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.

  • Conservatives For Criminal Justice Reform Pt.2

    Adam does some reporting, and comes back with good news. Well, not entirely:

    Not all of the ideas states have come up with to cut costs have been good ones. In Georgia, Republican state legislators proposed a bill that would make inmates liable for all their health-care costs relating to medication. Public-health advocates opposed the bill on the grounds that it could cause a public-health disaster, given that inmates might not seek out treatment to avoid being charged.

    "[The bill] didn't have an exception for people with chronic illnesses; we're talking about diabetics, people with pretty serious conditions," says Sara Totonchi, public-policy director at the Southern Center for Human Rights. "If their treatment was contingent on whether or not they could pay, they would choose not to or be unable to seek medical attention. Which is a dangerous scenario to create in a prison."

    The bill was changed to apply only to nonessential medications like cold or headache medicine. The savings are also now negligible and would save the Georgia Department of Corrections about $1.8 million a year, a small amount considering the $226 million Georgia spends on health care for inmates.


  • Bringing The Stupid

    Seriously, Michele Bachmann's constituents should be embarrassed. Yesterday she asks Geithner:

    "Would you categorically renounce the United States moving away from the dollar and going to a global currency as suggested this morning by China and also by Russia. Mr. Secretary?

    Geithner: I would, yes.

    Bachmann: And the Federal Reserve Chair?

    Bernanke: I would also."

    I can't take it. Hilzoy has the math on this fool. Here's the video. Wow.

  • Conservatives For Criminal Justice Reform

    From Ross:

    ...as you might expect, a policy turn undertaken during a period of emergency will eventually produce diminishing returns - as Steven Levitt puts it, "the two-millionth criminal imprisoned is likely to impose a much smaller crime burden on society than the first prisoner" - even as it imposes substantial moral costs. And precisely because the tough-on-crime approach was largely vindicated by events, it's extremely difficult for elected officials to walk back from some of the dubious practices that have grown up around it - like, say, the possibly cruel-and-unusual use of long-term solitary confinement.

    This political dynamic explains why the chances for effective prison reform probably depend on Nixon-to-China conservatives, who can put the credibility the Right has built up on law and order to good use. (It wouldn't hurt if conservatives were willing to champion some alternative approaches to crime reduction as well.) But they probably also depend on crime rates staying flat, or falling - and in the current downturn that may be too much to hope for.

    I'm less certain that the "tough on crime" approach has been "largely vindicated" by events--mostly because I think a large part of the events include the moral costs, and the real costs to communities where alarming numbers of men are under the watch of the state. One should consider the numbers here--blacks make up a third of all drug arrests, and black men are 12 times as likely to be imprisoned on a drug conviction. Four in Five of these arrests were for possession, not sale. Perhaps this is because the drug epidemic has run rampant through black communities, but probably not. The difference in illicit drug usage is slight (9.5 percent of blacks have used illicit substances, 8.2% of whites).  Those are the sort of numbers that feed an intense distrust of the justice system in many black communities. I think Ross (though I can't be sure) sees the ends justifying the means. But the means are disproportionately born by people who live far away from those "Nixon to China" conservatives.

    This is more than theory for me. Ten years ago, my college friend Prince Jones was followed by a cop from Prince George's county Maryland, into the District, and out into the suburbs of Virginia, where he was going to see his young daughter and girlfriend. The police officer was allegedly looking for a drug dealer--a short man with long dreads. Prince was about 6'3 and wore a low caesar. The officer and Prince ended up in a confrontation, merely yards away from the home of Prince's girlfriend. He produced no badge, just a gun and a claim that he was a cop. Prince didn't believe him (and without a badge, I wouldn't have either) and rammed the guy's car. The cop shot Prince eight times, killing him.

    Prince was not from the inner-city. His mother was a radiologist. He was a fitness freak. He was a born-again Christian who tried to convert me whenever I saw him. He was a student at Howard, who was killed mere yards from the home of his baby. The only thing he shared in common with the drug-dealer  the cops were seeking out was color. Despite a botched operation, that spanned three jurisdictions, and resulted in the death of an innocent man, and orphaned a girl who will have no memories of her father, the officer was neither prosecuted, nor bounced off the force.

    I don't bring this out to be cheap or try to shame my colleague, but to say that when you live close to that line, when you've been stopped by the police several times, when you know innocent people who are dead, when you know kids who are coming up fatherless because of our obsession with drugs, it becomes difficult to say that events have vindicated our strategy. Cases like Prince's wear on an essential thread in our democracy--a belief that the people who are charged with protecting you, actually care about protecting you.  We've paid a heavy price for our crime policy. I'm heartened that some conservatives are starting to see that.

  • New Comment Policy Pt.2

    So yeah, as you guys can see there are some changes. We're going with registration, for now. I'm still trying to work out a couple other things, but this is the first step. I agree the full moderation is something I should work hard to avoid. I'm hoping we can go to a trust system.

  • Bizarre...

    I don't find the feud between MSNBC and Fox particularly engaging or entertaining. It's not new for news organizations to feud--just really small-minded. All of that said, I just want to note that I did watch this thing with Amanda Terkel over at ThinkProgress. I think she handled herself really well. Better than I would. Seriously. My gut reaction is to murmur to Kenyatta that if I see these fools posted up in Harlem, I'm fin to catch a case. But that isn't a particularly smart reaction. As an adult, I've gone with the gut a couple times. It never ended up anywhere good.  I think Bill Moyers showed us how to do it, son.



  • Kid Fresh

    PostBourgie looks at Allonzo Trier, the 12-year old NCAA prospect the Times Magazine reported on this weekend. I'm not joking about that prospect part, read the story. I'm not one of those "if black kids spent as much time studying as they did playing sports..." people. It's a sanctimonious argument that originates in the belief in white infallibility. So I actually don't worry about this kid wanting to be basketball player.

    But I do worry about kids having that sort of life pressure at 12. I worry about a kid who's barely out of cartoons and into puberty, thinking about shoe contracts. I also worry about the range of life experience. Childhood is a great time to try out so many different things, and meet different people. When your profession is decided at that young age, it seems that a bubble must form around you. The kids parents seem solid, so I'm sure he'll be fine. But I wonder what the pressure does to someone that young.

  • Towards A Better Comment Policy

    Starting tomorrow, I'm going to go to fully moderated comments. I've given this some thought over the past few weeks, and I think it's for the best. We've grown some since I started this a year ago. I've always prided myself on having a community of folks that would talk, listen and argue in good faith. But the bigger you get, the harder that becomes to maintain.

    Moderation basically means, that someone (me) will have to approve your comments before they're posted. I'm not so much looking for people who agree with me, as I am people who have something to say that's informed, measured and meets the rudiment of logic. Specifically, I'd really encourage folks to get familiar with quotes and blockquotes. My main goal is to give posters an incentive to think and read carefully before posting. That sounds sort of high-handed, and I guess it is. I believe in the internet. But I don't believe that everyone's opinion is equal.

    I'd say about 80 percent of what you see here will still go through. That said, I'm sure there will be some anger about this. Here is your place to vent.

  • Pour Out A Little Liquor

    Somehow I missed this, but Culture11 is no more. Sad to see. Even on the web, it takes money to keep the ship afloat. People who care about this stuff should check out Charles Homans autopsy. (H/T The American Scene.) There's a great scene in there where some of Culture11's editors tackle Jonah Goldberg. It's not great because they're tackling him, but because it shows the price modern conservatives pay for walling themselves off from popular culture. In Culture11's wake, something more traditionally conservative has popped up:

    It was a grimly funny coincidence that around the time Culture11's financial well was running dry, another Web site sharing its subject matter debuted to much greater fanfare in the right-wing media than Kuo's project ever received: Big Hollywood, an entertainment and politics blog created by Andrew Breitbart, a conservative Los Angeles-based Internet entrepreneur who helped launch both the Drudge Report and Huffington Post. Beneath an angry vermillion-colored banner, the blog offers recurring features like the "Celebutard of the Week"--tracking the latest vapidly liberal political utterances from the likes of Cher--and clips of the best conservative moments in film interspersed with rote breaking news from the entertainment industry. It's supposed to eventually host cultural musings from such notable film critics as House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor; commenting on a scene in the new thriller The International in which the characters shoot it out in the Guggenheim Museum, one Big Hollywood contributor coos approvingly, "I love seeing modern (phony) art destroyed."

    But for all the bluster of all-caps headlines like "GLOBAL WARMING PROPAGANDA SINKS 'UNDER THE SEA 3D,' " it's a far less courageous site than the comparably nonconfrontational Culture11; beneath the patina of combativeness, it's really just a support group for 24 fans. What Big Hollywood does isn't criticism, or reporting--it's ideological accounting.

    While the inability to confront culture is particular to the right, the problem of ideological journalism is not. My ideal is really Norman Mailer in Armies of The Night. Mailer was anti-war, but that didn't stop him from panning the anti-war protests, or panning himself. And he did it while reporting

    I'm a lefty. That political bias informs my story selection and my interests. But I'm in the business of storytelling, not of converting people. Journalism is certainly informed by political beliefs, but even more so, political beliefs should be informed by journalism. If they aren't, you start claiming knowledge of masses of people you've never met. You get lazy, your mind slows and you become self-congratulatory and limited.

    I always thought Culture11, at its best, was at war with that mentality. I'm sorry to see them go.

  • The Merits Of Jailhouse Hooch

    Or the lack thereof:

    If you're looking for proof of mankind's inveterate need for altered states of consciousness, look no further than pruno. Long created beneath the bunks of prison inmates, and often consisting of such odious ingredients as ketchup and sauerkraut, pruno is notoriously unpalatable, even for the most hardened toughs. According to a participant in a harrowing 2006 taste test, the stuff is reticent not of black currant and cinnamon, a la Spain's finest riojas, but rather "a rotten compost heap of tropical fruits consumed by maggots."

    But it's not just the terrible taste that inmates must contend with. According to a new CDC study, recent batches of pruno have been found to be rife with botulism--yeah, the stuff that gets injected into Nicole Kidman's face on a semi-daily basis, but was once better known for killing people.


  • We're All White Trash now

    Or are we all niggers? Don't know. But the day of figuring out this black-white shit is coming. Hate, however, is eternal:

    Discussing the first lady's visit to a Washington D.C. classroom last week, Bruce incredulously recalled Obama's story about wanting to get A's in school and called out her use of a "weird, fake accent."

    "That's what he's married to," Bruce said. "...You know what we've got? We've got trash in the White House. Trash is a thing that is colorblind, it can cross all eco-socionomic...categories. You can work on Wall Street, or you can work at the Wal-Mart. Trash, are people who use other people to get things, who patronize others, who consider you bitter and clingy..."

    There's a joke here--something about pots and kettles. There are many in fact. I'm overwhelmed though. Where do I begin? Yet again, the mind reels...

  • Why Do Black Immigrants Do Better Than Native Blacks?

    This argument pops up from time to time, but it's been coming up a lot lately. It always seemed to me that the question answers itself--an immigrant is someone who's specifically come to this country to capitalize and exploit opportunity. Comparing any immigrant group to virtually any native-born group is like comparing the most ambitious members of one team with the entirety of another team. This is to say nothing of whatever skills, education and wealth a particular immigrant group may bring to bear.

    I think it's very hard to accept what's happened to black people in this country post-slavery. I think we can accept that we had slaves--most countries did. But very few followed it up with the Klan and Jim Crow. These facts challenge our self-image as Americans. How can red-lining and Horatio Alger be true at the same time? The black experience threatens our image as a place of great individual opportunity. Of course, if our ideals are real, we shouldn't be threatened at all. Sometimes I say something stupid and unloving to Kenyatta. Doesn't mean I don't love her. But I also can't act like I never said it, or look for excuses for why I would. I have to confront myself and be honest, as opposed to trying to cover my ass

    Where was I? Oh yeah, black immigrants. I think a natural--but ultimately cheap--reaction is to appeal to the Myth Of The Black Immigrant. If we can prove that other black people come here and do well, than it must mean that our ideals and our execution of them have, indeed, been righteous. It's just that the American blacks are too lazy and self-pitying to see this.

    I think the best grappling I've seen with this was by Malcolm Gladwell, himself an immigrant black of West Indian descent. He rather brilliantly combines his own first person experience, his family's views, and some actual social science to show that, as he says it, someone must always be the villain. Forgive me for quoting at length. The piece is quite lovely:

    I grew up in Canada, in a little farming town an hour and a half outside of Toronto. My father teaches mathematics at a nearby university, and my mother is a therapist. For many years, she was the only black person in town, but I cannot remember wondering or worrying, or even thinking, about this fact. Back then, color meant only good things. It meant my cousins in Jamaica. It meant the graduate students from Africa and India my father would bring home from the university...
    But things changed when I left for Toronto to attend college. This was during the early nineteen-eighties, when West Indians were immigrating to Canada in droves, and Toronto had become second only to New York as the Jamaican expatriates' capital in North America. At school, in the dining hall, I was served by Jamaicans. The infamous Jane-Finch projects, in northern Toronto, were considered the Jamaican projects. The drug trade then taking off was said to be the Jamaican drug trade. In the popular imagination, Jamaicans were--and are--welfare queens and gun-toting gangsters and dissolute youths. In Ontario, blacks accused of crimes are released by the police eighteen per cent of the time; whites are released twenty-nine per cent of the time. In drug-trafficking and importing cases, blacks are twenty-seven times as likely as whites to be jailed before their trial takes place, and twenty times as likely to be imprisoned on drug-possession charges.

    After I had moved to the United States, I puzzled over this seeming contradiction--how West Indians celebrated in New York for their industry and drive could represent, just five hundred miles northwest, crime and dissipation. Didn't Torontonians see what was special and different in West Indian culture? But that was a naïve question. The West Indians were the first significant brush with blackness that white, smug, comfortable Torontonians had ever had. They had no bad blacks to contrast with the newcomers, no African-Americans to serve as a safety valve for their prejudices, no way to perform America's crude racial triage.

    Not long ago, I sat in a coffee shop with someone I knew vaguely from college, who, like me, had moved to New York from Toronto. He began to speak of the threat that he felt Toronto now faced. It was the Jamaicans, he said. They were a bad seed. He was, of course, oblivious of my background. I said nothing, though, and he launched into a long explanation of how, in slave times, Jamaica was the island where all the most troublesome and obstreperous slaves were sent, and how that accounted for their particularly nasty disposition today.

    I have told that story many times since, usually as a joke, because it was funny in an appalling way--particularly when I informed him much, much later that my mother was Jamaican. I tell the story that way because otherwise it is too painful. There must be people in Toronto just like Rosie and Noel, with the same attitudes and aspirations, who want to live in a neighborhood as nice as Argyle Avenue, who want to build a new garage and renovate their basement and set up their own business downstairs. But it is not completely up to them, is it? What has happened to Jamaicans in Toronto is proof that what has happened to Jamaicans here is not the end of racism, or even the beginning of the end of racism, but an accident of history and geography. In America, there is someone else to despise. In Canada, there is not. In the new racism, as in the old, somebody always has to be the nigger.

    Read the whole thing. It's wonderful.

  • Eraserheads

    Alyssa Rosenberg tackles Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse." It's a typically smart take. Me? I'm not sure I want to watch some dude repeatedly erase a woman's memories. It feels like a rape fantasy, or some such. I'm sure it's more to it than that. But the shows premise makes me recoil a bit.

  • A Lack Of Old School Cred

    A commenter licks a few hot ones:

    Yo, dude . . unrelated, but I think it's a crime you posted a video of Aretha last week, and didn't even honor Chaka Khan on her b-day. your old schoolness is inconsistent, sir. i demand satisfaction. :(

    The emoticon at the end really burned. So much cred to keep up with--street, nerd, old school, sports, lefty etc. The mind reels. Ah well, lets see what we can do.

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