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.
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.
Folks blogging will be light today as I'm headed West. We'll resume Thursday--assuming I've recovered from what I expect to be a punishing Red Eye back. Talk amongst yourself. Let's hear about that State Of The Union. Heh, and Jindal's "response." Yes I know, liberal haughtiness. Har, har, har! Alright, gotta catch a flight folks.
MF Doom, Pete Nice, and MC Serch--the dancing-est white boy you've ever seen. Is it a mistake that he's Jewish? OK, that was ignorant. No, here's ignorant--All the white kids at our school who hung out with black people were simply called 3rd Bass. I don't know if that's an insult or not.
Anyway, "Gasface" is great, and from a time when it was cool to smile. Makes me think of that great Rae line? "Could it be, and would it be, that we was babies\Catchin, rabies, niggers seem to act crazy..."
I spent Sunday at Abyssinia Baptist Church. It may have been the most "African-American" service I'd ever seen--emphasis on both halves of the hyphen. The service began with the choir singing "Lift Every Voice" and ended with them singing "We Shall Overcome." There was this weird inversion of the past--plenty of whites in attendance, and some Asian cats also. But virtually all of them were seated up top in the balcony, and I was left thinking about the days when blacks had to sit in the balcony for movies and plays. This wasn't intentional, but the the bottom rows filled up fairly quick with regulars, and the top was all that was left.
There was the most beautiful choral music, I mean the sort of choral music that made me wish Primo or Rza were sitting next to me digging for samples. Forgive my fumbling here, I did not come up in the church so words may fail here. What I want to say is the music sounded very Westernized, the sort an ignoramus, like me, would expect to see white folks singing. But it was beautiful, and in fact had been authored by a black woman, "Non Nobis Domine" was the piece, I think.
Butts ripped shop of course. He's an awesome preacher. Maybe there's hope for a heathen like me, yet. But much of the sermon was fixated on Rupert Murdoch and last week's cartoon. And then yesterday, I was in D.C. for a panel at the Aspen Institute, and many of the questions revolved around the Post cartoon, the New Yorker cartoon, and Eric Holder's "nation of cowards" quote. The questions in the air seemed to be, who should be offended and how much? I, mostly, defended the New Yorker, saying I thought the cover was pretty bad, but evidence of a plot was wanting. I didn't really defend the Post, so much as I couldn't find my way into the offensive.
Perhaps I shouldn't address this--for whatever reason bad cartoons just don't boil the blood around these parts. Still, I kept thinking about it, and it hit me when I saw this video below. John McCain tries to knife Obama at yesterday's event. It's not that raising the cost of the helicopter is illegitimate. But that stupid, passive-aggressive grin comes over him just as he delivers the line. We've all seen that grin before--it's usually paired with a "my friends." But later for that, watch Obama's response. Classy. Cool. And funny. He's not concerned with whether McCain is trying to knife him or not. He's beyond it. I think there is a serious lesson for black folks in the manner in which Obama handles opposition--the legitimate opposition, but especially the illegitimate opposition.
More than any black public figure in recent memory, Obama understands the problems with a strategy premised on taking offense. It's not that Obama never takes umbrage, it's that he's careful about what and when he takes umbrage. I don't really know what the line is. But I know taking offense at calling the stimulus bill a spending bill hits people in a way that, say, taking offense at Michael Steele wouldn't.
There a certain sect of the American commentariat which believes black people complain about the country too much. Usually this same sect spends their time complaining about the country even more. I'm not down with that. But I think all of us should think hard about what we take offense, why, and what good ultimately comes of it. Apologies, I guess. I'm not sure that cartoons are worth our time. But governors denying unemployment benefits to tax-payers, in order to build some political cred, certainly is.
The board's marathon eight-hour debate session lasted until 2 A.M.,
when Jealous was finally selected by a vote of 34-21. Grumpy board
members shuffled out of the meeting to air their objections to the
press -- a marked contrast from just two years prior, when the newly
elected Gordon strolled triumphantly into a room full of reporters.
Many of the board members' complaints -- that Jealous was
inexperienced, dismissive of established leaders like Al Sharpton and
Jesse Jackson, or simply not an active enough member of the NAACP --
were published by NNPA columnist George Curry who, despite being
Jealous' longtime friend and colleague, disagreed with the board's
decision. In a column he wrote about the increasing number of biracial
blacks in leadership positions, Curry obliquely referenced Jealous'
light skin tone, recalling a time when access to social gatherings of
the black elite was often dependent on whether or not one was "light,
bright, and damn near white."
Bond says that the issue also came up in private. During a
closed-door meeting of the presidential search committee, one member
questioned whether the light-skinned Jealous was a good choice for the
voice of the NAACP. Bond was incensed. ("It would be beneath us to
consider it," he says.) The next meeting, he brought in a copy of Time
magazine from 1938 featuring famed NAACP leader Walter White, who was
light enough to pass as white. The subject was never brought up again.
Still the old, stupid demons haunt us--or maybe haunt just them.
Matt points us to Jessica's awesome post on "hook-up culture." Never has a phrase more deserved air quotes. I'll leave the gender politicking to my betters. Here's what I know--Every five years, or so, newspapers discover some cultural trend like this, seemingly expressly concocted to scare the crap out of people. Of course said cultural trend is usually just humans being humans, but rebranded.
The idea that twenty years ago, people weren't having one night stands, or that young people today simply never go out on dates, again, simply doesn't smell right. It amazes me that people buy this claptrap. I deeply suspect that at the bottom of it all lay the sexual insecurities of people who wish they'd been a little more carefree in college. I strongly suspect that they don't resent hook-up culture--they resent that they didn't get hooked-up. Wouldn't be the first time. Hell if I knew in college, what I know about the opposite sex now, I'd have been Denzeling fools. Alright probably not. Wait, what was I saying?
I've been ruminating over the Washington Post's ombudsman's response to George Will's climate change denialism. I think Hilzoy said a mouthful, but one thing still sticks in my craw. Here is Post ombudsman Andy Alexander explaining George Will's fact-checking process:
Basically, I was told that the Post has a multi-layer editing process and checks facts to the fullest extent possible. In this instance, George
Will's column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as
two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates
Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors.
I've done some work for newspapers, and, if I may say, am somewhat familiar with how they work. Magazines (like this one) generally employ fact-checkers, whose entire job involves verifying the veracity of every sentence in a story. Like all writers here at the Atlantic, when I file an article it's annotated with references to every fact in the story. A checker than verifies those facts by checking documents, calling sources, checking notes, watching video etc. The process still isn't perfect and sometimes we fuck up.
But it's important to understand that newspapers, in general, don't have people who "check facts to the fullest extent possible." The fact-checking generally falls on the writer, and when there's an error (unless an editor inserted the error) he takes the heat for it. This is the whole reason why a Jayson Blair could exist--for the most part newspaper editors go on faith. Editors and copy-editors do look out for things that don't "smell" right or raise a red flag. But they don't really fact-check stories.
I've written for New York Times in the past four years, and twice for the Washington Post's Sunday op-ed section, within the past year. I mean no disrespect here, but I wasn't fact-checked on any of those stories. Indeed, I actually made an error in one, which had to be corrected. It may be that the Post is more likely to fact-check a writer, like George Will, who's written for them for years and whom they presumably trust, then they are a college drop-out who's had four journalism jobs in ten years, and lost three of them. But somehow, I doubt it.
I can't speak for who Will employs to fact-check his work. Nor can I, ultimately, speak for the Post's process. But let's just say if I were a newspaper editor, and you told me this story, I'd flag it. It just doesn't "smell" right.
I spent some of my earliest days, as a reporter, profiling writers. It was what I wanted to be, and thus what I was most interested in. One of the more shocking revelations, for me, was the discovery that people who were brilliant on the page, could sound like they were illiterate the minute you put a mic in front of them. Likewise people who could talk like the wind, would write total drivel.The lesson was clear and oft-repeated for me--never confuse the ability to manipulate the spoken word, with wisdom, with deep insights, with original thinking. Sometimes they come in the same package--but often they don't.
I thought about that lesson, when I saw Keyes fulminating against Barack Obama in the video below. Obama, in Keyes eyes, is not the president of the United States, but "an abomination" who must be "stopped." Keyes, a product of the Ivy Leagues, has long been held aloft as some sort of intellectual of the far right. But anyone who's ever seen the wannabe Malcolms coming out of the prison talking "knowledge of self," anyone who's read Soul On Ice, knows exactly what Alan Keyes is--a highly articulate thug.
Behold, if you dare, the demon ramblings of sad, sick human being:
I can't keep going guys. I'm sorry. I did the best I could. I know the show has a lot of fans here. There isn't much point in ripping the show, and disrespecting you guys and what you love. I simply didn't find the story compelling enough to continue.
Sgwhite is right--Hilzoy's take on Will's factual manipulations deserves it's own post. Rarely do you see a blogger pwn someone with the very documents provided as evidence of exoneration. Reading this post was a thrill--like watching a mugger get pistol-whipped with his own gun. Here's a quote, but it doesn't do the piece justice:
If Will actually read these two articles, it's hard to see how he's
not being deliberately deceptive by citing them as he did. If, as I
suspect, he just got them from some set of climate change denialist
talking points and didn't bother to actually check them out for
himself, he's being irresponsible. All those people who supposedly
fact-checked Will's article as part of the Post's "multi-layer editing
process" -- "people [George Will] personally employs, as well as two
editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will;
our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors" -- should be fired, either
for not doing their job or for doing it utterly incompetently. These
are hard times for newspapers; I wouldn't have thought they could
afford more than one layer of an editing process that produces no
discernible improvement in quality.
And Andy Alexander? He should read the cites George Will gives him
before he sends them out, under his own name, in support of his paper's
decision to publish Will's piece, if he doesn't want to be embarrassed
like this again.
This is the sort of thing that makes me happy we have blogs.