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 Watchmen

    I don't think A.O. Scott is a fan of the movie. But this part is funny:

    Indeed, the ideal viewer -- or reviewer, as the case may be -- of the "Watchmen" movie would probably be a mid-'80s college sophomore with a smattering of Nietzsche, an extensive record collection and a comic-book nerd for a roommate. The film's carefully preserved themes of apocalypse and decay might have proved powerfully unsettling to that anxious undergraduate sitting in his dorm room, listening to "99 Luftballons" and waiting for the world to end or the Berlin Wall to come down.

    He would also no doubt have been stirred by the costumes of the female superheroes -- Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman, both gamely giving solid performances -- who sensibly accessorize their shoulder-padded spandex leotards with garter belts and high-heeled boots. And the dense involution of the narrative might have seemed exhilarating rather than exhausting.

    I'm not sure that this hypothetical young man -- not to be confused with the middle-aged, 21st-century moviegoer he most likely grew into, whose old copy of "Watchmen" lies in a box somewhere alongside a dog-eared Penguin Classics edition of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" -- would necessarily say that Mr. Snyder's "Watchmen" is a good movie. I wouldn't, though it is certainly better than the same director's "300."

    I think I'm mostly done with comic book movies, and big budget movies in general. I don't think (with a few exceptions) that they're made for me. Which is fine. But the more comic book movies I see, the more I value the imaginative space created by books. It's a great thing when your imagination is matched by the movie. I'm thinking that scene in the first Spiderman when Parker first swings on the webs to catch his Uncle's killer. Or that opening Nightcrawler scene in X2. Or the scene in the first Batman where Bruce Wayne is bumrushed by bats, and stands up and they all fly over him.

    Pretty great stuff. But more and more, I'm feeling like I'd like to keep my memories, and perserve my imagination. This is mostly personal. A bad movie really exacts a psychic toll on me. Kenyatta can sit back and enjoy the experience. For me it's excruciating and I can't leave it at the theater. I tend to be over-sensitive. And so the more information I take in--audio, visual, text--the harder it is for me to let it go.

  • The Source Of The Beef

    I was listening to NPR this morning and heard them discussing the Politico article on Obama's "dogwhistling." They quoted the following:

    On matters of racial identity, many observers in the African-American community say he benefits from what's known as "dog-whistle politics."His language, mannerisms and symbols resonate deeply with his black supporters, even as the references largely sail over the heads of white audiences.

    The last part. That's the problem. Sorry guys, I missed that. It's one thing to talk about Obama's ownership of certain African-Americanisms, and then note the particular joy that black folks get out of hearing them deployed. It's quite another to argue that white audiences--en masse--"don't get it." I don't I'm qualified to speak on that. Nor, probably, is Henderson. The fact that the mannerisms have a special resonance for black people, is clearly true--we simply have never had a president who talked like our cousins, uncles, brothers and fathers. That isn't true for most white people. But the idea that it "sails over the heads of white audiences" assumes too much.

    It certainly sailed over the heads of the acolytes of Tim Russert (no disrespect). And you could probably say it sailed over the head of most White House reporters, and most people who work at Politico. But elite Washington reporters are a special breed---overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly middle-aged, and--most importantly--overwhelming susceptible to thinking right in the middle of the box. I can understand not wanting to be lumped in with those guys.

    One last note. I've noticed something interesting about this blog--the complaints I hear from whites ("Don't lump as all together!" We're not a monolith!") have an eerie familiarity. I don't think it's cool to simplify anyone, ever. But I would ask that we all take a moment and think about how it feels for this to be the conflict of your life, to constantly labor under the weight of idiots who you've never met. What if very few people ever cared to sort you out? What if the generalizations which raised your hackles in Henderson's article weren't a one-off--they were the media and really the world--as you'd always known it?

    This isn't about Schadenfreude, but empathy. It's so easy to toss people into the same pot--it almost feels natural, like something elemental and evolutionary compels us to do so. My own thoughts sometimes are so dark, they make me shudder, like, "Damn son, did you really just think that? Seriously?" You can't extinguish those impulses--they're part of us. But I think there's a humanity, a divinity, in pushing past them, in being more than what evolution and ancient instincts, have made us.

  • Awesome-Sauce Pt. 2

    A reader writes:

    I was hurrying to catch the Orange Line tonight when I noticed I a highschool kid coming up the escalator sporting a full-on Hi-Top fade.  I haven't seen anything like it in a good decade or so, so it really snapped me to attention.  Then I saw a couple other kids on the platform who looked like they were growing out their hair, and maybe tightening up the sides a bit -- sort of like it was too early to commit right now, but maybe they'd go into Big Daddy Kane mode come springtime.

    Now this is the first time I've noticed this.  Maybe it was just that one kid and I was imagining it with the others.  Or maybe it's just a Boston thing, or like, a particular high school team thing...I don't know.  But after seeing that 3rd Bass video you posted last week, I got all nostalgic.  And now if I really am seeing the early edge of the next big wave, I want to be ready.

    I currently have what's known as a "Boy's Regular" cut.  Based on your experience, how long do you think it will take for me to look like MC Serch (like, THEN, not now)?  Also is this a reasonable look for a 40 year old in middle management?  Please note that I am caucasian, unlike Mr Serch.

    Hmm, I think I should throw this one out to the crowd. What say you?

  • Awesome-Sauce

    A reader writes:

    Not sure how often you get these emails, but I wanted to let you know that I had a dream that we were roommates last night.  After you moved in, some woman came by and dropped off a lifetime's supply of cornflakes in for you.  As happy as I was about having an endless supply of cornflakes to mooch, I was concerned about how we were going to keep them away from the mice that currently reside in my apartment.

    Even the fan-mail is surreal.

  • Michael Steele Talks Like A Regular Black Guy

    We've alluded to this, but it's worth watching. This is Michael Steele talking to Chuck D and D.L. Hughley. This is the guy who could potentially help the GOP. I don't know who that "We did wrong. My bad" dude is. This guy, who as another commenter said, "just sounds like one of your conservative uncles" could help. Of course your uncle would never fall back for Rush Limbaugh, but that's another story.

  • Some Off The Cuff Analysis

    My name is Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I'm a social liberal. I'm pro-choice. I believe in the right to die. I believe in gay marriage. I'm against the death penalty. And, and as we've recently seen, I don't believe that all kids should be raised by married parents. I also like being black. But I'm clear that most of my views are to the left of most black people. By and by, I hope that isn't the case. But it is today, and understanding that difference is key.

    I think one of the biggest problems with the GOP is that they they mistake their deepest held beliefs for mainstream American beliefs. The root of the current conservative crack-up probably lies in Iraq, but the one event that exposed it all, for me, was Terri Schiavo. Here you had a sitting President, a gaggle of Senators and congressmen bending over backward to argue that government was a better arbiter of a woman's fate, than her husband and her doctors. The moment Bill Frist decided to give a diagnosis via video tape, I felt the wind shift. When it comes to the end of their days, most Americans would want their spouse--not the Senate Majority Leader--to be the final authority.

    The point is that you have to be able to distinguish your deeply held beliefs, from the electorates. I think much of the GOP's trouble stems from the inability to discern the difference. That whole "Real America," "Real Virginia," small-town snobbery bit, isn't an act--they actually believe it. I've never understood the whole "Center-right country" meme, because it's ultimately self-serving--and then self-defeating. It blinds you to the hard work of arguing, cajoling and fighting with the electorate, until they see your point. It's interesting that so many of their most dominant voices of the GOP (Steele, Gingrich, Limbaugh) have either never won an election, or haven't won one in a decade.

    I keep thinking about the big things that have always kept me from being a conservative--the knee-jerk worship of a past that branded me half a man, the elevation of the loud imbeciles who think science teachers should be using the Bible, the toleration and baiting of bigots who cloaked themselves in the garb of "States Rights," and now run under the garb of "protecting marriage." The common denominator here is an unreflective veneration of what was, a belief that tradition, no matter how backwards, can heal all. Thus it's only right, that Steele, Gingrich and Limbaugh make up the leadership.

    It's not that I think liberals are without flaw, but to argue that our most strident members should be our public face, would seem silly. As Ross intimates, if most liberals thought it was good idea for Howard Zinn Randall Robinson, or Noam Chomsky to be a spokesperson for the Democratic Party, I'd think we'd all gone insane. If Democratic politicians were scared to disagree with Keith Olberman or Michael Moore, I'd be a man without a home.

    But these guys think that they are America. They delude themselves with that "center-right nation" analysis, and then mask their losses by claiming they didn't really lose. They think the problem is their wardrobe, their slang, their hairstyle. This is what black folks call Project-Bougie or--more aptly put--just plain trifling. The GOP is out shopping for a new dining set, a new couch, a flat-screen--anything to make the crib look a little more inviting. Meanwhile the water bill is two months past due. The lights are off. And the eviction notice is in the mail.

  • The Foolishness Of Rick Santelli

    Don't ever say you're going on the Daily Show, and then cancel.

  • To All The J-School People

    I can't link to Ian Parker's piece on Iceland's financial tumble, in the latest issue of the New Yorker--it's behind the curtain. But I just wanted to say that it has the most gorgeous lede I've read in a long, long time. Anyone who's a fan of long-form journalism should read it.

    I was reading Parker's piece on the 2 train, coming home on Tuesday, and I couldn't make it through the second graff. It was so good that it was actually causing my brain to hurt. I think all professionals in any field are competitive, and sometimes stumble upon a piece of work so well done, that you think to yourself, "Why do I even bother?" It's like watching Jordan hit that last jumper over Byron Russell. I read the first couple graffs of that lede and thought, "Why even bother?"

  • Big Love

    I'm not feeling like I have the past two seasons--or even earlier this season. The whole thing feels rushed. The fraked up the trial by doing it so quickly. So much of the action seems dependent on the ineptness of otherwise normal people, and the seemingly superhuman guile of otherwise normal people. It's getting hard to watch.

  • One Last Thought On Steele

    Any black people here starting to actually get embarrassed for the guy? You know like how any time a black guy fails publicly, you feel like it's your failure too? I read this Politico story, and for the first time felt that old twinge. I'm alright with the brothers laughing at him. I'm alright with other liberals laughing at him. But I don't actually want the GOP's first major effort at ending the Southern Strategy to be a comic disaster. I've never thought that it was good thing for the country, or for black people, to have all of us on one side. This could get ugly really, really fast. I, as much as anyone, should probably remember that.

  • It Ain't Where You're From, It's Where You're At

    steele2.png

    Come on man. It's "We're good" or "We all good," and in a pinch, "We're all good." But never "We are all good." Picking up on something said in comments yesterday, this is why you don't say things like "Obama's from Hawaii, he clearly doesn't know anything about being black." Steele probably spent more time than Obama around black people, as a child. But the history and cultural mores of black folks aren't exactly mystical, and anyone with eyes, and a healthy measure of respect, can pick them up. Moreover, black people appreciate the respect.

    That's what Steele lacks--a basic respect for language of young black people. For him, Ebonics is prop, a device. No black person, of Steele's age, talks like Steele does when he's shilling for GOP:

    The reason I find Steele's behavior irritating is that his invocation of archaic black cultural tropes is plainly not for black folks -- it's for white people. It's to remind them that he's black. His appearance on the DL Hughley show cemented this impression for me -- there was no awkward signifiying, no "off the hook" or "bling bling," as there was in his interview with Curtis Sliwa. There was just Steele being himself and arguing his position. Steele didn't front because he didn't have to -- talking to Chuck D. and DL Hughley, there was no one there to perform for.
  • On Sell-Outs

    I'm reading Up From History, a really cool bio of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell. I have an old relationship with Booker T, as my Dad worshiped him. Seriously in our house the trinity was Malcolm, Booker T. and Garvey. Anyway, Booker T. has often been accused of being a sell-out. I think, after reading this book, people need to rethink what a sell-out is. Here's William Hooper Councill, president of Alabama A&M, in 1886, talking about lynching:

    Were it not for the white ladies of this country, hell would have broken loose long ago. God Bless the white woman! I know she wants me hung when I assault or insult her and she is right! I tell you Negro men you had better let that white lady alone for she is the goddess of all virtue and purity.

    Wow. Talk about a cooning. They don't make em like they use to, folks. Councill wasn't Booker T's ally, he was his sworn enemy. I think Washington deserves his share of criticism. But Norrell does a great job of contextualizing the man. Here is a dude running a school in South, during an era when whites were explicitly targeting schools and churches for destruction. It couldn't have been an easy row.

  • Obama's African-Americanisms

    One criticism of Nia-Malika Henderson's article on Obama's "dogwhistling" is that many of the cultural markers that Henderson takes as black are either generational, or things that whites understand. The first thing that should be said is that blacks also heard Reagan's dogwhistles--it's not like we didn't know what he meant by "states rights." But more to the point, we went through this a few months back when Obama gave his wife a pound after he secured the nomination. The argument, again, was that this wasn't anything "black" because "everyone" does it. I think this argument originates from the idea that black is the perfect and exact opposite of white. Historically whiteness has meant exclusion (though this may be changing) and so when whites hear that something is labeled "black," they may think "not for me."

    But of course blackness isn't the perfect opposite of whiteness--black is not simply a racial identity, it's also an ethnic identity. So, in much the same way that Jews are, in this country, racially white and ethnically Jewish, blacks are "racially" black and--in the main--ethnically "African-American." This can get hazy when we start factoring in diaspora influences, but the point is that blackness, for black people, isn't a matter of being born, simply with a certain skin color. Indeed, in some cases, it isn't that at all. It's about practices--the way we eat, the way we live, the way we walk. It doesn't mean that all black people participate in this, nor does it mean white people can't participate in it.

    Unlike white racial identity, African-American (and diaspora) cultural identity wasn't created (in most cases) to keep white people out. Hip-Hop wasn't invented so that white people wouldn't buy or participate in black music--quite the opposite. Henderson's article refer to cultural markers in the black community. That many white people (but evidently not many white journalists) understand these markers, and have adopted them themselves doesn't change the origin of said markers.

    Thus claiming that Barack Obama saying "We straight," isn't black because white people get it, is like claiming enchiladas aren't Mexican because all the black people I know love them. Oy is still Yiddish--no matter how many non-Jews use the expression. These things tend to overlap, and allowing for the differences between a racial blackness and a cultural/ethnic blackness, we can see how a pound can be an African-American invention, and yet still be an act performed by the Duke lacrosse team.

    For the record, I think this is one of the reasons why blacks and whites tend to talk past each other. We need to avoid this lazy idea that black is simply the opposite of white, and be conscious of when we're discussing ethnic identity, racial identity or both.

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