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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


    More »

  • 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.


A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple


What Happened to the Milky Way?

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


The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City


Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.


The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

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



From This Author

Just In