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.

  • Chris Brown And Rihanna

    Begin the groaning. I haven't said much about this for a reason--these are two people I've never met. I don't think it's a particularly smart idea to use individuals, who you don't know and whose image is mostly shaped by people trying to sell you something, to discuss whole masses of people.

    But then yesterday someone sent me this article in which the author looks at the way kids are talking about the case. There is a lot of alarm over the fact that some study found 40 percent of kids "blame" Rihanna. This strikes me as the age-old tactic of marrying the latest controversy to the ever-present sense that our kids are more amoral than we were.

    It's a bad idea to assess your society through lens of people whose business is fame. It's a bad idea to use a few kid-on-the-street anecdotes to assess how kids feel about domestic violence. It's a bad idea to present a single opinion poll as evidence of anything. It may be true, as the article implies, that kids don't take domestic violence seriously enough. But it'll take more than a few anecdotes and a single study to convince me of that. The uncomfortable fact is that Rihanna and Chris Brown are human beings--not tropes to be deconstructed in your local ethnic studies class, not symbols for our wayward young, not evidence of the pained relationship between black men and women.

  • How To Start A Friday

    I'm extremely embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of the poet Frederick Seidel. Someone should slap me. The truth is that though my interest are wide, they're only deep in certain areas. That's the price you pay for being a traveler. But anyway, an editor recently sent me a copy of Seidel's collected works.  If you care anything for words, do yourself a favor and cop his latest book.

    Here's a sample--a piece called October, written after Seidel was asked to pen a poem for every month. This is what a love poem should sound like, not sappy and incredible, but painful and joyous, all in an understated way. It also feels so much like New York. I'm not completely sure why. Read this to your spouse. I did. She loved it. And she's never been anyone's idea of blonde.

    October

    It is time to lose your life,
    Even if it isn't over.
    It is time to say goodbye and try to die.
    It is October.

    The mellow cello
    Allee of trees is almost lost in sweetness and mist
    When you take off your watch at sunrise
    To lose your life.

    You catch the plane.
    You land again.
    You arrive in the place.
    You speak the language.

    You will live in a new house,
    Even if it is old.
    You will live with a new wife,
    Even if she is too young.

    Your slender new husband will love you.
    He will walk the dog in the cold.
    He will cook a meal on the stove.
    He will bring you your medication in bed.

    Dawn at the city flower market downtown.
    The vendors have just opened.
    The flowers are so fresh.
    The restaurants are there to decorate their tables.

    Your husband rollerblades past, whizzing,
    Making a whirring sound, winged like an angel--
    But stops and spins around and skates back
    To buy some cut flowers in the early morning frost.

    I am buying them for you.
    I am buying them for your blond hair at dawn.
    I am buying them for your beautiful breasts.
    I am buying them for your beautiful heart.

    "When you take off your watch at sunrise\To lose your life..." Gorgeous. Negroes need to read more poetry to their children. It would close the achievment gap. Added the title. It's called October

    UPDATE:

  • Iceland, The Economy, And More Great Writing

    A couple of weeks ago, I steered folks to Ian Parker's gorgeously written take on Iceland and The Fall. The response from many of the comments was that I needed to check out Michael Lewis's piece on Iceland. It is as amazing as most of you said it was, but it got to me, on a personal level, as a guy who has struggled for most his (what, 13 years?) as a writer.

    One of the hardest thing about doing anything in any sort of splendid way is getting past the conventional wisdom. For the work-a-day journalist the temptation to play small-ball, to write every story, the way virtually every other writer writes a piece is large.  The upside is small--most of us aren't working places where there's much reward for breaking the mold. And the downside is huge--you could get editors yelling at you, you could have to rewrite the whole thing thus forcing people to blow through deadlines, thus pissing every other individual in the chain.

    I think you almost have to be the sort of person who basically is incapable of writing in the manner of others, if you're going to do something different. I knew I was in for a treat when I read the following line from Lewis:

    This in a country the size of Kentucky, but with fewer citizens than greater Peoria, Illinois. Peoria, Illinois, doesn't have global financial institutions, or a university devoting itself to training many hundreds of financiers, or its own currency.

    It's stupid really, but I had this rule in my head that it's bad writing to begin a sentence with the same two words you ended the last one on. And yet it works here. Beautifully. There's a kind of poetry in the repetition of "Peoria, Illinois."

    Straitjacketed editors are always warning young people away from the first person, and telling them to go report. The latter instinct is always correct. The former only sometimes. We live in era of over-indulgent, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing dreck. Same as it ever was, I suppose. Still, I think there's something to teaching kids to get in touch with their own original way of seeing the world (their voice), on top of being dogged reporters. Lewis brings both to bear with amazing results. The piece is fully reported. But it's also told in a way that no one else can tell it.

    UPDATE: One thing I didn't get, mostly because I'm illiterate when it comes to things. Why did the "Iceland as a hedge fund" metaphor work so well? Is it because short-sellers started betting against it? Help me out here, all.

    UPDATE 2: I don't want to compare and contrast the two pieces, but damn, this line from the Parker piece, is stuck in my head--"A country overwhelmed by evil has more dignity than one tripped up by fools." Reminds me so much of being black, being American, just being human.

  • I'm Black. I'm Dressed Like The President.

    Larry Wilmore brings the awesome-sauce...

  • 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?

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

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