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.

  • The World Is A Ghetto

    Jelani Cobb explains:

    But we're in the middle of a recession right now because millions of middle class people bought more house than they could afford, because millions of others used home equity as a personal ATM machine to subsidize life styles they really couldn't afford. And because the CEOs and politicians who are supposed to be the responsible voices around here spent the better part of a decade indulging their addiction to cheap Chinese goods that have artificially inflated the value of the dollar. Ever wonder why it is that everyone in America can afford a flat-screen and most Chinese -- who are manufacturing them -- can't?

    This is all made possible by those hood-ass folk over at Treasury and Citi and Lehman and the good folk in China whose economy is the international equivalent of an E-Z Credit joint in the... um... ghetto. Fittingly, those formerly high-end subdivisions where deer are running amok and swimming pools are the new mosquito nest have become suburban ghettoes. Which, I guess means that we'll have to retire Ghetto as an adjective because, ironically, the tide of foreclosures ensures even more need for it as a noun.

    So break out your platinum grills, tattoo your children's names on your neck and head downtown with rollers in your head: we are all ghetto now.


  • Racism Ruins Everything

    mryunioshi.jpg

    Piggybacking on yesterday's convo around minorities and Hollywood, I watched Breakfast At Tiffany's recently. I had just finished watching Mrs. Parker And Her Vicious Circle for the first time. Jennifer Jason Leigh was transcendent, as usual. Matthew Broderick was meh.I have no idea how those cats did any writing, given how much time the spent drinking and gossiping. But anyway, the movie was depressing, and so as a pick-me-up, I fell back on one of my old favorites--Breakfast At Tiffany's. For all sorts of reasons, too corny to recount on this blog, Kenyatta and me love that movie. But goddamn is Mickey Rooney's yellowface Mr. Yuniochi hard to take. It's not even hard to take in that "funny but dead wrong" sort of way, it's just rather stupid.

    The movie has a Birth Of A Nation problem, but of a lower order. Whereas Birth Of A Nation is, at once, a revolutionary and racist film, Tiffany's is a great film with a racist portrayal. I don't know if people, at the time, thought the Rooney's bit was racist, or if he's reflecting the mores of the Mad Men era. I also try not to come down too hard on things like this given that prejudice in art, is as ancient as art itself. Imagine the films the Egyptians would have made about the Assyrians, or the Romans about the Germanic tribes.

    At the same time, it reminds you why people who blame the fall of everything on political correctness are morons and, in many cases, bigots looking for cover. For instance...

  • Now That's A Trekkie

    Seriously, this dude is going hard:

    There is nothing particularly unusual about the living room of the two-story town house that Scott Veazie shares with his wife in Washougal, Wash., except for one piece of furniture in a corner: a full-size replica of the captain's chair from the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, as seen in the original "Star Trek" television series.

    Mr. Veazie, 27, was not yet born when that show first went on the air in the 1960s; even his parents were only teenagers. During his childhood, there were "Star Trek" spinoffs on TV with more sophisticated special effects than the original, and a more contemporary sensibility, and there were also movies featuring the old show's actors aboard updated versions of the Enterprise. But Mr. Veazie, who watched endless reruns of the original series with his mother in the 1980s, was never drawn to those later incarnations.

    Meh, TNG FTW.

  • We Don't Know The Half

    Via Andrew, Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell's old chief of staff) puts Dick Cheney on blast:

    Recently, in an attempt to mask some of these failings and to exacerbate and make even more difficult the challenge to the new Obama administration, former Vice President Cheney gave an interview from his home in McLean, Virginia. The interview was almost mystifying in its twisted logic and terrifying in its fear-mongering...

    But far worse is the unmistakable stoking of the 20 million listeners of Rush Limbaugh, half of whom we could label, judiciously, as half-baked nuts. Such remarks as those of the former vice president's are like waving a red flag in front of an incensed bull. And Cheney of course knows that.

    Cheney went on to say in his McLean interview that "Protecting the country's security is a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people and we are not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek." I have to agree but the other way around. Cheney and his like are the evil people and we certainly are not going to prevail in the struggle with radical religion if we listen to people such as he.

    When--and if--the truths about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be revealed in the way they should be, or Congress will step up and shoulder some of the blame, or the new Obama administration will have the courage to follow through substantially on its campaign promises with respect to GITMO, torture and the like, remains indeed to be seen.

    Three things occurred to me reading this piece. The first is just how much of piss-poor job journalist have done in interviewing Cheney now that he's out of office. I don't think Jon Stewart is the right model. I'm more thinking Terry Gross. But Dick Cheney would never be interviewed by Terry Gross. If you want to know why, listen to Gross take on his wife.

    The second thing is this--I've not written much about investigating the Bush era, mostly because I've been conflicted. I do think it's a political loser, and I'm also not sure if it would accomplish much. But watching Cheney, a man who in a country with no democracy, would be Mobutu, demagouging people who are trying to do the hard work of patriotism--not the sloganeering part, the how do we engage evil without becoming evil part--is  stomach-turing.

    Congress if you're listening--Air this motherfucker out, please. Not just to shut him up, but to send a simple message to to all the other swamp gnolls, hoods, hobgoblins and latent Mobutus among us--Don't fuck with the Constitution.

  • The Case For Jon Stewart

    Matt alerts us to this Morning Joe appearance in which Evan Bayh announces a new centrist caucus. Clearly this is needed because the greatest threat to the Democratic Party--with Tim Kaine chairing the DNC, Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Lawrence Summers directing the National Economic Council, Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, and Bob Gates in the Pentagon, pro-lifer Harry Ried as Majority Leader--is a Marxist plot hatched by Dennis Kucinich and the ghost of Paul Wellstone.

    Look, I'm not opposed to moderation or pragmatism as a principle. But what I see below from Evan Bayh is a rather shallow, sanctimonious, self-congratulatory, voodoo moderation. Here is a Senator who co-sponsored the resolution for the Iraq War--arguably the most delusional, Utopian act since Vietnam--talking up his pragmatist credentials. Laughable.

    But worse than that is the way the Morning Joe crew line up to see who can administer the best blow-job. I'm not sure a single act of journalism was committed during Bayh's entire appearance. Come on man. Do your job. Or be forced to take lessons from a comic. I almost never say this, but particularly in the world of broadcast journalism, what we're seeing is a deficit of creative intelligence. It's really simple. Stewart isn't always right. But he's smarter and creating something more original than anything these guys could dream.

  • Diversity In Hollywood

    A seemingly annual debate--the eyes glaze just contemplating it all. That isn't entirely fair--I'm not a fan of most TV, and the idea of making mediocrity blacker just ain't my fight. But then, I'm also not trying to make a living in the business:

    On the eve of Barack Obama's election last fall as the first African-American president, television seemed to be leaning toward a post-racial future. In October two prominent cable networks -- CNN and Comedy Central -- began new programs that featured black hosts, a development that was notable because so few current programs on cable or broadcast channels have minority leads.

    Five months later both programs -- "Chocolate News," featuring David Alan Grier on Comedy Central, and "D. L. Hughley Breaks the News" on CNN -- have been discontinued. In addition, CW, the broadcast network that regularly features comedies with largely African-American casts, announced in February that it was renewing six popular series, but its two with mostly black performers -- "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Game" -- were not among them. (The network says it is still deciding their fates.)

    I'm surprised about D.L. Hughley show, given the whole Michael Steel thing. I've never seen Chocolate News. I'd be curious to measure the tenure of "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Game" against other sitcoms. I loved "Girlfriends" but I never thought "The Game" was very good.

    Could the "Rooney Rule" help here? In other words, I think it may be better to urge studio heads to talk to more people of color pitching pilots, as opposed to urging them to put more shows on. The emphasis, it seems, should be on process. One other thing--these stories always focus on black people, and this one in particular focuses--not on blacks on TV--but on series led by black people. How does it feel to be Latino or Asian-American and see this?

  • About That Shelby Steele Op-Ed

    I can't respond every time dude says something crazy. I will say that Steele's op-ed on minoritiess and conservativism greatly underplays the racism of the very people who founded the modern movement. But honestly, iller men than me are on the case:

    Steele is correct that too often liberals have sought policies that might alleviate guilt rather than achieve progress, but his persistent myth is that conservatives do not feel such guilt, and therefore they are free to respect people as "individuals." If that were true, they wouldn't need Steele to convince them that there was nothing to feel guilty about. Steele is not free from "white struggles of conscience." As the sole black voice telling conservatives they have no racial past to be ashamed of, he is inexorably tied to them. And what's really sad is he clearly has no idea.

  • Brendan Has A Blog

    Iconoclast Brendan Koerner has joined us on the interwebs with the launch of his new blog. Brendan is an all-star journalist, author, and screenwriter, who sold his first book to Spike Lee. And I'm not just saying this because he's a fellow Harlemite and one of my best friends. Most important, Brendan has excellent taste in beer. We were both so smitten by Burkhard Bilger's recent profile of Dogfish breweries, that we've decided, this summer, to pack our kiddies and spouses into a rental, and head south for the beaches of Delaware. It's gonna be so awesome. Almost as awesome as Brendan's post on the film that will scandalize sci-fi for decades--Battlefield Earth:

    This week's victim is John Travolta's Scientology-infused sci-fi stinker Battlefield Earth, which remains the great blemish on Forest Whitaker's otherwise amazing career. How the man behind Ghost Dog and Charles Jefferson got suckered into this disaster remains a question for the ages.
    Also if you have a moment, check out this wonderfully layered profile Brendan wrote about black Indians, casino money, and DNA. It'll make some of us stop claiming that Cherokee blood.

  • The Party Of Stupid

    Michael Steele strikes again:

    And when a listener scoffed at the notion of global warming, Steele eagerly ran with the baton.

    "Thank you, thank you," he said. "We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? No very long."

    Greenland, for the record, likely had forestation some 450,000 to 800,000 years ago. But its name was derived, as is most commonly believed, from Erik the Red, who wanted to trick people into going to that island as opposed to the more hospitable Iceland.

    The Greenland gaffe was not Steele's most glaring. Earlier in the program a caller asked him about the importance of education. The RNC Chair responded with a curious comment about the need to understand the differences between Hitler and Mussolini, as opposed to FDR and "his honor, the honorable Winston Churchill." Only, he spoke of "Roberto Mussolini" -- an obscure essayist, it seems -- as opposed to the much more infamous fascist, Benito.

    "Education is key," said the RNC Chair. "It is where it begins, for all of us... If we understand the difference between Marxism, socialism and capitalism; if we understand the difference between a Roberto Mussolini, an Adolf Hitler, and a Franklin Roosevelt, and his honor the honorable Winston Churchill, if we know those differences than we can appreciate what these times mean. And how history is a precursor of things to come."

    Can visits to the depths of creationist museums be far behind? 

    UPDATE: Link fixt. Sorry guys.


  • The Last Word On RE5--No Seriously

    Evan Narcisse weighs in on yesterday's Times piece as well as the whole hoopbla. His response is measured and intelligent. That's likely because Evan has not only played the game (I have not) but he's also one of the few amongst us, critics and defenders, who's expended a little shoe-leather and done some reporting. Forgive me for quoting at some length:

    For my part, I've never called RE5 racist, and I probably won't. Throwing the word around oversimplifies what I think is a more complex reality. What I will stand by is my assertion that this game will make plenty of people uncomfortable in racially specific ways.

    That's worth discussing...

    It's clearly not the main text of the game, but the subtext feeds on awful, previously understood notions about not just Africans on the continent, but black people everywhere. There's no sense of scale, in terms of humanity, in RE5. You don't see daily life before it's destroyed by the infection. No bustling market. No kids playing. It opens on guys with machetes. As a result, the fictional country of Kijuju looks like a place that's just ripe for evil to manifest.

    Some reviews acknowledge that there's been a storm regarding the racial portrayals brewing around the game, but sidestep addressing those portrayals.

    As this debate's carried on, the apologists' retort has taken the form of "What about Resident Evil 4? Huh? Huh? Huh?" Read this quote from commenter ado_rimbo in the thread following Scott Jones' review: "But the point is that Spaniards are whites with an imperialist history, not a racially oppressed minority, so there are not loaded images here that one could be irresponsible with." Read my answer during the Takeuchi interview: "And because there's a history of demonization and subhuman portrayals with regard to people of African descent, there's a certain sensitivity around that."

    Spaniards don't have a long, loud history of being portrayed as scary, subhuman savages. The average American citizen that previous Resident Evil games have used as enemies don't have a long, loud history of being portrayed as scary, subhuman savages.

    This black videogame journalist has never said that black people aren't fair game for being enemy antagonists in videogames. What's problematic is, the way that RE5 chooses to make them antagonists pounces on fears that were promulgated about black people in the not-so-distant past. Sure, we're all susceptible to zombie virus, as Schiesel's NYT write-up blithely notes, but the subtext of the game seems to whisper: "Yeah, but those Africans don't have as far to go to become savages." This subtext feeds on awful, previously understood notions about black people.
  • Final Thoughts On RE5

    Seth Schiesel claps back at those who've called Resident Evil 5 racist:

    For at least a year some black journalists have been wringing their hands about whether the game, the latest in the seminal survival-horror series, inflames racist stereotypes because it is set in Africa. The answer is no...

    So Resident Evil 5 exposes the perhaps uncomfortable truth that blacks and Arabs can become zombies too, just like anyone else. Blacks and Arabs do not have a secret anti-zombie gene. And just like all the thousands of white, Asian and Hispanic zombies that have been dispatched in innumerable other games before them, the African zombies must also be destroyed, or at least neutralized.

    I think it's worth reading Schiesel's piece and then seeing whether the arguments he's addressing actually match those made by RE5's most serious critics--such as Dan Whitehead and Evan Narcisse. I'll leave it at that for now. Badder mutherfuckers than me will be tackling this in the coming days. More soon.

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