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.

  • 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.

  • People Who Should Quit While They're Ahead Pt. 2

    Yglesias on Dick Cheney:

    It's really remarkable when you think about it that anyone would listen to Cheney on the subject of national security. His administration was by far the least successful in American history in terms of preventing international terrorists from murdering Americans. Also by far the least successful in American history in terms of preventing international terrorists from murdering NATO allies. And the military action his administration pursued in response to the terrorist attack we suffered under their watch has come to be mired in problems, teetering on the brink of failure, almost entirely thanks to a second--but completely unnecessary--war his administration chose to undertake in favor of successfully completing the first one.

    Maybe he's running for president in 2012. Man we should be so lucky.

  • The NAACP Subprime Suit

    The NAACP is claiming that Wells Fargo and HSBC discriminated against black families, by steering them toward subprime loans. I'm of a two minds on the subprime crisis. I hope that one thing that comes out of it, is that we learn not to sign contracts, which make us liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars, that we don't fully understand. Brokers, who stand to gain from the sale, don't count as independent advisers. That said, I think that the banks will need to explain this:

    Blacks still were disproportionately steered into subprime loans when their credit scores, income and down payment were equal to those of white homebuyers, he said.

    Adam has more on the suit.

  • Black People, Culture And Poverty

    Sudhir Venkatesh salutes William Julius Wilson's new book More Than Just Race for its willingness to talk intelligently about the role culture plays in black poverty. I am a Wilson fan, and though I haven't seen his book, I can believe that it's all Venkatesh says it is. I have one quibble. Throughout, the piece Venkatesh uses the term "black" interchangeably with "black and poor."

    The book stands to have a powerful impact in policy circles because it points to the elephant in the room. Wilson knows it is difficult to engineer cultural change. We can train black youths, we can move their families to better neighborhoods, etc., but changing their way of thinking is not so easy. Evidence of this lies in the many "mobility" programs that move inner-city families to lower-poverty suburbs: Young women continue to have children out of wedlock and, inexplicably, the young men who move out return to their communities to commit crime! These patterns flummox researchers and, according to Wilson, they will continue to remain mysterious until we look at culture for an answer.

    I think it takes a real flight of fancy to dismiss the culture argument. If you are rich and you've been rich for generations, you almost certainly develop cultural habits. Likewise, if you're poor and you've been poor for generations, you do the same. If you've been wealthy for generations and you were suddenly asked to function in the ghetto, you may have problems because you didn't know the rules. You weren't acculturated. Likewise, if you're poor and you're trying to climb up the economic ladder, you may also have problems. What will keep you safe in the projects, may well get you fired from a job, or kicked out of school. I think this would be true whether you are poor in West Baltimore, or poor in West Virginia.

    But one reason that a lot of African-Americans get pissed off at cultural arguments is because the "culture of poverty" is often so easily transposed over the "culture of black people." I went to public school all my life. So does my son. I've had my share of contact with the culture of poverty. But the culture that encourages people to jump the broom at weddings, isn't the same as the culture that makes drug-dealing a choice occupation. The culture at, say, Spelman isn't the same as the culture of the projects here in Harlem. And the culture at Spelman isn't the same as the culture at Howard.

    To take it back to that quote, my son is a "black youth." He goes to school with other "black youth." He plays on a football team populated by still more "black youth." Some of these kids have been acculturated to poverty. Some of them haven't. We aren't trying to change how "black youth" think, we're trying to change how people acculturated to poverty think. A disproportionate number of them happen to black. Given the weight of a century of systemic wealth discrimination (from emancipation to the Civil Rights movement), I don't know why we''re surprised by that fact.

    Still, I increasingly wonder what role "black" plays in anything. If you looked at the cultural practices that hold poor black people back, would you find more synergy in middle class black America, or poor white\Latino\Asian America? If you looked at the cultural practices of poor black people in cities, how much would they differ from the practices of poor people in cities historically? Culture attracts such protest from many blacks not because we think that the culture of poverty is a myth, but because the mass of us who, in the space of about 40 years, have made more progress than any group of blacks before us, don't deserve to be told that our culture is making people poor. Seriously. Fried catfish and Outkast ain't never disenfranchised nobody.

  • People Who Should Quit While They're Ahead

    Tucker Carlson takes it to John Stewart, who bodied him back in 2004:

    No, I think Jon Stewart is dishonest. And by the way, I also think he's a sacred cow. There's nobody who has the huevos to attacks Jon Stewart because he's too popular. The press sucks up to him like I've never seen -- it's like Oprah. Jon Stewart, all the kids watch Jon Stewart. He's brilliant. I would like to see somebody have the stones to come out and say, Jon Stewart's kind of a pompous jerk, actually.

    Heh, I always love it when people claim "no one" is allowed to attack a guy, right before they do just that. Anyway, Carlson goes on to claim that Stewart isn't funny and that the rest of the world will soon see this. Of course Carlson has been dumped twice, since Stewart's been on the Daily Show. It's worth rewatching that Stewart take-down. It's timeless. Like KRS tossing PM Dawn off stage and then rocking their crowd. Except better.

  • Three Percent Of D.C. Residents Have HIV

    I really, really, really wish I could say I was surprised:

    The District's report found a 22 percent increase in HIV and AIDS cases from the 12,428 reported at the end of 2006, touching every race and sex across population and neighborhoods, with an epidemic level in all but one of the eight wards. Black men, with an infection rate of nearly 7 percent, carry the weight of the disease, according to the report, which also underscores that the District's HIV and AIDS population is aging. Almost 1 in 10 residents between the ages of 40 and 49 has the virus.

    The report notes that "this growing population will have significant implications on the District's health care system" as residents face chronic medical problems associated with aging and fighting a disease that compromises the immune system.

    Men having sex with men has remained the disease's leading mode of transmission. Heterosexual transmission and injection drug use closely follow, the report says. Three percent of black women carry the virus, partly a result of the increase in heterosexual transmissions.

    There's something to be said for the demographics of D.C. making this possible. But still, those numbers are just shocking.

  • The Strength Of Street Knowledge

    Below is the most damning clip from the Cramer\Stewart face-off. Stewart is obviously a genius, and he had Cramer's number. Still, something about it all didn't sit quite right with me. Stewart rightly attacked CNBC for not doing their job, and then he attacked Cramer for "throwing plastic cows through his legs." But I couldn't stop wondering the sort of nation takes its most crucial advice from a guy who throws cows through his legs?

    In all of this, I find myself unsatisfied by the critique. For me, the investigation always begins at home--Who are we? Why is there a market for foolishness? I don't know much about the financial world. I come to this equipped solely with the weaponry I was deeded by the streets of Baltimore, and in the home of Cheryl Waters and Paul Coates. The shield in that arsenal, is the intuitive sense that no one gives you a house for nothing, that you don't base your future on advice from the dude who cameos on Arrested Development. Nothing special there. I think we all have access to the shield of Street Knowledge, and yet in these times, we seem to have put our faith, not in our innate sense, but in the worst sort of clownery.

    I like Jon Stewart. I thought he did a good thing yesterday. But I left that interview unsatisfied. I left it wondering about the animal in us I know who Jim Cramer is. I know what wracks him. But what about us? Who are we in all this? Why are CNBC ratings still soaring? What madness has led us to hand off our shields and put our future in the hands of shaman and faith-healers?

  • The Base Ain't Racist Kid, They Only Hate You

    Anybody ready to start taking bets?

    On Thursday, several religious right officials and anti-abortion advocates criticized Steele for telling the magazine that he "absolutely" thought abortion was "an individual choice," to be decided at the state level.

    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: "Comments attributed to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele are very troubling and despite his clarification today the party stands to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grassroots politics."

    Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition: "I'm a little surprised that Michael Steele, being the leader of the Republican Party, is at odds with the pro-life platform, the platform that conservative put in place... If this is his viewpoint, he has made it be known. I'm just surprised that the leader of the party is at odds with the pro-life platform."

    Evangelical leader Lou Engle: "Steele's argument that abortion is a matter of "individual choice" is extremely disappointing, especially in light of past statements in which he promised to protect and defend human life. "Steele's remarks to GQ indicate that he may be confused about "choice" and the "law." The law is supposed to protect human life, not permit the taking of it. And, it can never be a "choice" for an individual to take a life."

    Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council: "I read the article last night so I am familiar not only with his comments about the life issue but also about the efforts to redefine marriage and 'mucking' up the Constitution. I expressed my concerns to the chairman earlier this week about previous statements that were very similar in nature. He assured me as chairman his views did not matter and that he would be upholding and promoting the Party platform, which is very clear on these issues. It is very difficult to reconcile the GQ interview with the chairman's pledge."


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