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.

  • More On The Decline In Black Incarceration

    Kai Wright offers some interesting analysis. This caught my eye:

    As the Sentencing Project details, a big part of the decline is structural. Crack busts drove drug arrests and convictions in black neighborhoods. But crack long ago faded from the drug market, if not the popular culture. Moreover, the large-scale drug dealing businesses--and that's what they are, like it or not--have adapted their distribution channels in response to the cops' military-style sweeps of the '80s and '90s. Here's how John Jay College of Criminal Justice scholar Ric Curtis once explained the shift to me:

    "Many of the businesses had been modeled on the McDonald's or Wal-Mart style of operation. ... They had all these street-level functionaries that were just interchangeable cogs for them, but they were getting arrested in extraordinary numbers. ... So eventually they said, 'You know what? Fuck this. It's too much of a pain in the ass. We're gonna downsize. We'll retain management and lop off labor. And management is gonna go to a new style of business.'"

    The new style of business, as the Sentencing Project notes, abandons the street corner and instead focuses on delivery to regular, known clients. So the big players moved the market off the street and out of the cops' hair. Cynical as it sounds, that's actually something of a policing victory--it means fewer turf wars and safer neighborhoods. (Sure, it literally sweeps the problem out of sight, but it certainly doesn't get rid of drug use and -dealing, and in no way mitigates the damage both wreak upon individuals, families and communities.) In any case, the new distribution system means fewer black arrests, fewer black convictions and fewer black inmates.

    Heh, talk about acting white. Best comment I've seen on this was from some joker over at Yglesias's place, who noted with mock outrage, that "the whites were muscling in on the black drug trade." Fuckers. Can't ever let us have anything.

  • Mocking The Mock Draft

    I have no idea why people pay attention to these things:

    Bottom line: mock drafts are useless. They serve no purpose. If you want to educate yourself about the draft, study the most highly rated players at each position and then study team needs and draw your own conclusions. Do not waste another second of your life on the mock draft.

    I guess mock drafts aren't made to be taken seriously. Still it's silly to have "draft gurus" pretending like they know who's going where and in what round. The don't. And that's the beauty of it. The not knowing.

  • Rambling, Rambling and more rambling

    This spousal abuse conversation is getting awkward for me. In theory, I always say that anyone should participate an any conversation, as long as they're bringing a basic level of respect. In practice, I'm starting to feel like I'm discussing other people's business.  I also think I'm applying a rather rough ideological prism. Norman Mailer (probably not the best name to invoke in this discussion, but I've already stepped in it, so what the hell) used to call himself a "left-wing conservative." I've always felt much the same way.

    Again, it comes from my background as a nationalist. One of the seldom acknowledged facets of black nationalism is its emphasis on personal agency and responsibility. It is, at its core, a rather conservative (small "c") belief system. It proffers a world of competing powers and interests, and is deeply skeptical of cooperation between those powers based on anything other than clear, mutual interests. Hence the critique of integration. Black nationalism shares the problems of all other forms of nationalism--it easily slips into prejudice, it can blind its believers to other world-views, and it's subject to shaping history narrative in a manner that suits its own interest. 

    But one thing that it understands and appreciates, which I've always found wanting in the cold machinery of liberalism, is the power of individual agency. Those of us who preferred Malcolm to Martin did so, not so much out of animus towards whites, but because implicit in Martin's message was, "your doomed if these people who hate you don't see the light." Malcolm, on the other hand, seemed to say, "Let white folks be white folks. You be you. You have the power to be you, and you have a responsibility to be you."

    Perhaps that's Pollyanna-ish. It may be true that our greatest barriers are institutional. It's also probably true that integration was the only moral and practical option. But I think what a lot of us responded to when we heard Malcolm, was the idea of personal agency. The thought that we could "do for self," as my Dad used to say to me. Most of us heard Martin and were enthralled. But still others of us heard him and were terrified. The implicit notion of integration--that your welfare is fundamentally tied to the children of your overlords, that you exist at their tolerance, at their sufferance--will do that to you.


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  • Good News On Incarceration Rates

    Well sorta:

    For the first time since crack cocaine sparked a war on drugs 20 years ago, the number of black Americans in state prisons for drug offenses has fallen sharply, while the number of white prisoners convicted for drug crimes has increased, according to a report released yesterday.

    The D.C.-based Sentencing Project reported that the number of black inmates in state prisons for drug offenses had fallen from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, a 22 percent decline. In that period, the number of white drug offenders rose steadily, from about 50,000 to more than 72,000, a 43 percent increase. The number of Latino drug offenders was virtually unchanged at about 51,000.

    The findings represent a significant shift in the racial makeup of those incarcerated for drug crimes and could signal a gradual change in the demographics of the nation's prison population of 2 million, which has been disproportionately black for decades. Drug offenders make up about a quarter of the prison population.

    The decline of crack, and the rise of meth probably has a lot to do with this. The dip looks pretty real, given that it covers a decent amount of time.

  • Name Your Dual-Spec

    1.) This is a World of Warcraft post.

    2.) If you don't play WoW, stop reading now. It's about to get real nerdy in here.

    3.) You've been warned.

    Alright. I'm going frost for PvP on my mage, and Arcane for PvE. On my paladin, I think I'm going holy\healadin for PvP and tankadin for PvE--though I'm not completely sure on that count. What's everyone else going?

  • Battered Women And Responsibility Pt. 2

    This is a pretty solid rebuttal to Linda Hirshman's piece by Hilzoy. One thing Hilzoy brings to bear here is some actual life experience (which she writes) and I'm generally more swayed by lived narrative than theory. Having said that let me respecfully quibble with something:

    It seems fairly clear to me that it is not helpful to battered women to tell them that they should 'take responsibility for their own well-being.' Battered women are not, in general, under the impression that they are not responsible for their actions. On the contrary: while there are exceptions, a lot of battered women I have known tend to believe such things as: that it is their fault that they were beaten. Moreover, most already think that they were stupid to stay. They don't need other people to tell them this, or even to suggest obliquely that they ought to recognize their own "bad choices", any more than an anorexic needs lectures on the dangers of obesity.

    We shall immediately reject the idea of blaming any woman for the mere fact of being battered, or saying that any one is responsible for someone else battering them. That isn't being debated here. That said, I think it's worth teasing out the difference between blaming someone, or even blaming yourself, and, as Hilzoy, says taking responsibility for your own well-being.

    I don't like the word blame. I don't like the idea of "blaming" women for being battered, nor do I like the idea of "blaming" women for not leaving. Also, as I just said, I don't like the idea of telling battered women that they are "responsible" for some dude deciding to hit them--mostly because they manifestly aren't. A person's decision to strike someone is his decision alone.

    I think where I part ways with Hilzoy is in conflating, say,  thinking that it's "their fault that they were beaten," or thinking, "they were stupid to stay" and taking "responsibility for their own well-being." I don't think the former and the latter are the same. You can "blame yourself" or "fault yourself" for any number of reasons, many of them having little to do with taking responsibility. A kid may well blame himself for doing poor on a math test by saying he's stupid, but that doesn't mean he's taken responsibility, that he's acknowledged that he's capable of doing better the next time. Likewise, an abuse victim who blames herself for being beaten by saying she's "a bad person" is, for sure, finding fault with herself, but isn't, necessarily, claiming responsibility for leaving.

    Unlike responsibility, fault and blame don't require choice, and they don't neccessarily offer any prospect of power. This, to my humble mind, is extremely key. Blaming a battered woman for being battered is foolish, not because it makes the woman "responsible," but because it doesn't point to a way out. At it's best it invokes a false responsibility (making the victim "responsible" for the aggressive action of the batterer) at precisely the wrong point (your responsible for the assault, not the leaving). At it's worse it is actually an evasion of responsibility because it looks to something innate and unchangeable as the source.

    To go back to Hilzoy's point, it's true that the battered woman, indeed, does not need a lecture on "bad choices." That said, how can one ever leave if they don't understand that they have some power to do so? How does one accept that they do, indeed, have some power to leace, and then turn around and say that the power comes with no responsibility?

    Perhaps we are hitting on a point of ideology, and deeply ingrained beliefs. In my case, that a person is, in fact, ultimately responsible for their well-being, that in fact the world can't really exist any other way. That doesn't make leaches and cowards, any more than they actually are. But I don't know how those of us who are personally oppressed, or historically have been oppressed, can claim power in any other way, but to define how we want to live, and, if need be, how we want to die.

  • More On The CBC And Castro

    First the obligatory declaration: The embargo is bad policy. The embargo is bad policy. The embargo is really bad policy. Sorry for being facetious, but I don't want to get dragged into a side-debate on the evils of the embargo--evils which 99 percent of us here acknowledge and condemn. I'm attracted to something a little more introspective.

    Having said that, I think Eugene Robinson really has a good take on the CBC's visit last week to Havana:

    By now it should be dawning on the seven U.S. legislators who got the red-carpet tour last week -- including six members of the Black Caucus -- that first impressions can be unreliable. Three members of the delegation were granted a rare audience with the ailing Fidel Castro. "He looked directly into my eyes," said Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), "and then he asked: 'How can we help President Obama?' [Fidel Castro] really wants President Obama to succeed."

    No, he really doesn't. As it happened, Castro quickly demonstrated that he didn't even wish the delegation well, let alone the current occupant of the White House. After the meeting, Castro issued a statement claiming that one of his visitors had said the United States should "apologize" to Cuba and that another had said U.S. society is still "racist." Members of the delegation denied that any such exchanges had taken place -- and I believe them.

    It is in Castro's interest to sabotage any genuine movement in Washington toward normalized relations, because a lessening of tension would destroy the government's stated rationale for denying Cubans basic political freedoms: that any opening would be exploited by the imperialist enemy to the north. It is also in Castro's interest to portray the United States as irredeemably racist -- unlike Cuba under the tutelage of the revolution.

    I'm with Gene, it's quite believable that Castro would lie. Should the CBC object, so what? Who's really going to believe them? People believe that a dude like Rush would say that the U.S. should apologize, and he would say that U.S. society is still racist. Personally, I object more to the latter charge than the former. U.S. society probably is still racist--just as swaths of Europe are still racist toward immigrants. It's a damning claim, but it isn't a particularly unique one. Which leads us to this.

    In 10 reporting trips to the island, I have met Afro-Cubans who told me with conviction that they have had opportunities under the Castro regime -- especially in health and education -- that would have been unimaginable before the revolution. But I've also heard bitter complaints about deep-seated racism that many black Cubans believe is getting worse.

    Race is a touchy subject in Cuba, and for many years it went all but unmentioned. Raúl Castro, who knows the island and its people as well as his older brother does, caused a stir in 2000 when he said that if a hotel were to deny entry to a person because he or she is black, that hotel should be shut down -- an acknowledgment that such things happen. Popular rappers in Cuba's hip-hop underground have made racial grievance a major theme of their daring lyrics. I once interviewed a Cuban scholar whose husband, an officer in the military, pooh-poohed her research into racial discrimination -- until he had the experience of being detained and harassed by police for no apparent reason other than his dark skin.

    Even without meeting with any of the well-known black dissidents on the island, the visitors from Washington could have observed that the workforce in Cuba's burgeoning tourism industry -- arguably the most privileged class, since waiters and cab drivers receive tips in hard currency, which allows them a standard of living far beyond what is possible with Cuban pesos and government rations -- is disproportionately white.

    Again, read the piece. It's pretty good.

  • 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.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.



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