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.

  • Seriously, It's A Joke

    I don't know what to do with people who think I literally believe white people should show the same sort of solidarity they've shown for the past centuries. Or that the nigras are really dead-set on marrying their daughters. But for the record, I don't think white people have to answer for Glenn Beck. It was a joke. I can deal with arguments. But the inability to see ones tongue planted in the cheek is too much. You don't have to think the joke is funny. You don't even have to like it. But you have to at least be able to recognize when someone is kidding. If you're looking humorlessness and dispassion, the web is full of it. We don't need more of it here.

  • Putting Mos Def In Context

    The point was made yesterday that there are white people on TV, every day, who make a living speaking in a manner that's twice as insane as anything you hear on the corner. Indeed. If you're a nut and you happen to be black, you're Cynthia McKinney. If you're a nut and happen to be white, well...



    I know white people aren't embarrassed by Glenn Beck. But seriously, you guys really should be. Come on white folks, where's that sense of solidarity you've showed for centuries? You guys are a sorry bunch. Keep this up and the nigras will be marrying yer daughters!!

  • Nihilism And Gay Marriage

    Sometimes you can't say it better than the people who are going through it. From Andrew, who I will quote at length:

    Moreover, far from nihilistically renouncing nature, the marriage movement aims at reclaiming the mantle of nature for homosexuals alongside our heterosexual peers and siblings and parents. We know now that same-gender attraction, bonding and sex is ubiquitous in nature, and almost certainly has some evolutionary explanation. We know too, experientially, that the love cherished by many gay couples is real and beautiful and deeply human. It is not merely "contractual" or "nihilist". It is organic, natural and completing. It is humanizing and it is civilizing. History is full of such relationships, and they stand proudly alongside their heterosexual peers. The reduction of these shared lives and loves to abstract sexual acts is itself a form of bigotry. It is an attempt to reduce the full and complex human being to one aspect of his or her humanness. It is, in my view, anti-Christian to speak of gays the way this Pope does. The Christian calling is not to guard ferociously the ramparts of the 1950s out of fear but to listen to the experiences of gay people - what the Second Vatican Council calls the sensus fidelium - and try to integrate their humanity into the structures from which they have been so cruelly excluded, with such horrible human consequences, for so long.

    It is Rod's self-evident panic at the thought of such an integration that has made some of us sit up and take note. There is some lurking fear that if this form of being human is recognized as equal in the civil sphere, let alone the sacred one, then the entire edifice of heterosexuality and marriage and family will somehow be destroyed or undermined. I do not believe that in any way. And I don't think it's possible to believe that without, at some level, engaging in homophobia - literally an irrational and exaggerated fear that the gay somehow always obliterates the straight, or that 2 percent somehow always controls the fate of 98 percent. This is where paranoia and panic take over. It is where homophobia most feels like anti-Semitism.

    Be not afraid, as Pope John Paul II kept telling us. Of what should we not be afraid? We should not be afraid of the truth about ourselves.

    That last point about paranoia is key, and it really defines, not just anti-Semitism, but bigotry itself. The most laughable aspect of America's long war against racism, is the justification racist would always trot out--the specter of interracial union. I can remember being a kid and reading about black folks struggling for some small right, that, these days, we take for granted. So you'd have some black dude who'd been born a slave, in some one room shack, but had risen to become a lawyer, arguing for, say, school funding for black kids in rural Alabama. And then you'd see some bigot responding with, essentially, the following, "If we give the nigras school funding, they'll take our women! Do you want a nigra marrying yer daughter?!?!?"

    I would read that and think, "What? The dude just wants some textbooks, WTF??" There's this great riff in Wattstax where Richard Pryor talks about Southern whites accusing a black dude of raping some white guy's wife. The guy brings out his wife and says something like, "The nigger raped her!" The assembled black folks look at the guy's wife who, let's just say is not Scarlett O'Hara, and go, "You sure??"

    But in the white male paranoid mind, the deepest ambition of all black men lay between the two legs of some white woman--any white woman. And white women, of course lacking any real agency in the narrative, joyfully go along. Or are forcibly carried along. From that perspective, white racism really is a fear of a black planet--and (paradoxically) of white women.

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  • The Secret Liberal Cabal

    John Cole refers us to this discussion about Journolist. I don't know what else to say except that the smallness of men extends into the microverse. But more importantly, John notes that he's starting his own group:

    For the record, I am starting a secretive email list called the "Johnolist." Everyone is invited, except for Mickey Kaus. I expect to talk a good bit about sex with barn animals and the management of TNR.

    Fuck Ezra's group. I'm much more interested in barn animals. I'm saying son, can I be down?

  • These Streets, No Game. Can't Ball, Don't Play...



    A few people have asked me to comment on this. I'm a bit hesitant, because this tape hits me somewhere very personal, and requires that I say some critical things about people I like. I think Mos Def was offering up that corner consciousness, in which brothers preach nihilism under the cover of an alleged "Knowledge of Self" or "Thinking for oneself." I think Christopher Hitchens, rightfully, sonned him. As a Mos Def fan, and member of the hip-hop generation (whatever that means) I felt embarrassed. That's probably not my right, but I felt that way. Here's where it gets really weird, I held one person responsible for the whole debacle--Cornel West.

    I don't know that this is fair, but I immediately thought back to when West and Mos Def were on The Bill Maher show and Mos basically said he didn't believe Bin Laden brought down the towers. West pointed out that he disagreed, but instead of pushing Mos, he went into this explanation for why black people tend to be paranoid. His explanation was perfect in substance, but bad for Mos Def. I thought the elder radical owed it to the younger radical to challenge him, to push him past nihilism and paranoia.

    Again, this is all about me and my constant ruminations over my status as a lapsed black nationalist. With that in mind, two things need to be said.

    The first is about what I still hold on to. I came up in the "conscious" community, and the one value that the Babas and Mamas taught me, that I hold with me to this day, is the sanctity of the relationship between the elders and the young, the sense that the elder doesn't exist to simply cosign the emotions of the young, he exists to push the young past that, to challenge them, to force them to be better despite themselves.

    The whole notion of "It takes a village" was pushed by the conscious community. That idea has been wailed upon by people who don't know what the fuck their talking about, who've never sat on a stoop in a ghetto, who file reports and columns about people who are Martians to them.  At its core, it simply means caring about people who are younger than you, in the way that you care about your child. I get the conservative critique of that ideal--it's certainly Utopian, but no more so than, say, "love thy neighbor." My interpretation (others may not share it) of the "It take a village" mantra would have called on West to pull up Mos Def, as opposed to making excuses for why he would think that way.

    The other thing I learned in the conscious community was the value of critical thinking. The idea was that you live in a world where the Tuskegee experiments actually happened, where the FBI did plot to destroy the Panthers, where J. Edgar Hoover terrorized black leaders from Garvey to Huey Newton. In that vein, you should be skeptical of what you see and hear. This is the perspective Mos is coming from. (Note the Assata reference.) But here's the thing--if you really get that message, it ultimately leads you to be critical, not just of the larger white narrative, but of the narrative put forth by those around you.

    So here's the deal--I was a history major at Howard University. I came to that school believing very much in an Afrocentric view of history. From that perspective, my first semester was just devastating. I had a professor, Dr. Linda Heywood, who specialized in taking on kids like me (the ones who believed ancient Egypt built fighter jets) and forcing us to face facts. She was, of course, a trained historian who was used to debating kids like me, and for every Chancellor Williams or Diop I whipped out, she had a David Brion Davis or a Eugene Genovese.

    I couldn't escape by dismissing her as part of a white plot--she was not just a black woman, but a black woman with a PhD in African History, who was teaching at the most storied black university in the country. I couldn't attack her street cred, and so I had to engage the argument. I found her infuriating--which led me to take two more classes from her. A buddy of mine recalls the most poignant moment for us under her tutelage. At the end of a particularly debilitating lecture, she looked at us and said, "So with all the evidence I've given you, explain to me why blacks are not inferior to whites."

    She didn't believe that of course. The point was preparation for what we'd encounter out in the world. Here is thing--my best professors at Howard (and there were many) knew that those of us who fashioned ourselves budding intellectuals would have to debate people who did not believe that it took a village, people who'd gone to the best schools in the world, and who were armed with the latest facts and science, and Ma'at would not save us. We could not hide behind myth--even if our opponents could. We were black. We had to be better than they'd heard.

    I watched that clip of Mos Def, and thought back to my own rather tortured relationship with my past. I guess I'm a bit narcissistic. But you guys already know that. Still, I couldn't help but feel that someone should have prepared him, should have made him better than what Christopher Hitchens had heard. That people who loved him should have pulled him aside after his last appearance, and said "Like it or not, you represent us. You can't lean on myth and paranoia. You do a disservice to yourself, and to black people, when you do."

    I thought Cornel should have pushed him away from being slippery with the facts, away from media conspiracy, away from that "I'm from the projects" pose, and out into the real. I thought he should have went at him brutally. Because somewhere out there a Christopher Hitchens was waiting, and when they met, he would have no mercy.

    What you are getting here is the raw. Words and emotions that will likely come back to haunt me. I don't know that it's right--but it's what I feel, it's what I aspire to, even as I fall short on a daily. I believe that we have to be prepared for these motherfuckers. I believe we have to be equipped. I believe that the world is not Martha's Vineyard. But I also believe that the world is not the ghetto. I'm due for shape-up, like all the rest of us. But there's a reason this sort of shit stays in the barbershop.

    This is supposed to be real talk, right?

  • The Obama Administration And BSG

    He just can't quit Roslyn:

    Since the end of the series, Obama has reportedly brushed off key budgetary decisions, ignored his wife and children, and neglected his daily workouts, claiming that he no longer cares if he lets himself go "just like Lee did before the rescue on New Caprica."

    In addition, sources confirmed that instead of meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Monday, the depressed president sat alone in the Oval Office, scouring Internet message boards for posts by other fans about the series conclusion.


  • Franken On The Move

    Or so it seems:

    A three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots -- far fewer than Mr. Coleman had sought -- should be examined for possible counting. If the ruling stands, it could be devastating for Mr. Coleman, who trailed his Democratic challenger by a mere 225 votes out of some 2.9 million cast and had hoped that nearly 1,400 absentee ballots might be recounted.

    After seven weeks of deliberations, the court said it will decide which of the 400 ballots would be counted in open court by April 7. But even if the results put Mr. Coleman further in the hole, as expected, he could fight on, before the Minnesota Supreme Court or perhaps in the federal courts. His lawyer said the senator had not given up.

    The three-panel said it based its decision on "a complete and thorough review of the 1,717 exhibits and transcripts of testimony," and that it had made every effort to determine that the voters complied with Minnesota law.

    "To be clear, not every absentee ballot identified in this order will ultimately be opened and counted," the panel wrote.

    Nonetheless, the political terrain as well as simply mathematics appeared to give Mr. Franken a big advantage, and the lawyers for the two sides recognized that fact.


  • A Damn Good Blog

    I've already recommend my man Brendan's blog. But this morning I got some insight into how good it actually is. The thing is completely apolitical and filled with just weird-ass entries on Dehorning Paste and firefighters who turn to arson. I was trying to find something to excerpt, when I simply gave up--every entry defied synopsis. You guys should just go see it to believe it.

  • The Futility Of Black Media

    The old lions of black magazines, Ebony and Jet, are in trouble. PostBourgie elaborates:

    The argument that they matter because of their historical import shouldn't be too easily dismissed. But that feeling of familiarity and cultural obligation, of supporting these publications because they're black publications has essentially been their entire business model for their entire runs, even as the media landscape changed in cataclysmic ways.

    In terms of functionality, they don't do anything so superlatively (or even competently enough) that it would make me, an admitted magazine junkie, ever seriously consider buying them. At this point, you're more likely to find thoughtful and well-researched  journalism/essays on issues that affect black people -- por ejemplo, here, here, here or here -- in mainstream publications than you are in either of them. They've completely ceded that space.  They're just not very good magazines by most measures.

    I think this is basically true--all of it. For various reasons, I've had to think about the future of "ethnic" media. This isn't an Obama, post-racial problem--it's been going on since the 90s when I was in college. I think The Source and, more specifically, Vibe, in their heyday, really pointed the way forward. They both were, in many ways, black magazines. But they weren't in the old way. At their best, they used hip-hop, a cultural movement with roots in the black community, to look out at the broader world. I think Vibe and The Source messed up by not moving away from hip-hop, as music per se, circa 99. Hip-Hop should have been the lens, and sometimes--but not always--the subject matter. But they had the right idea.

    The closest I've seen to what a black magazine--or any black media--might look like in this era died shortly after it was birthed. That would have been Suede, the urban fashion magazine launched with much fanfare a few years back. It really looked gorgeous, and it had some great people working on it--including the best copy-chief in the business, one Kenyatta Matthews.

    The less said about Suede's end, the better. But I think they had the right idea, and one that folks haven't really followed up on. You can't really have--nor should you want to have--an exclusively "black" media product. But you can have a vehicle informed by a black perspective that looks everything from Jay-Z to Tom Cruise. And the Dallas Cowboys. And wood elves. And Star Trek. What? I'm just sayin...


  • Those Moments When I'm Glad I Don't Have Cable

    John Cole summarizes Lou Dobbs:

    First, he is mad because Obama "fired" Wagoner.

    Then he weeps for the future of capitalism with the government involved like this.

    Then he gets mad because Obama doesn't know how to handle this crisis and isn't doing more.

    Then he is mad because Obama didn't fire the head of the UAW.

    And then he is mad because Obama might require the unions to make concessions.

    And then he is mad because the Obama team is not doing enough for the traditional economy (which I guess is the economy outside of the financial markets and not having to do with the auto industry but doesn't involve concessions for blue collar workers).

    And that was in one 5 minute portion of the show. No mention that half the things that upset him are at odds with the other things that upset him.

    I've come to the conclusion that Lou Dobbs is just barking mad. CNN, it is time to put the crazy uncle out to pasture.

    Dobbs has never been for me. But I've caught him on TV a couple times, when I was traveling. Am I hallucinating, or has he actually gotten angrier? It's pretty amazing.


  • The Tragedy And Betrayal Of Booker T. Washington

    I've been (slowly) making my way through this Booker T. Washington biography. It really is a great read. But that aside, I think that it also highlights a great tragedy in race relations in this country. Washington is arguably the most effective and powerful black conservative in this country's history. (I maintain that Malcolm X was, for much of his public life, a black conservative.) Unlike today, Washington lived in a time when there actually was a credible black conservative tradition. Washington's "Atlanta Compromise" is remembered as a betrayal and a sell-out because it accepted segregation, and argued against black political agitation. But in fact, at the time, the response from black America to the "Compromise" was at worst mixed, and at best quite positive. No less than W.E.B. Du Bois called the speech, "the basis for a real settlement between whites and black in the South."

    It makes sense, when you think about it. Washington basically said to the white South in 1895. "You win. We don't want the right the vote. We just want to till our farms, better ourselves, and be left alone. Leave us in peace, and you'll here no more of this voting or integration business." You have to remember the state of mind of black people, at that time. Reconstruction had been rolled back. The South was wracked by race riots. Three years after Washington's speech, the only coup in American history was orchestrated in Wilmington, North Carolina by racist thugs. Washington was basically conceding what he'd already lost. In return he hoped to simply secure the right of good Christian blacks to work the land in peace.

    The dominant logic of the post-Reconstruction era held that the real problem wasn't white racists, but carpetbaggers and meddlers from up North who'd elevated illiterate blacks above their station. The white Southerner, presumably, had no existential objection to blacks, they just didn't want to live next door to them or have an illiterate and morally degenerate population electing their politicians. To this Washington, and much of black America, said Fine. Cease fire. You let us be, we'll let you be.

    In retrospect, this was a grievous error. In point of fact, whites actually did have an existential objection to black people. Their beef wasn't that illiterates and moral degenerates might get too much power. Quite the opposite. Their beef was that blacks would prove to not be illiterates and moral degenerates, and thus fully able to compete with them. To see this point illustrated, one need only look at the history of race riots in the South. When white mobs set upon black communities they didn't simply burn down the "morally degenerate" portions--they attacked the South's burgeoning black middle and working class and its institutions. They went for the churches, the schools and the businesses. It's one thing to be opposed to black amorality. It's quite another to be opposed to black progress. The lesson blacks took post-Atlanta Compromise was that whites had used the former to cover for the latter. These days, it's popular to bemoan the fact that Washington has fallen into disfavor. But it wasn't blacks who proved the Atlanta Compromise fraudulent--it was the whites of that era.

    You must understand the chilling effect this had to have on black people. To actually concede to all the racist propaganda out there, and then to be rewarded by hooligans burning down your community must have been psychologically devastating. People wondering why the GOP can't get a foothold in the black community, need to not just think about Goldwater and Nixon. They should think about Du Bois telling black men to go fight in The Great War, and then having those veterans come home to the Red Summer of 1919. They should think about the pogroms that greeted Booker T's compromise. There's a lot of hurt out there. A lot of ancient hurt. A lot of it, even in these times, quite deep.

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