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.

  • 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.

  • A Courageous Act Of Journalism

    Seriously, this is amazing:

    The new evidence -- including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s -- contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

    That was written by two Washington Post reporters. And they aren't alone. I think it's truly weak that Will's editors stood by his efforts to misrepresent climate change data. In the face of such weakness, Will, of course, didn't back down but was emboldened. It's great to see reporters not just avoiding on-the-other-handism, but actually challenging someone in their midst.

    But I have a deeper question. Why is Will even fighting this one? Why can't the "sensible" right let this go? The other day I watched David Frum and my colleague Reihan Salam argue on Bill Maher about climate change. They weren't backing denialism, but Frum kept arguing that liberals are alarmists, and Al Gore's overstated the data. But I kept thinking, why would anyone ever listen to anything David Frum has to say about climate change?

    That's not fair--which is really my point. Will's denialism tarnishes the conservative brand. It also makes it hard to take lectures about "liberal alarmism" on climate change seriously. There's a basic credibility problem. Any argument that sees Al Gore and George Will as two sides of the same problem isn't serious. And taking advice from a guy who worked for George Bush on how to proceed on climate change will always be laughable.

  • Gay Marriage And The District

    The D.C. Council just voted--unanimously--to recognize gay marriages from other states. The next step will likely be voting to legalize gay marriage period. Andrew frets:

    This is particularly appealing to the Rove wing of the GOP, because they can use black homophobia as a wedge issue. DC is a perfect place to pit gays and straight, religious African-Americans, and we know that Republicanism as it has evolved under Rove is almost defined by finding groups of Americans to pit against each other.

    Hmm, not to minimize, but I don't think that's likely. Unlike, other municipalities, I don't think this is going to be a ballot initiative. Even if it were, the dynamics in a city like D.C. are unique. D.C. is a city that (with Congressional approval) passes it's own laws. Because of the relative size of the city, and it's history, I doubt a gay marriage initiative would play out like it would in, say, Alabama. You can be black and live in Alabama and never see anything like a Dupont Circle--or what Dupont Circle used to be, I guess.

    It's not that there isn't any homophobia in black D.C.--there most certainly is--it's that the fight isn't exactly new in the city. There is no Phillip Pannell, for instance, in Alabama. State legislators don't have to deal with a Jim Graham, or a David Catania, in the way you have to in the District, given that there are only 13 members on the D.C. Council. Also, and I could be wrong about this, it seems like the politically active gay community in D.C. is as organized, and as powerful as they are anywhere else in the country. 

    The other thing is that homophobia--intense as it is--doesn't trump all. Black people don't like Republicans--but black people in D.C. hate Republicans. Part of it is the truly ugly history of putting Southern bigots in charge of D.C.'s affairs. But more presently, Republicans are seen as the main obstacle between the city and statehood. D.C. may be the only place where Karl Rove could actually help gay marriage activists.

  • On Breaking Backs

    In relation to the TVOTR post, Rudimudi offers a woman's perspective on that "I wanna break your back" line. I think it's worth teasing this out some:

    I was with you on this until you got to the "I wanna break your back" part. I'm not sure that the violent desire you describe is better than the macho posing. Or rather, I don't know if this sort of desire for women SHOULD be considered an authentic expression of masculinity. It seems to me that both attitudes are rooted in the same sort of patriarchal disposition toward women. We often attack the first one because it manifests itself in pretty obvious ways(and also, causes people to make bad records). But speaking as a woman, it freaks ME out to read that an authentic description of how some men feel when we walk in the room is the desire to violently possess us. You say there is a crucial distinction between "wanting" to do it and knowing that you're "going" to do it. I don't understand that. I guess what I'm trying to say is, at the end of the day, the way you understand sexual desire for women is still rooted in ideas of dominance. I don't see the vulnerability there, except for the fact that the language is different.

    And:

    ...didn't take it to mean that this song suggests doing bodily harm to women. I was speaking more to the ideology that that kind of language reflects. I recently read a piece by Catherine MacKinnon, and she talked about how the way that we conceptualize sex and desire is ultimately grounded in the idea that it is natural for men to dominate women. Porn, snuff films, rape, etc are the most blatant examples of this, but she argues that this attitude trickles down into even normal, consensual relationships between men and women. Ta-Nehisi himself is evidently somewhat aware of this connection, since he cops to feeling like its pornographic and "borderline violent" to express lust in that way. And he's right, it is. In fact, it's not borderline violent; it's violent. Cultural understandings of lust, desire, etc are informed by ideas of domination and subordination.

    So I was just troubled by the fact that Ta-Nehisi was writing as if that approach is a more mature, more nuanced way of looking at women. To me, it's the same, albeit more articulate. In other words, I don't agree that it's just human nature---people are socialized into conceptualizing sexuality that way, even women. The only difference is that women are often taught to be the willing recipients of sexual acts, of desiring to be that dimepiece who sets off sexual fantasies.

    Hmmm. Well it only felt pornographic because I'm blogging at the Atlantic. There is, believe it or not, still some element of puritanism running through me. But to the broader point, I don't know where the nature/nurture thing begins and ends for sexual desire. I guess it's possible that we're socialized in certain terrible ways about sex. The whole conceit in horror flicks of killing sexually active young women freaks me the fuck out. Likewise, I've never gotten the appeal of the pimp aesthetic.

    That said, all I have to offer here is some modest life-experience. The kid was never Denzel, so you can take this for what it's worth. My limited experience tells me that both men and women enjoy, at times, dominating and being dominated. My limited experience tells me you'll be shocked by who pulls out the handcuffs, and what they plan to do with them. My limited experience tells me that the key thing, that all people want, is a choice.

    Objectification isn't simply wanting someone physically--it's a denial of their right to choose, it's a denial of their will, their independence, their agency. The person literally becomes an object. That's where, I think, so much of hip-hop goes wrong--black women are rarely given the sort of agency, that any dude who's lived in a hood knows that they exhibit on a daily.

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  • Drug Warring

    One frequent retort to the notion that blacks pay a particularly high price for the drug war, is the argument that this is the case because blacks do a disproportionate share of the dealing. Probably not. Here's Jacob Sullum (via Andrew, again) replying to Jonah Goldberg:

    Goldberg assumes that blacks are disproportionately arrested for selling drugs because they are "disproportionately in this line of work." That is not at all clear. Considerable research, including studies by the National Institute of Justice, indicates that drug users tend to buy from people of the same racial or ethnic group. (This report [PDF] includes a quick summary of the research.) Given this pattern, since whites are about as likely as blacks to use illegal drugs, they should be about as likely to sell them. Yet blacks, who represent 13 percent of the general population, account for about 40 percent of drug offenders in federal prison and 45 percent of drug offenders in state prison (PDF). 

    Further evidence that blacks' disproportionate share of drug arrests cannot be explained by disproportionate involvement with drugs comes from New York City's little-noticed crackdown on pot smokers under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Survey data indicate that among 18-to-25-year-olds, the age group where these pot busts are concentrated, whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to smoke marijuana. Yet a 2008 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that in the Big Apple blacks and Hispanics are, respectively, five and three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession...

    Read the post, there's a lot of great stuff in there. The tough thing about drug law is it require that you accept that, while two groups will commit a crime at the same rate, one group will be more harshly punished. I was just wondering how far this goes. In a country like ours, wealth will always impact, not just crime rates, but actual sentencing. The better representation you can afford, the more likely it is that you'll get off or get a lighter sentence--regardless of what  crime you've committed.

    Thus on some level, we're going to have to expect that poor people are going to suffer more than those who aren't poor. The troubling thing about the drug war is that it, as Jacob notes, it doesn't simply hit blacks harder, it actually has racist roots. At some point it seems fair to say, Look these folks have been screwed over pretty royally. Let's do what we can to not make it worse.

  • What The Geese Are All Roaring About




    I simply couldn't make it through the new Eminem video--you know the one where he waxes humorously about sex with Sarah Palin. Part of it is the fact that, skills aside, Eminem is a bully. Rap beefs are played, no doubt, but no one has picked weaker opponents than Eminem. Here is guy who feuded with Britney Spears and Christina Aguliera. Kim Kardashian? Come on killer, at least lick a few hot ones at Ray J.

    But there's also a bigger issue that's been plaguing me about hip-hop. The music has always caught its share of criticism for misogyny/sexism. But I actually think that doesn't quite get at the problem. When you listen to hip-hop, even much of the golden-age stuff, you get the feeling that for all the pimp talk, for all the "I'm a player" posing, you get the feeling that you're listening to a group of dudes who don't know much about women, and--worse--don't know much about themselves.

    One of the reasons I've always had a semi-beef with "One More Chance" (I say semi, because I will dance if it's played at a party) is because it's basically a battle rap, in which women are the objects. There's this weird dissonance--you've got this laid-back track, perfect for setting the mood (cool, cool), you've got Big playing the Lothario role (tell em how you do it, Big), but then you listen to the lyrics and you realize that what you're hearing is not a dude spitting game at a honey, but a dude talking to another dude.

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  • Change

    James Fallows points us to some incredible words from Robert Gates on the 2010 defense budget:

    It is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk - or, in effect, to "run up the score" in a capability where the United States is already dominant - is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable.  That is a risk I will not take.

    More from Fred Kaplan here.

  • Again, Gang Starr Has Done It

    Heh, T.R.O.Y. is devoting an entire month to Primo and Guru. My favorite Gang Starr album is either Step Into The Arena or Moment Of Truth. I remember reading that Primeier was planning to use Jo-Jo on a joint for the MOT album, and I thought, "Damn, another one selling the fuck out." But we we got was just gorgeous--"Major effect to your sector, I'm the corrector\Live and direct, waving my mic like a scepter." Probably my favorite Primo material is on the first Group Home album and the second Jeru album--the 95-97, late Golden Age era. In those days, Primo could do no wrong. That Group Home album is a wonder--really subpar MCing ("When I make moves, I ride trains with my cousin?") married to some incredible beats.

  • Moments When You're Glad McCain Didn't Win

    Yeah, I know everyday. But then you see something like this, and you're really glad:

    ...McCain's raw emotions burst forth recently as he heatedly told Hispanic business leaders that they should now look to Obama, not him, to take the lead on immigration.

    The meeting in the Capitol's Strom Thurmond Room on March 11 was a Republican effort led by Sens. McCain of Arizona, John Thune of South Dakota, and Mel Martinez of Florida to reach out to Hispanics. But two people who attended the session say they were taken aback by McCain's anger.

    What began as a collegial airing of views abruptly changed when McCain spoke about immigration, according to these sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. Anonymity was also requested by a third source, who was not at the meeting but was told, independently of the other two, that McCain had displayed his notorious temper.

    "He was angry," one source said. "He was over the top. In some cases, he rolled his eyes a lot. There were portions of the meeting where he was just staring at the ceiling, and he wasn't even listening to us. We came out of the meeting really upset."

    McCain's message was obvious, the source continued: After bucking his party on immigration, he had no sympathy for Hispanics who are dissatisfied with President Obama's pace on the issue. "He threw out [the words] 'You people -- you people made your choice. You made your choice during the election,' " the source said. "It was almost as if [he was saying] 'You're cut off!' We felt very uncomfortable when we walked away from the meeting because of that."

    Well, yeah they should look to Obama, because he's the president. But the idea that Hispanics owed the GOP, and McCain specifically, anything is laughable. Moreover, the idea that any voter owes any candidate anything is laughable. Immigration reform shouldn't be a "favor" to Hispanics--it should be good policy.

    Voters are customers, and the merchant who gets pissed off at a customer who shops elsewhere is in the wrong business. Everything we've seen from McCain and Palin, post-election, simply verifies the results. They were not ready for the big leagues, and they lost not simply because of the conditions of the field, but because they were matched against a better team.

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