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.

  • No One Said It'd Be Easy

    Jonathan Martin points out that Obama is catching from the Times's liberals. Meh, most of these guys were always lukewarm to him. Except Frank Rich, who offered the following on Sunday:

    Within 24 hours, Summers's stand was discarded by Obama, who tardily (and impotently) vowed to "pursue every single legal avenue" to block the bonuses. The question is not just why the White House was the last to learn about bonuses that Democratic congressmen had sought hearings about back in December, but why it was so slow to realize that the public's anger couldn't be sated by Summers's legalese or by constant reiteration of the word outrage. By the time Obama acted, even the G.O.P. leader Mitch McConnell was ahead of him in full (if hypocritical) fulmination.

    David Axelrod tried to rationalize the lagging response when he told The Washington Post last week that "people are not sitting around their kitchen tables thinking about A.I.G.," but are instead "thinking about their own jobs." While that's technically true, it misses the point. Of course most Americans don't know how A.I.G. brought the world's financial system to near-ruin or what credit-default swaps are. They may not even know what A.I.G. stands for. But Americans do make the connection between their fears about their own jobs and their broad understanding of the A.I.G. debacle.

    I think this is pretty much right. Obama is, temperamentally, a deliberative, thoughtful guy. It's why I voted for him. Unfortunately that quality doesn't exactly lead you to outrage, when the public is demanding it. Maybe that's for the best. I don't know. What he most needs now, is to be right about the economy. I'm a laymen, but it's not clear to me that he is.

  • BSG Finale Open Thread

    As you know, I swore off the show and thus wasn't interested in the finale. But my sense is that there's a group here who would very much like to talk about it. I want to provide a forum for that. With one caveat--don't be boring, and don't be an ass. That is all. 

  • In Defense Of Iceland

    From a commenter:

    I find it fascinating to read this blog. So many people seem to be able to write about things they clearly know almost nothing about. Iceland did NOT trade fish for finance. The fishing industry has always been our most important industry, and it still is. The banking sector grew so much in a short time, that it became no 1 for a year (I think, don´t have the actual numbers handy). It is also incorrect (and irritading) to say Iceland, because it was 3 BANKS, not the whole country, that went bankrupt. A part of Icelanders took foreign currency loans, not everybody.

    I read somewhere that 10% of households foreign loans on their houses. I read the article in Vanity Fair and thougt it was really funny. It was deffinetly not meant to be taken seriously. I thought the part about exploding Range Rovers funny. I also read in an article that people were warned not to come here because of riots, bunch of people making noice with pots and pans, that sounds real dangerous.

    Sentences like "Iceland is a giant hedgefund" work because they are sensational and catchy, and people need to find somebody who is in a worse situastion than they are. That is why it works.

    Also New York magazine objects.

  • The Death Penalty

    With Bill Richardson outlawing the ultimate punishment, John has some thoughts on conservatives:

    One of the things I have never understood is the seeming breakdown on opposition to and support for the death penalty. I have never figured out why conservatives, the people who flip out about zoning boards and if their taxes are raised 3% and who shout limited government until they are blue in the face have absolutely zero problem with the government taking that which is most precious- someone's life. All this posturing about the "ability to tax is the ability to destroy" just seems silly when you turn a blind eye to the government executing people.

    There's more over at his place. But I'd offer one theory. I think a sizable, maybe not a majority, of the conservative base doesn't actually believe in small government. They believe in government not not taking their tax dollars and using it to help people who they don't like. This goes back to state's rights, Jim Crow and reconstruction. I don't mean to impugn principled liberarians, but there's certainly a strain of "small government" conservativism that's rooted in those old racist notions.

    It's very difficult to disentangle debates over criminal justice, from race. Felon disenfranchisement laws have their roots in the efforts to keep black men from voting. I don't think the death penalty is a racist plot. But I wonder if the face of crime were more familiar, where we'd be on the issue. This is all a long way of saying that some conservatives don't hate big government, they simply want big government to work strictly for them.

  • 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.


    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


  • 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


    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.


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