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.

  • 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.

    Hip-hop, it seems, is music for dudes--even when it's not. There's a lot of hip-hop that communicates being into girls, because it impresses your friends, but not as much that communicates being into girls because, uhm, you're heterosexual. I think that's because the expression of want, the communication of deeply felt need, implies vulnerability. It implies the possibility of failure, of disappointment. Hip-Hop is at its best when it gives in to that vulnerability, but that's never been the norm.

    This isn't about not being sexist, or being respectful, or gentlemanly, or even nice--it's about being in touch with yourself. (That phrasing is unfortunate, but perhaps too true.) I first got this while thinking on my favorite TV On The Radio joints--"Wolf Like Me," "Lover's Day," "Poppy" etc. Music aside, "Wolf Like Me" and "Lover's Day" perfectly describe the filthy, impolite thoughts that flood men daily, and simply overrun them when they see that girl:

    Charge me your day rate,
    I'll turn you round in kind.
    When the moon is round and fool,
    Gonna teach you tricks that'll blow your mongrel mind

    Or:

    Oh but the longing is terrible,
    Once a heart under attack
    I want to love you, all the way off,
    I wanna to break your back.

    It feels pornographic to even write this, but that "I wanna break your back" line is so key. It really describes how it really feels--not polite, not debonair, not chivalrous--but incredibly visceral, and borderline violent. Moreover, the "want" is so important, as it describes desire, not ability. In a rapper's hands that line would be "I'm going to break you back."

    It's true hip-hop has a problem respecting women, but this is a symptom of deeper truth--the music doesn't respect men. It doesn't respect that essentially male moment, when standing at the bus stop, when sitting in English class, when in that sales meeting, a dime-piece floats past, and cognition stops. It doesn't respect the exhilarating terror of being attracted to a woman. To cop to that violates the pimp ethos. One can't be out of control, and be the player president.

    There are, obviously, exceptions--Outkast being the most significant. There's also the obvious caveat that hip-hop's audience has always been young boys. But I've felt this way since I was 13 puzzling over "A Bitch Is A Bitch." The music very much described the mask I adopted to walk the streets. But it never described how felt about females, or even the mask I adopted to try to talk to them. Maybe that was the problem. But somehow, I doubt it.

    We talked last week about bigotry as heaping your insecurities on to someone else. That's what hip-hop's women issues ultimately come down. Instead of making art from that honest place of admitting your vulnerability rappers, like a lot of dude's, run from it. It's a shame. We could use more Outkast.

    More »

  • 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.

  • No Good, Whole Foods Eating, Two-Train Taking, Grey Goose Martini-Sipping Liberals...

    Here's an inappropriate post for the 3:00 hour--a friend got me hooked on the vodka martini. Yes, I know real men drink gin. Whatever. (Grey Goose and a whole lotta hydro!) There's a spot down in Soho that I frequent where the dude just murders these. Anyway, it seemed to me to be a simple drink, so I started trying them at home--some vermouth, vodka and olives. Erm, things haven't gone well. Any bartenders out there want to give me some tips? I don't want to ask my dude because I don't want him to feel like I'm taking my business elsewhere.

    (By the way, that's "murdered" in a good way.)

    UPDATE: I'm using sweet vermouth--and too much of it. Thanks for the input guys.

  • Madea And E. Franklin Frazier

    Somewhat appropriately, Postbougie is on the case:

    I'm a fan of diverse (and preferably complex) representations. They don't have to be reflective or realistic, as long as everything is not The Cosby Show and everything is not Shaft. Perhaps people are up in arms because in the gaping absence of national minority representation in media, Perry has the authority of being the foremost employer of black actors/actresses and the most widely watched storyteller amongst black audiences. But that is an issue of lack of representation and shouldn't be addressed by attempting to narrow down the few existing representations into an image we prefer. Regardless of how artistically or politically progressive Tyler Perry's films may seem, he is pulling in record-making numbers at the box office which means he is reaching sizable audiences on a consistent basis. And because these audiences are predominantly black and latino, white critics have been drastically off the marks with their predictions, and are having to cope with a loyal audience that was previously rendered invisible. But this is an important audience, TP is an important filmmaker, and to dismiss him would be to dismiss the spectatorship of a bunch of people who -- to the dismay of many film and culture critics -- are basically dictating what's popular right now in Hollywood.

    Basically. I think I've seen all of one Tyler Perry flick. His movies just aren't made for me. But neither is the new Star Trek. Or the latest rendition of Saw. Or the new Transformers. Whatever. Let Tyler do Tyler. It isn't his fault that everything ain't Love Jones (nor should it be).

  • A Truly Lazy Act Of Journalism

    No subgenre of journalism deserves to be put out its misery more than the "trend story." Heavy on the breading and light on the catfish, the trend story is typically the work of young reporters whose editors don't care enough to smack them down, or older reporters who are simply unionized hacks. The trend story's evil is only surpassed by its wicked spawn--the "political trend story," a work which applies methodology reserved for light fare ("Stalking With Cougars: Giving New Meaning To Ladies Night!") to actual weighty issues. Like race:

    As the nation's first black president settles into the office, a division is deepening between two groups of African Americans: those who want to continue to praise Obama and his historic ascendancy, and those who want to examine him more critically now that the election is over.

    The political trend story stands out from its older sibling in how it reeks of condescension and bestows upon a lazy-ass writer the unearned privilege of drawing conclusions about millions of people based on a few interviews and a survey. In this case we have the Washington Post attempting to analyze black talking heads who've had to suffer actual black people who don't agree with them:

    During the heated Democratic primary, Smiley questioned Obama's decision not to attend his annual State of the Black Union conference and said he hoped Obama would make it through the campaign "with his soul intact."

    The push-back was "brutal," Smiley recalls. Angry listeners called him a "sellout," an "Obama hater" and "Uncle Tom." Surprised and hurt, Smiley left Joyner's show but now uses the rough patch to make the case for a new book he co-wrote, "Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise."

    Typical of the political trend-story, the reporter simply accepts Smiley's version as fact and does no digging to see if there's more to the story. (Hint: There is.) I respect Smiley's pivot--he got aired out last year, but he turned it all into a book deal. I can't say the same of reporters who take any sources line as received truth. The hack indulging in the political trend story, isn't worth the unblemished shoe-leather which his stories are allegedly built upon. These are the sorts of articles which force you to cackle in the face of any dead-tree patrician holding forth on the sacred links between newspapers and democracy. Whatever. Do your job. We'll decide whether your worth mourning.

  • For Those Who Have No Idea What The Taliban Stand For

    I think, in a post-9/11 era, folks would do well to check out Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower. The beauty of the book is that it clearly shows the roots of Al'Quaeda in both religious fundamentalism, and America's support of a brutal Egyptian dictatorship. And yet it never skimps in assessing the ruthless evil that animates Ayman Al'Zawari and Osama Bin Laden. Likewise, it critiques our endorsement of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, while at the same laying bare the thuggism of the Taliban. Check out the book. It's a gripping read.

    A lot of us would do well to learn from that, to understand that one can condemn Dick Cheney and condemn the Taliban. And in case we're wondering why these nut jobs should be condemned I offer the following--a man tortured on suspicion of being gay, and 17-year old girl tortured for the following...


    One account said she had stepped out of her house without being escorted by a male family member, according to Samar Minallah, a rights activist. Ms. Minallah said she distributed the video to local news outlets after it was sent to her by someone from Swat three days ago.

    Another account said a local Taliban commander had falsely accused the teenager of violating Islamic law after she refused to accept his marriage proposal.

    The local authorities said that punishment was unacceptable--because it was conducted in public. Here's the tape. Watch it if you like. It could just be more media lies.


  • Race And The Pittsburgh Shooter

    So much for the post-racial and post-religious:

    Mr. Poplawski's view of guns and personal freedom took a turn toward the fringes of American politics. With Mr. Perkovic, he appeared to share a belief that the government was controlled from unseen forces, that troops were being shipped home from the Mideast to police the citizenry here, and that Jews secretly ran the country.

    "We recently discovered that 30 states had declared sovereignty," said Mr. Perkovic, who lives in Lawrenceville. "One of his concerns was why were these major events in America not being reported to the public."

    Believing most media were covering up important events, Mr. Poplawski turned to a far-right conspiracy Web site run by Alex Jones, a self-described documentarian with roots going back to the extremist militia movement of the early 1990s.

    Around the same time, he joined Florida-based Stormfront, which has long been a clearinghouse Web site for far-right groups. He posted photographs of his tattoo, an eagle spread across his chest.

    "I was considering gettin' life runes on the outside of my calfs," he wrote. Life runes are a common symbol among white supremacists, notably followers of The National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group linked to an array of violent organizations.

    I basically agree with Hilzoy--I don't have any strong gun control politics. But that said, it's amazing to me that these guys are allowed to stockpile this sort of heat. 

    UPDATE: Link fixt. Sorry guys.

  • How The West Was Won

    Headed to Cali today guys to do some reporting. Posting will be light. Entertain yourselves. Jay Culter is a Bear. Chicago must be having a party right about now. I actually think he was worth the two first rounders.

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The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

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How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

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A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

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I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

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Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

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