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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


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