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.

  • NBC Fires Producer Over Zimmerman Tape

    NBC says this this was "a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call."

    This seems about right:


    NBC News has fired a producer who was involved in the production of a misleading segment about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. The person was fired on Thursday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the disciplinary action who declined to be identified discussing internal company matters. They also declined to name the fired producer. A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment.
    Accepting NBC's rationale that this this was "a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call," it's still someone failing (more spectacularly) at a key element of their job. Whatever the intent, the tape actually is a misrepresentation. That's the exact opposite of what a news producers is supposed to do. 

    It's very similar to the Jeremy Lin situation "Chink In The Armor" situation at ESPN. That you didn't mean any offense is beside the point. I'm sure Vinny Testaverde didn't mean to throw any of those interceptions either.
  • The 9 Lives of Marion Barry

    The Nine Lives Of Marion Barry

    We talked some about Marion Barry on Friday. Following commenter ekapa's suggestion, I checked out The Nine Lives Of Marion Barry, a film I highly recommend for anyone interested in Barry's career. Again, as always, I highly recommend Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood's Dream City--though it really is time for a solid history of the District that picks up where that great book left off.



  • The Numbers and Ramarley Graham

    There is significant--and for some reason rarely noticed--pressure in black communities to bring down crime. But at the same time, there is equally significant pressure to not trample on the rights of innocent people who happen to live in high crime areas



    I want to highly recommend Chris Smith's piece on Ray Kelly and the officers he commands. I've blogged some about the tragedy of Ramarley Graham. Smith puts the young man's death in context:

    Cops fear a more serious consequence of the push for better numbers, that it propels colleagues forward in borderline situations. This February, in the Bronx, a narcotics cop chased 18-year-old Ramarley Graham into the bathroom of his family's apartment. Officer Richard Haste suspected Graham of carrying a gun; during a struggle he shot and killed the unarmed man. One ex-cop, who has worked some of the same streets as Haste, says it appears tragic tactical mistakes were made. 

    "But it's important to remember that cops always have the need for numbers in their minds," he says. "It might not be the top cause of what happened, him chasing the guy into the house, but it's part of the motivation getting you to that position. You're trying to get in there and get that body. So is it the pressure of 'I can't let this guy get away'? Or is he a number?"
    In fairness to Kelly, there is significant--and for some reason rarely noticed--pressure in black communities to bring down crime. But at the same time, there is equally significant pressure to not trample on the rights of innocent people who happen to live in high crime areas. It is not so hard to see how these two objectives could come into conflict. But what Smith points out is the continuing effort to show a "crime drop," and to show high arrest numbers has turned tragically cartoonish. 
  • A Quick Word on John Derbyshire

    Let's not overthink this: John Derbyshire is a racist.

    Let's not overthink this: John Derbyshire is a racist. Declaring such does not require an act of  of mind-reading, it requires an act of Derbyshire-reading

    I am a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one, and those things are going to be illegal pretty soon, the way we are going.

    I guess it's admirable that Rich Lowry is taking time away from pondering why people think he's a bigot, to denounce Derbyshire. But 'Derb' told you what he was in 2003. And National Review continued to employ him. That's who they are.

    What else is there?
  • Gregg Williams' Motivational Talk

    ESPN compiles the most damning quotes from the leaked audio:

    Williams uses one of his favorite slogans in the speech: "Kill the head and the body will die." On Gore: "We've got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head. We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways." 

    On running back Kendall Hunter: "Little 32, we're going to knock the f--- out of him." 

    On Smith: "Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head. Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head." 

    On Kyle Williams: "We need to find out in the first two series of the game, that little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion. We need to f------ put a lick on him right now. He needs to decide. He needs to f------ decide." 

    On Crabtree: "We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake-ass prima donna, or he wants to be a tough guy. We need to find out. He becomes human when we f------ take out that outside ACL." 

    On Davis: "We need to decide how many times we can bull rush and and we can f------ put Vernon Davis' ankles over the pile."

    Deadspin notes the tape of the former Saints defensive coordinator is "shocking for how unshocking it is: this is exactly what we expected to hear." 

    I would not go so far. I totally expect a defensive coordinator to tell his men to "knock the fuck" out of opposing players. "Kill the head and the body will die" is not simply a Williams favorite, but something that I'd expect to hear in Pop Warner; the point being take out their best player and the team withers.

    What I do not expect to hear is players being instruct to intentionally inflict potential career-enders. This is not mere hair-splitting, or the search for some allegedly blurry line. There's nothing about hard-hitting or great tackling that necessitates intentionally targeting someone ACL or ankles. Paying someone a bonus for a hard hit and paying them for a "cart off" are different things. Achieving the latter, doesn't even necessitate the former.

    The general line I've heard from players, which I have heard, has been that this is no big deal and it's being overblown. I don't really have any desire to tell players how they should spend their Sunday afternoon. But I do have a desire to square my own personal morality, and my own ethics. 

    Claiming that what Gregg Williams said "gets said all the time" doesn't make it easier for me to watch football, it makes it harder. It means that, on any given day, there are coaches around the league directly plotting the potential end of the careers of young men, many of whom have virtually no other skills. It's been sobering to see the reaction of players as well as analysts. 

    Perhaps this is how the NFL wishes to conduct it's business. As a vendor, they have their rights. As a customer, I have mine. 
  • Marion Barry's Turn Toward Bigotry

    Mike DeBonis has been chronicling the latest Barry episode, wherein the Mayor of Ward 8 calls for banishment of Asian-American business:

    Barry made the comments Tuesday night, at a party celebrating his landslide victory in the Democratic primary race for the D.C. Council seat he's held since 2005. WRC-TV cameras caught the remarks: 

    "We've got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I'll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too." 

    Since then, outrage has mounted... 

    "I've spent the last 50 years of my life fighting for justice and equality of all people," he said. "Those five people don't know Marion Barry at all. They know my name; they don't know my record." 
    It is indeed true that Barry spent much of his political life fighting for "justice and equality of all people." Barry began his career as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee--the integrationist John Lewis edition, not the H. Rap Brown "Burn Baby Burn" version. Barry. 

    Barry's swipe at Asian-Americans is of a piece with his recent overtures toward homophobia. But  Marion Barry was once a very different politician. Indeed, in the late 70s and early 80s, Barry was arguably one of the most progressive mayors in the country on LGBT issues. To wit:
    Mayor Marion Barry's well-publicized support for gay rights was sharply criticized yesterday by several influential city ministers, some of whom said they fear that the major's prominent appearances at gay-sponsored events may encourage homosexuality. 

    "His presence it tantamount to giving sanction to it [homosexuality]," said the Rev. William A. Treadwell, paster of Berean Baptist Church 924 Madison Street NW. Treadwell and other clergymen expressed their concerns during a meeting yesterday of Barry and about 40 ministers from various denominations...

    The ministers, traditionally considered the equivalent of ward bosses in this predominantly black city, did not support Barry until after his election was virtually assured. They subsequently have been without the influence on city policy and access to social programs that they enjoyed earlier when Walter E. Washington, the son-in-law of a prominent District of Columbia preacher, was mayor...

    Barry defended his support for gay rights, according to several persons who attended yesterday's meeting. He said that as major of the city he must represent all of its residents, including those who are homosexuals. In the past, Barry has talked of homosexual rights as a human right similar to the civil rights that blacks fought for in the 1950s and 1960s.

    That's from the November 30, 1979 issue of the Washington Post. It's worth noting as recently as 2008, Barry supported gay marriage. 

    I don't highlight Barry's more tolerant past to exonerate him, or--by any stretch--make a defense of him. There simply isn't one. My sense is that Barry is either (1.) Trying to get some attention or (2.) Manifesting the unreconstructed id of his long-suffering Ward. 

    In 1979, Marion Barry wasn't going to become mayor through demagoguery and black populism. But in 2012, he can surely reign as king of Ward 8 with that mix. It's sad to see. Very George Wallace-like.
  • The Problem of Black History

    Progress is often mistaken for something else

    I thought this story from the Times on the decline in the number of African-American caddies buried the lede. The writer pitches it as something we should be mournful about or at least feel rather wistful:

    At the 76th Masters this week, there will be no club caddies required; only two black caddies started the season with regular jobs on the PGA Tour and one has since been fired. The great black caddies of the past, who carried the bags for Gene Sarazen and Jack Nicklaus and the game's other greats, are dead or well into the back nine of their lives. For a variety of reasons, no new generation has taken the bags from them. 

    Caddying, once perceived as a menial job, has become a vocation for the college-educated and failed professionals who are lured by the astronomical purses driven by Woods's immense popularity. In 1996, the year Woods turned pro, the PGA Tour purses averaged $1.47 million. This year, they average $6.20 million.
    I would argue that sometimes an absence of black people is actually the result of progress, or at the very least the result of some kind of change that doesn't immediately involve a boot on your neck. Caddying, perhaps regrettably, carries with it some connotations that don't really appeal to young black people today.

    Moreover, the caddies  who spoke on the record didn't seem that wistful themselves:
    At Alotian Club near Little Rock, Ark., Jackson oversees 14 caddies, only one of whom is a minority. Jackson, who earned enough as a caddie and caddie master to put his six children through college, was asked what advice he would give to an African-American youth who expressed an interest in golf. 

     "It would be my suggestion," Jackson, 65, said, "to try to be the player."
    Indeed. There aren't actually that many black people in America. That the young among them don't aspire to Bagger Vance may well be different, but it may also be the result of actual advances.

    It's the "Segregation gave us jazz and the blues" problem.
  • Our Man at Yale



    I've been meaning to express precisely how much I enjoyed my visit to Yale last week. Like anybody else, I come to these things with my own sets biases. I try not to wear them, but I nevertheless, I hear them talking to me. I've said this before but the thing that holds us back more than anything is a lack of exposure. (By "us" I mean those of us who came in an environment where the ideas of the block were more necessary than the ideas of the world outside.) 


    I didn't know anyone who went to an Ivy League school. I did not even understand it as a possibility for me. And I had more exposure to "the world outside" than virtually any of my friends. But still I mostly understood school as something that kept you from being shot or sent to jail. I only faintly occurred to me that I might "enjoy" it. I wasn't at Yale as a student, but interacting with the students and the faculty was really a highlight.

    My presence on the panel above really belongs to the Horde. Whoever told me to read A Nation Under Our Feet can take a bow. Whoever first sent to David Blight's lectures on the Civil War can also take a bow. It was an honor and a privilege to sit up there and not simply hold forth but to listen. 

    I want to thank all the good folks I saw up there. There were so many highlights. Meeting David Brion Davis and having him regale us with tales of his first encounters with black GIs in a segregated Army. Finding out Edmund Morgan is still alive and in New Haven. And there was more.

    Writers, who aren't in the academy, spend so much time alone. If only for a moment, it was nice to come off the island.

    It was a good day.
  • Altering the Zimmerman Tape

    NBC apologizes for doctoring the 911 tapes so as to make it seem that Zimmerman raised Trayvon Martin's skin color for no real reason

    NBC apologizes for doctoring the 911 tapes so as to make it seem that Zimmerman raised Trayvon Martin's skin color for no real reason. The NBC tape made the conversation sound like this:


    Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black.

    The actual conversation went like this:

    Zimmerman: This guy looks like he's up to no good. Or he's on drugs or something. It's raining and he's just walking around, looking about. 

    Dispatcher: OK, and this guy -- is he black, white or Hispanic? 

    Zimmerman: He looks black.

    This is a little too cute to write off as unconscious mistake. Moreover, as my old boss Erik Wemple reports, there's no real explanation in NBC's apology. Unconscious or not, altering the tape in this way was incredibly unfair to Zimmerman, and incredibly stupid for NBC. How did they not think they would be caught? The real tape is out there. 

    Something about this case causes people to lose their heads.Wemple has it right here:

    Nor does [NBC's statement] articulate an apology directly to George Zimmerman, the "viewer" who is most aggrieved by the screw-up. In light of all that's happened, Zimmerman may be a tough person for a news network to apologize to, but that's just the point: Apologies are hard.

    Exactly. You don't simply get to behave professionally toward people who are sympathetic. Professionalism isn't a courtesy, it's a self-interest.
  • Racist 'Hunger Games' Fans Find Film Too Much Like the Book

    Prejudice and the literary mind

    Anna Holmes reports on Hunger Game Tweets a site tracking tweets by people who are upset that black characters in the book are depicted as black in the movie:


    "People very often talk about literacy with words, but there's such a thing as visual and thematic literacy," says Deborah Pope, the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which encourages diversity in kids' books. "I think some of these young people just didn't really *read* the book." (Mr. Keats's groundbreaking classic, "The Snowy Day," which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, revolutionized children's literature by being the first mainstream picture book to feature a black male protagonist.) 

    Progress is so maddeningly slow. Still, thirty years ago, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Everyone would just be white.


  • The Link Between Bullying and Suicide

    As we saw in the Tyler Clementi case, sometimes drawing a direct line is hard.

    As we saw in the Tyler Clementi case, sometimes drawing a direct line is hard. Emily Bazelon looks at the new documentary Bully and is shocked to find one of the main character's mental health history missing:

    I asked Hirsch why he didn't mention Tyler's diagnoses. "I really felt that by not disclosing it, we wouldn't allow the audience to prejudge," he said. "It was a decision we thought about a lot. Ultimately, we thought the film would be more powerful without it." To Ann Haas, a senior project specialist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this was a serious error. When I played Bully for Haas, she recoiled in horror, and I don't use the word lightly. 

    "To leave Tyler's mental health problems out of the film is an egregious omission," she said. "It is really misinformation. The filmmakers' had the opportunity to present bullying as a trigger, as one factor that played a role in a young person's suicide. But to draw a direct line without referencing anything else--I'm appalled, honestly. That is hugely, hugely unfortunate." Haas feels strongly about this for a few reasons. 

    First, research shows a strong link between Asperger's and suicide and a link between bipolar disorder and suicide as well. This means these facts about Tyler are important to understanding his decision to take his life. There's more, too. From Haas' point of view, by presenting such an incomplete version of the facts, Hirsch has created a real risk of suicide contagion--the documented phenomenon of people mimicking suicidal behavior in light of media representations.
    One of the problems with bullying is that so many of us (I am not speaking metaphorically) experienced it and so many of us are left with lasting scars. There is a strong feeling toward doing whatever we can tor save that next generation some of that pain. But strong feeling often overwhelms health skepticism.

    I think part of the problem with suicide--particularly if the person was being bullied--is that there is also a strong urge to punish anyone who might have contributed to the person's death. I certainly felt--and still feel--that way about Dharun Ravi. I don't think that feeling took me to anywhere particularly wise. It is extremely difficult to accept that with suicide you may not get any causal answers.

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