet, and then dropped her phone in. I guess I'll never know.

    But seriously, we live in the era of the "twist ending," (The Sixth Sense fucked everybody up) and romantic comedies driven by gimmicks and device. Nothing wrong with that per se (40-Year-Old Virgin, for instance) but my personal taste leans toward an architecture that's concealed by characters, not the other way around.

    UPDATE: My whole point in writing this was to note my shock that nothing in this film warranted an Oscar nod. Pretty amazing. I thought there was some really great acting. Maybe it was too small. I don't know.

    UPDATE #2: I guess my objection is to art that needs to declare itself. I think Terrance Howard is a really good actor, and I liked him in Hustle And Flow. But ultimately, I felt like the "pimp with the heart of gold" device could only go so far. I wanted to see him bumping into and off of, detailed, precise, identifiable people. I wanted to see human beings.

  • Through The Looking Glass

    To a place where white folks are under siege, or at least feel like they are:

    Fifteen years after Nelson Mandela negotiated power away from the white Afrikaner government that ruled for half a century by means of a web of racist laws, South Africa's small Afrikaner population now struggles for political clout. Afrikaner organizations and scholars say many feel sidelined in a land where their language and culture are in decline, even resented. But though few are expected to vote for his party, some see a hint of hope in Zuma.

    His party, the ruling African National Congress, has been wooing Afrikaners -- descendants of mainly Dutch and French settlers whose presence here dates to the 17th century -- and other minority groups with renewed vigor. Afrikaners make up less than 6 percent of the population, 9 percent of which is white.

    Analysts say the efforts are partly a response to a new opposition party that has threatened the ANC's dominance by energizing disillusioned white voters and partly a cynical fanning of ethnic pride. But some say they also reflect a real concern within the ANC -- which claims to represent all South Africans -- that the party had evolved under then-President Thabo Mbeki into an organization seen as only for blacks. According to one recent poll, blacks make up 96 percent of its supporters.

    "People actually feel that government is not governing or serving us, they're actually governing against us," said Kallie Kriel, chief executive of AfriForum, an Afrikaner interest group whose members, he said, remain skeptical of the ANC outreach. Still, he said, "Jacob Zuma shows more sensitivity to these issues."

    Zuma, a down-to-earth populist, visited a squatter camp of Afrikaners last year. Last month, he sent an ambassador to the most extreme example of Afrikaner nationalism, the desert town of Orania. There, Afrikaners have carved out an all-white enclave where they hope to create an independent state dedicated to preserving a culture they fear is being swallowed up.

    Check it out. It's a well-reported story.

  • Tardiness

    I just noticed that Marion Nestle is writing for the Atlantic's Food Channel. As someone who believes her book What To Eat is essential, I thought I'd offer a shot-out. This probably happened weeks ago, so I'm likely late. Still better late than never. Here she is on how food labels should work.

  • One Last Note On Karen O

    Got a few notes reminding me that Karen O was not, in fact, white, but that one of her parents is white and the other is Korean. It was thus rather reductive to refer to her as "a white girl." This is a matter of fact. I regret the error.

  • You Can't Always Go Home

    Even in Harlem, David Paterson is losing his grip:

    Days after his elevation, Mr. Paterson was welcomed at a rally in Harlem, which he had represented for years in the State Senate, with standing ovations and cries of, "We love you, David."

    The disappointment expressed by some black voters in interviews appears distinct from the more dominant critique of Mr. Paterson as ineffective and lacking in focus. They cited Mr. Paterson's efforts to remake himself as a moderate, fiscally conservative politician, a break from his beginnings as a liberal Democrat and defender of social programs.

    As a result, the enthusiasm many African-Americans once felt has evaporated.

    According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, fewer than half of black voters in the state approve of how the governor is handling his job, down from two-thirds last summer, reflecting a broader decline among his core constituencies, including Democrats and New York City voters.

    "To be below 50 percent among any group is bad," said Maurice Carroll, director of the university's polling institute. "But there's no way a black governor can get re-elected when he's below 50 percent among black voters. That's desperation time."

    That 50 percent figure is incredible. I think Blago was doing better than that among black folks. One thing missing from this otherwise fine story, is some reporting on Paterson's political chops. I know that times are rough, but that's the playing field. I still wonder how good Paterson is at navigating it.

  • On Tea-Bagging

    Huhuhuhuhuhhuhu. You said tea-bagging...

    Anyway, now that I'm done with Beavis, I see that Paul Krugman notes that GOP zaniness is positively ancient:

    One way to get a good sense of the current state of the G.O.P., and also to see how little has really changed, is to look at the "tea parties" that have been held in a number of places already, and will be held across the country on Wednesday. These parties -- antitaxation demonstrations that are supposed to evoke the memory of the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution -- have been the subject of considerable mockery, and rightly so.

    But everything that critics mock about these parties has long been standard practice within the Republican Party.

    Thus, President Obama is being called a "socialist" who seeks to destroy capitalism. Why? Because he wants to raise the tax rate on the highest-income Americans back to, um, about 10 percentage points less than it was for most of the Reagan administration. Bizarre.

    But the charge of socialism is being thrown around only because "liberal" doesn't seem to carry the punch it used to. And if you go back just a few years, you find top Republican figures making equally bizarre claims about what liberals were up to. Remember when Karl Rove declared that liberals wanted to offer "therapy and understanding" to the 9/11 terrorists?

    I've said this before, but it was Schiavo that did it for me. That was the moment when GOP kookery went into full blossom.


  • And I'm Out...

    For the Easter weekend, at least. Headed to Chicago for a bit to max and relax. Moms has Samori, and we've been set free. If any Chicago folks are heading to Africa Hi-Fi, I'll be the one rolling with the chocolate dime-piece. Holler if you hear me.

  • Abuse And Responsibility

    This is at the bottom of the spousal abuse thread. It's a shame that it got buried. It's worth pulling out, as I think it points to a rather difficult catch-22. How do you empower people without giving them agency and responsibility? And how do you tell them any agency and responsibility, without blame?

    I once heard Bill Cosby try this while talking to some kids in jail, most of them who had been abandoned by their father's. He told them that someone had hurt them, and that that wasn't their fault, but that, ultimately, they'd be the ones who'd have to fix it. It's an unfair deal. But there's really no other way. Anyway, here's someone who'd know better than me:

    There's a lot going on in this comments thread. And I haven't taken the time to carefully read all of it, though I've had a good skim over it. Honestly, I can't quite bring myself to read all of this in too much detail. My hands are already shaking just having read the piece Ta-Nehisi linked to.

    I'm an abuse survivor, and Linda Hirshman's piece and the majority of these comments just don't have anything to do with my experience. I'm not doing a very good job structuring an argument here because, well, I'm not looking to be logically compelling, refute points, or even advance any particular assertion...except that I would really encourage everyone who is discussing this stuff here, and Hirschman, if they want to understand why women stay in abusive relationships, to trying asking a woman who was in one. And then five or ten more, because reasons vary a lot.

    Somebody wrote something above, poking fun at an abused woman because "he left HER ass" or something to that effect. Well, I was left by my abuser and not the other way around. It took me a year after he left to figure out that it was abuse. If you want to ridicule someone, ridicule me. When I got together with my abuser, I was the head of a feminist organization at the university I attended. My feminism didn't prevent me from getting into an abusive relationship, unfortunately--in large part because, like others mentioned here, I thought it was something that happened to other people. Once the abuse began, I was so ashamed of having gotten into that relationship that it prevented me from reaching out to others and getting out. The problem wasn't that I was a feminist, of course. It was that although I was a feminist, I didn't know enough about intimate partner violence--both how to recognize it in its initial stages and the fact that the shame that isolates you from others is one of the most potent tools that abusers have.

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  • Let's Do This Like A Prison Break

    A while back a buddy of mine was critiquing the whole "white people can't dance" thing. His point was that so many black kids, historically, grow up in conditions where all you have to control is your body. You have no other real way to demonstrate power, and so "body control" becomes a measure of power. Indeed the great popular dancers in our cosmology--James Brown, Michael Jackson etc.--had so much control that it almost seemed like they weren't even exerting any. They looked they weren't trying.

    Anyway, he was saying that whenever he hears black people brag about being able to dance better than white folks, he has to laugh to himself. It's like a kid from Harlem bragging to some Wall Street dude about the width of his gold rope. "You have to be able to dance," my buddy said.  "because you have nothing else." On the contrary, when you see that white dude out on the floor, he's free to just enjoy himself. He has nothing at stake--nothing hanging in the balance. For us it's ritual. But for them--it's just a good time. And they're free to do that. Hell, we wish we lived in a world where we couldn't dance.

    I thought of that convo watching this beautiful YYY's performance. Karen O is jumping around, doing what we imagine when we say the "white girl thing." It's quite thrilling--she's leaping all over the place, and there's a kind of submission to herself at work, a sense that she could care less who's watching. And the crowd just loves it. As for me, I desperately wanted her to stop. Because the whole time, thrilling as it was, I was afraid she was going to fall...

    UPDATE: For the record, the kid can't dance a lick either. My folks didn't celebrate holidays. I missed all those chances at family dinners to get my coordination right.


  • More On Cuba

    Again, this comment is worth pulling out. From frequent commenter Eduardo who is, himself, Cuban-American:

    I have been working so much and I am very tired. I am equally tired of those people who claim themselves to be for the little guy, democracy and all that, and then cannot understand that if a country --a Western country at that-- is ruled by 50 years by one guy and his brother without elections or opposition or freedom of press etc that is a cruel, brutal tyranny. These people are simply stupid or lack empathy.

    Sometimes people ask me why Cubans vote so overwhelmingly Republican despite that anybody who knows us a little bit knows we are neither social conservatives and probably are to the left on economic issues. Well, here is your answer. And it is not just them, it is Michael Moore, and Stone, and a big long etc.

    I get the politics of the 60s and the 70s. I understand that the Vietnam-era was a different dynamic. But today, in the 21st century, in the era of Barack Obama, I have no idea how any lefty can say of Castro, "It was like listening to an old friend." Here is Human Rights Watch on Castro's Cuba:

    Over the past forty years, Cuba has developed a highly effective machinery of repression. The denial of basic civil and political rights is written into Cuban law. In the name of legality, armed security forces, aided by state-controlled mass organizations, silence dissent with heavy prison terms, threats of prosecution, harassment, or exile. Cuba uses these tools to restrict severely the exercise of fundamental human rights of expression, association, and assembly. The conditions in Cuba's prisons are inhuman, and political prisoners suffer additional degrading treatment and torture. In recent years, Cuba has added new repressive laws and continued prosecuting nonviolent dissidents while shrugging off international appeals for reform and placating visiting dignitaries with occasional releases of political prisoners.=

    Check out the report, the best part is that it ends by calling out the insanity of the embargo. But my point is that it's weak to act like Castro is consistent with best of the progressive tradition. It's weak to call out Dick Cheney here, and cheer on Castro over there. It's weak to shout apartheid at Israel, and then turn around and applaud Castro. It's weak to say, "Yeah, I hear you but..." Either repressively ruling a country for half a century and then conspiring to pass power to your brother, is wrong or it isn't. We have to choose. Or we have to be jesters.

  • When You Love Someone Who Chokes You

    Since we started with the whole "I want to break your back" thing, I figure we should just go full bore. Here's Linda Hirshman discussing victims of domestic violence, and the victims responsibility. Here's she's talking about Morgan Steiner's memoir, Crazy Love:

     In this latest episode of bad choices, her future husband gave her clear warning. Once when they were having sex, long before they got engaged, he choked her until she almost passed out and informed her that he "owned" her before he came. Still, she made herself available for the hurting. Since the relationship ends when he walks out of their apartment after three years of marriage, we never know if she would have left on her own.
    In the press kit for Crazy Love, Steiner says it's easy to see why she married someone who choked her on a regular basis. She was, she says, "kind, insecure and desperate for intimacy. ... It is not difficult to understand why anyone ... could become trapped in an intimate manipulative relationship." She also relentlessly reminds the reader that she is a WASP of impeccable ancestry and therefore an improbable abuse victim. "All my family is blond," Steiner writes. "I do not look the part." Her abuser was blond, too. It was the first thing she noticed about him. She also acknowledges that she should have picked up on the warnings he littered behind him.

    Steiner is wrong: It is difficult to understand why she stayed in this awful relationship, given that she was not risking starvation and had no children with her abuser. Which is why, no matter how many times Steiner and Marcotte and the others tell them not to, people keep asking the question. And it's terribly important to do exactly that. Asking why women participate in destructive relationships is a mark of respect. The amazing thing is that, four decades after the birth of feminism, we are still arguing about it.

    I have no idea why anyone would think that blonde hair is a force-field against crazy. Perhaps thinking that there's a physical profile for battered women is part of the problem. But I digress, folks should read the whole piece. Again, I'm a lapsed nationalist--and there is weird gender nationalism going on in this piece that I actually respect and agree with. One good thing about nationalism, is that it knows how to hold individuals responsible without letting its persecutors off the hook. I don't think Hirshman is arguing that Rihanna rammed her face into Chris Brown's fist. But on some level, people have to be responsible for their lives. Saying that doesn't make Chris Brown any less of a dirt-bag.

  • Two Thoughts Can't Occupy The Lame Brain At The Same Time

    It's against the laws of physics, and apparently against the creed of the Congressional Black Caucus. Here's Bobby Rush having returned from Cuba on a trip with the CBC:

    Lee and others heaped praise on Castro, calling him warm and receptive during their discussion. But the lawmakers disputed Castro's later statement that members of the congressional delegation said American society is still racist.

    "It was quite a moment to behold," Lee said, recalling her moments with Castro.

    "It was almost like listening to an old friend," said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Il.), adding that he found Castro's home to be modest and Castro's wife to be particularly hospitable.

    "In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor," Rush said.

    Right. I get that the embargo hasn't worked. I get that it's bad policy. But dude, he's a dictator. And no amount of subject-changing can get around that fact.

    UPDATE: I just want to emphasize the point is to reject dichotomy. You don't have to endorse American Cuban policy, to understand that no one can makes you become a despot. No one makes you lock up artists and intellectuals. No one makes you spend 50 years as the head of a totalitarian state. America didn't make Castro a dictator, anymore than Castro made America embark on a failed embargo policy. Two people arguing can both be wrong.

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