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.

  • Translating World Of Warcraft

    Today we had a lot of comments like this:

    All well and good for the black world, but can we get a translator for the World of Warcraft?

    Are you non-WoW people really interested? With WoW/NFL/Comic book posts, I mostly assume that they're only for the hardcore. Is there, like, a 67-year old black grandmother in Mississippi trying to figure this stuff out? All jokes aside, I'll explain if you guys are interested...

  • All Natural Flavor. No Black No. 9

    About that Michele Obama "dark-skin" post. A few interesting responses. From Chet:

    I confess my white ass has a hard time understanding this post, since Michelle Obama seems kind of light, to me. But I suspect I'm just not calibrated to "the line" when it comes to light vs. dark skin re: black Americans.

    And then from TexasGirl:

    @ Chet - I don't understand the post either. Sometimes I really feel white reading this blog.

    I suspect pulling you guys out in block-quotes, isn't helping things. To the point about color, I think Amari gets it:

    No worries. We Black folk aren't calibrated either. Ask five different Black people their opinions of who's light versus who's dark, and you'll get five different answers. It's all relative, and, as I've also found, it's all relatives.

    I find that folks who grew up around mostly dark-skinned people have a much lower bar for what constitues lightness. Many of my dark-skinned friends think I could easily trip over it, while I'd put myself firmly in a caramel category. On the other hand, my family is chock full of light-skinned folks, so I tend to err on the side of thinking someone is brown when browner folks would categorize them as light.

    If that makes any sense at all.

    Heh, like most things about human beings, it doesn't. I generally describe myself, to other black people, as "brown." But in my house (where everyone is darker than me) whenever I say this, I'm laughed at. Kenyatta insists that I'm yellow, or red at best, and she's now recruited Samori to her way of thinking. Meh, the perils of family.

    Anyway, this isn't even taking into account the seasons when Negroes start changing color, and the fact that eyes are known to go from brown to gray. I've never actually witnessed that last point. I tend to think it's something that girls, back in high school, used to say to elevate themselves from nickel to dime-piece. It's right up there with "My great-grandmother was Cherokee." Whatever. Ain't no Cherokees in West Baltimore.

    Where was I? Oh yes, the deeper point. One reason why I resist explaining too much in my post, is because I think it's a good thing for white people, who come here, to "feel really white," as TexasGirl says. I don't define that as "feeling guilty" or any of that business, so much as a nagging sense of having to work to get it. I imagine that many of my black readers have spent some of their lives feeling exactly that way, just in reverse. My first years working professionally made me immediately conscious that I was black, and that there were many people (in fact most people) in the world who were not.

    I think we all need more of that in our lives. Here at this site, I try to present the black world as it is, or at least, as I see it. No frills. No translations. Just immersion. I was never the type to go to an island and lay up in a resort. Or go to Paris and eat at McDonald's. I want to see how other people talk, walk and live. I want to see our difference. It's the wierdest thing, but that's where I find the humanity--not in the sameness--but in the small details which I never would have imagined. I don't know how to explain it, but that's where I find unity. And that's what I try to give you here. Just black people as we are. Fucked-up and beautiful. No tourist trap, just the raw.

  • Lovers, Are My Brothers And Sisters

    My moms used to like Salt-N-Pepa. She used to say she felt like they were the only female rappers (of that era) that didn't sound like they were trying to be dudes. Now, Moms wasn't exactly Harry Allen, but that always stuck with me for some reason. Dunno how accurate it was. Anyway, I do know this--that hair and them door-knockers are so Baltimore in 88.

  • Some Thoughts On Naxxramas (Warcraft!)

    Arthas.jpg

    So, in my previous WoW life, I was mostly a PvPer. I still PvP quite a bit (Resil just hit 500. I know, long way to go.) but since I joined a new guild, I'm doing a lot more PvE. I've developed a healthy respect for the teamwork it requires, and how one idiot can ruin the whole thing. People can get a little too intense at times, and when that happens, I start to wonder why I'm even playing. If I want to be stressed out, I could be somewhere writing. But that isn't really a problem in my guild. A couple of weeks ago we wiped like seven straight times on a boss (I kid you not) and no one started yelling. We just needed to learn how to beat him.

    Anyway, my larger issue is with the limits of PvE and narrative. WoW is set up in a wierd way, given than both sides are basically warring factions fighting against the same enemy. What you do in PvE doesn't really affect the internecine struggle between Horde and Alliance. One thing I'd love to see in the next big MMOs is for the actions of players to have long-term consequences in the greater war. As I recall, I think they tried this years ago with Total Annihilation--your online matches actually affected the greater war. And, I think, some of the other MMOs have tried it (Shadowbane maybe?) but the word has been that they've been too buggy.

    An MMO is a huge enterprise, no doubt. But I can't escape the feeling after downing some boss, and winning a roll for some kick-ass gear of "Now what?" What do I use this arsenal for? Why to kill another kick-ass mob, until you've beaten them all. I'd love it if there was better integration between PvE and PvP. I think Wintergrasp is a really good start (though we lose constantly). But I hope Blizz takes it a little further, as they advance the game.

  • T.O. And The Bills

    My man, Eyal Press is a Bills-fan, and Buffalo guy. So I'm wishing the Bills and T.O. nothing but the best, when they aren't playing the Cowboys, and probably the Ravens. Here's Peter King on how it all went down:

    The only team to seriously kick the tires on Owens got its man a day later for three major reasons:

    1. The Bills think Jauron is the perfect coach -- calm but commanding -- to handle Mount Terrell.

    2. The organization is sick of perpetually being one weapon away from catching New England (and Miami and the Jets, as it turns out), and it's willing to take the risk of having Owens ruin the locker room so it can have a chance to win the division.

    3. The Bills did the one-year deal for a fairly strategic reason, in my opinion. Owens is good when he's trying to make a good first impression. Check out his first years in his three prior stops -- with the San Francisco season being his first without Jerry Rice on the team, when the focus of the offense was clearly on him:

    See the numbers on the link. I like the one-year deal a lot. Gives the guy an incentive to perform.

  • I Reserve The Right To Be Late

    Which I am with this portrait. I think funniest response I've seen to the new First Lady is this:

    Some of the adolescence on the House floor could be chalked up to excitement. Even the Republicans went gaga.

    When Michelle Obama walked in, one young Republican House member turned to a colleague and mouthed, "Babe."

    It's been said that Obama's presidency means black people can't complain anymore. I've issued a rather different dictum in my household--With the elevation of Michelle Obama, dark skin shorties are no longer allowed to talk about high yallars, good hair, and redbones. That ain't held weight since A.J. Johnson slayed Tisha Campbell, since  the Jungle Brothers got on that "Blacker the berry\Sweeter the juice" tip. That "Sexy young ladies of the light skin breed" line deaded Kane's career. All whining about how hard the darker female side is official banned in my home. Now, if only I could enforce that edict...

    Anyway, here's your first lady.

    MrsObamaPortrait.jpg

  • The Case Against Racial Dialogue

    From the NY Times:

    "I think it's fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language," Mr. Obama said in a mild rebuke from America's first black president to its first black attorney general.

    In an interview with The New York Times on Friday, the president said that despite Mr. Holder's choice of words, he had a point.

    "We're oftentimes uncomfortable with talking about race until there's some sort of racial flare-up or conflict," he said, adding, "We could probably be more constructive in facing up to sort of the painful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination."

    I remain confused about what Holder meant, mostly because I thought the words that followed were vague. People should go back and look at Obama's speech on race. I think one of the things that makes it great is its specificity. He talks in detail about crime, about white resentment of Affirmative Action, about his grandmother's prejudice, and of course about Wright. I just wasn't sure what I was supposed to get out of Holder except, "Hey, we need to talk more about race." But I'm not sure we do. I think we need to talk more about specific policies that may disproportionately affect black people. But I don't know that we can--or should--make each other do the right thing.

  • On Terrell

    I haven't said much because there really isn't much to say. I think a lot of you know that I found last season to be really depressing, as a Cowboy fan. I think getting rid of T.O. was the right thing to do. I think it's T.O. is ultimately going to pay the penalty for his need for attention. It's a fatal flaw, career-wise. I think the Boys have deep-seated issues, beyond T.O. I simply can not see Wade Phillips coaching a Super Bowl team. But, I've been wrong before.

  • BSG And Gender Politics

    I don't entirely agree with this article from Slate. I particularly think this cliche of sci-fi and comic book geekdom needs to go:

    Perhaps because science fiction has historically appealed to men who don't leave home much, the genre has often used alien mores and alien technology to rationalize pornographic depictions of near-naked women. (Think Jabba the Hutt forcing Princess Leia to wear that ridiculous gold bikini in Return of the Jedi.)

    Sci-Fi movies are, at this point, a billion-dollar enterprise. You don't get that way by appealing strictly to "men who don't leave home much." Moreover, the comment assumes that women somehow fare better in, say, horror movies, in comedy, or in hip-hop movies. Geekdom has its troubles when it comes to rendering women. But all one needs to do is watch a few Spike Lee or Woddy Allen flicks to realize that this isn't about sci-fi at all. Anyway, that's just a personal pet peeve. Sorry for the mini-rant.

    The part of the piece I found most convincing is the indictment of the rather casual way rape is deployed in the series:

    Even more insidious than the lack of female friendships are the casual threats of rape made throughout the series. In Season 2, a "Cylon interrogator" attempts to violate Sharon, a Cylon pilot and the only East Asian on the show, but her husband Helo intervenes in the nick of time. In this season's "The Oath," Helo fights with a mutineer--"Frak you," he says (that's Battlestar's four-letter-word variant), and the mutineer responds, "Sorry, I'm saving myself for your ... wife." He means it. Rape is a trope on the show: Starbuck finds herself in a bizarre insemination farm on the Cylon-occupied planet Caprica, and Adm. Cain orders some cronies to rape and torture a Cylon in "Razor." Naturally the show doesn't condone rape, but it's discomfiting that the writers drop sexual violence into the script so often without comment. If nothing else, this pervasive threat--directed only at women--negates the idea that Battlestar conjures a gender-blind universe.

    I found that rape scene with Sharon, particularly disturbing--and not in a good way. I'll be honest--I have yet to put my finger on why. It wasn't because I like the character. Joan, from Mad Men, is one of my favorites. But I thought the rape-scene with her and her husband was troubling in the exact opposite way. I don't know how to explain it except in the following, admittedly creepy, language--it felt necessary and organic, given who the characters were.

    On BSG, evil comes so easy. So much of it passes without explanation or context. The rape scene with Sharon left me horrified--but not at what had just happened to this woman. Indeed, I felt almost no sympathy for her. It was like watching a sadistic cartoon, or something. And that made me really angry and ultimately horrified that someone would write a scene like that.

    I think so much of this revolves around the fact that, in the past decade, the ceiling for writing and acting on television has been raised. I can't have watched "The Wire," watched "Mad Men," watched "Big Love" and felt as I used to. I simply can't go back. BSG isn't operating in the world that Star Trek: Voyager did. The game is the same, but more fierce. Measured against that backdrop, I think the writing, and acting, on the show is rather lackluster (skipping ahead in time, at the end of season, was incredibly lazy). When narrative isn't done in a particularly inspiring fashion, it seems that the first people to suffer are women, and minorities. It's no mistake that "The Wire" is not only one of the best written shows ever, it is also one of the best depiction of black people ever committed to television.

    This will not be a popular thread. I understand that I have just pissed off half my readership. But you guys asked me to watch. You asked me to behold. I could never guarantee that we'd see the same thing.

    UPDATE: "Suffer" refers to the quality of the writing, not the actual characters themselves. More aptly put, when the writing is bad, the writing of women and minorities tends to be really bad--or really just stand out.

  • Levin vs. Frum

    This is rather painful to listen to. I actually couldn't it finish, as I felt bad for Frum (read his account here). Give him props though, he isn't backing down. I keep hearing this comparison between the Right now and the Left in the 70s and 80s. Obviously I wasn't around. For those lefties who were, and have some age and (more importantly) some wisdom on me, I ask, was it really this bad? Were we really this close to neanderthalism and mob rule? Were we really this fraking stupid?

  • 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.

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