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.

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


    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.

  • Too Easy

    Seriously, man...

  • The Other Dogwhistle

    Nia-Malika Henderson gets something that very few reporters caught during election season:

    On his pre-inaugural visit to Ben's Chili Bowl, a landmark for Washington's African-American community, President Barack Obama was asked by a cashier if he wanted his change back.

    "Nah, we straight," Obama replied.

    The phrase was so subtle some listeners missed it. The reporter on pool duty quoted Obama as saying, "No, we're straight."

    But many other listeners did not miss it. A video of the exchange became an Internet hit, and there was a clear moment of recognition among many blacks, who got a kick out of their Harvard-educated president sounding, as one commenter wrote on a hip-hop site, "mad cool." 

    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.

    I remember watching Tim Russert try to tie Obama to Farrakhan, and thinking, "Don't they know this dude has been paraphrasing Malcolm X? Why aren't they asking him about that?" Not that I'm in favor of any of that, but I think this is what fueled so much of the "he's not really black talk"--most white reporters don't really know what black is. And so while they were waiting for Obama call for reparations or another Back To Africa movement, the missed the subtle things.

  • A Moment Of Sadness

    I don't usually go here, but this looks really tragic:

    One of four men missing at sea was found clinging to the group's capsized boat on Monday, more than a day after it flipped off Florida's Gulf Coast late Saturday night. Coast Guard officials said they were still searching for the other three men: the N.F.L. players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith and the former South Florida football player Will Bleakley.

    Nick Schuyler, 24, was rescued from the 21-foot boat, which was anchored when it capsized about 35 miles from Clearwater, Fla. He told the rescuers that the four men clung to the boat together after it flipped but the other three slipped away at one point and he did not see what happened to them, Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close told The Associated Press.
  • Your Daily Moment Of GOP Insanity

    Courtesy of Andrew:

    "Anonymous liberal commentators, the rabid pests of the new media, sought out the most popular conservative blogs to flood the zone with familiar Rush Limbaugh slanders. Their goal: To demoralize the right with layer upon layer of media domination. Only talk radio with its emphasis on Socratic debate over raw emotionalism and with Mr. Limbaugh in the driver's seat has escaped the left's clutches of pure media dominance,"

    Yeah talk radio will save "Socratic debate." That's what I always thought. Much like CNN will save the New Yorker.

  • Rush On Michael Steele: He's Alright, But He's Not Real...

    I've been pretty hard on Michael Steele for his abuse of Ebonics. But I think his most recent sonning courtesy of Rush Limbaugh needs to be put in perspective:

    "My intent was not to go after Rush - I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh," Mr. Steele told The Politico. "I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership."

    I'm not offended that Steele is kow-towing to Rush. I'm offended that Steele would wrap himself in the garb on hip-hop, and then apologize to Rush.

    Man listen: The first rule for establishing "Off The Hook Urban-Suburban Hip-Hop Strategies" is if you gonna dis a mofo, then dis him. Don't come out the box quoting "How You Like Me Now," and then go and apologizes to the guy who you just dissed.

    Could you imagine Moe Dee apologizing to LL? Kris apologizing to Shan? Shante apologizing to the Real Roxanne? Hillary Duff apologizing Lindsay Lohan?

    Come on man. You ain't no wiling-out-for-the-night-fist-thrower:

    Mr. Steele called Mr. Limbaugh after the radio host belittled Mr. Steele on his show, questioning his authority and saying the new Republican leader was off "to a shaky start."

    "It's time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do instead of trying to be some talking head media star, which you're having a tough time pulling off," Mr. Limbaugh said, in a transcript of his remarks he posted on his Web site.

    "Mr. Steele: You are head of the R.N.C.," Mr. Limbaugh said. "You are not head of the Republican Party. Tens of millions of conservatives and Republicans have nothing to do with the R.N.C. and right now they want nothing to do with it."

    Shorter Rush Limbaugh--"Don't make me have to call your name out\Your crew is featherweight\My talk-show will make you levitate..."

    UPDATE: We'll re-open later. It's tough being popular. I like being the geek so much more.

  • More On Resident Evil And Racism

    Friend of the room, Evan Narcisse, talks to RE5 designer Jun Takeuchi. The whole thing is worth reading. Forgive the extensive block quote, this exchange is great:

    Narcisse: I had a strong reaction upon seeing the trailer. But, also I understand the series and I understand the fiction that it's building on. How do you feel about people having strong reactions about the game without prior knowledge of the series? There's potential for a large part of the audience playing the game to feel like a judgment is being made against them by virtue of their portrayal in the game.

    Jones: He's having a hard time shooting poor black people. That's the core of what he's trying to get at. He loves the series but he's having a difficult time getting involved...

    Narcisse: Maybe this is getting a little too personal, but I'm only a generation removed from that kind of experience.

    Chris Kramer: Was it easier for you to shoot poor brown people in Resident Evil 4?

    Jones: There were no brown people in Resident Evil 4.

    Narcisse: Spaniards, they're swarthy ... Because there was a certain aspect of normalization in that game -- in that the contrast [between Leon and the human enemies he was fighting] was not as stark -- I didn't have that kind of reaction.

    Kramer: Skin-color contrast or social contrast?

    Narcisse: Both. 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. I understand that legacy for the most part is completely different in Japan. But that history of negative portrayals was what informed my reactions. I'm not judging the game. In seeking to portray a certain kind of terror, the game may make people of certain backgrounds feel like they're being portrayed as frightening or less than human. How do you feel about this unintended consequence? I just want to know Takeuchi-san's reaction to that.

    Takeuchi: You mentioned that you're one generation removed from those kinds of problems. If you look at us in Japan, one generation ago Japanese people who hadn't done anything wrong were being bombed in Tokyo and other places during the war. That doesn't mean that we think that Americans are all bad or that we think that Americans are bad at all. [These are] just things that have happened in our pasts. That's maybe not something that we should try to be too sensitive about, or not try to be too sensitive about, when we make these kinds of things... [telephone rings, startling us all] At the end of the day, we're making a piece of entertainment. We're not making anything that has a political message to it. And, I feel that if you start to decide who you can treat as enemies or who you can take on in a game...
  • Integrating The Burning House


    Jewel Woods is pissed that Venus and Serena Williams were left off the Australian Open's  official Most Beautiful Women at the Open list:

    As the husband of a woman who looks like Venus and Serena, it offends me that my standards of beauty are not recognized or validated in professional sports. And as the father of a 6-year-old black girl who loves to run, jump, sweat, grimace, grunt and do all the things that are necessary for her to excel as an athlete, it pains me to think of the choices that will be forced upon her as she gets older because of these standards.

    I have more sympathy for the latter than the former. I think, if I had a daughter, I'd spend a lot of time worrying about beauty standards. But here's the thing--if I were white I'd be doing the same thing. I guess I'd do more worrying as a black guy, but I've never been white, so I don't know.

    Leaving aside the weirdness of judging an athlete by her appearance, my big problem with this argument is its rather cloying, begging nature. This is the old Malcolmite in me--I think Serena Williams is gorgeous by the light's of my standards (and Brett Ratner's. Jews FTW. Again.). Fuck their standards. Why do we care? Seriously is this the argument now, "Our women deserve to be leered over and have their professional achievements ignored too!!" Meh. Our ice melts just like their ice--just like all ice.


A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple


What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?


The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City


Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.


The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.



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