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.

  • The Killing of Ramarley Graham

    When people talk about ending the War on Drugs, or decriminalizing marijuana, or reining in stop and frisk, they are not simply talking about the right of private citizens to get high

    When people talk about ending the War on Drugs, or decriminalizing marijuana, or reining in stop and frisk, they are not simply talking about the right of private citizens to get high, they are talking about the right of private citizens to not be subject to lethal violence at the hands of the state:


    The fatal shot came shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday. Members of the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit, who had pursued Mr. Graham based on a report that he was armed, broke open the door to the second-floor apartment where he lived with his family on East 229th Street, Mr. Kelly said. 

    As the first officer came through, Mr. Graham emerged from the back of the apartment running toward them, then veered into the bathroom, the police said. "Show me your hands! Show me your hands!" the officer yelled, said Mr. Kelly, who cited the account of a second officer who trailed the first officer into the apartment. The police did not release the names of any of the officers. Mr. Graham was black; the officer who shot him is white. 

    Inside the apartment, Mr. Kelly said, the first officer, who was in the hallway outside the bathroom, yelled, "Gun! Gun!" suggesting to the officers behind him that Mr. Graham was armed. "The partner said he then heard a shot," Mr. Kelly said. "It is at that point we believe the shooting officer fired once from his 9-millimeter service firearm." 

     The bullet hit Mr. Graham in the upper chest, striking a lung and his aorta, killing him, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner. Mr. Kelly added that investigators had yet to find evidence that Mr. Graham was armed. 

    "No gun was recovered," the commissioner said. Rather, the police said, a bag of marijuana was found in the toilet, raising the possibility that Mr. Graham bolted to the bathroom to try to dispose of it.

    If you want some sense of the human dimension of what happened here, watch this video. There are now calls for a criminal investigation and charges. I think charges are possible, but a conviction almost extremely unlikely. 

    For all practical purposes, if an officer, pursuing an arrest, believes you have endangered his life, and can demonstrate that belief, he or she can kill you. 


  • 'An Outdated and Ignorant Stereotype'

    What was Max Bretos thinking?



    Heh. SNL goes there, while ESPN fires the anonymous employee who wrote the "Chink In The Armor" headline for Jeremy Lin. It also suspended Max Bretos for using the phrase in an interview with Walt Frazier. I actually am sympathetic to Bretos.

    Making catchy puns is part of writing headlines. Headlines are also written--you actually have to take a moment to think about them. With that in mind, it's really hard to believe that the person who wrote "Chink In The Armor" to describe Lin didn't see the double-entrendre. If they didn't, they shouldn't be writing headlines anyway.

    Bretos's case is a little different. The phrase a "chink in the armor" is often applied to the weaknesses of athletes presumed to be unstoppable--not as a pun off of their name or ethnicity, but as a way to strictly describe a weakness in their game. In text you probably want to avoid that sort of phrase--much as you'd want to avoid referring to a Tiger Woods triumph as a "a black day for Woods' opponents," though it would less egregious than a headline.

    But I think on air is considerably harder. I can easily see how Bretos used that phrase with no ill-intent at all, and he certainly didn't seem like he was going for a pun. My sense is that ESPN is covering themselves. An on-air apology (in Bretos) case probably would have sufficed.

  • Anthony Shadid's Insatiable Curiosity

    My old colleague Bobby Ghosh remembers Anthony Shadid, who sadly passed yesterday, in Syria.

    My old colleague Bobby Ghosh remembers Anthony Shadid, who sadly passed yesterday, in Syria. Bobby recalls one instance when Tony came for dinner at the TIME bureau in Iraq:


    The next morning, I learned that while the rest of us were exchanging war stories, Tony had spent much of the evening chatting with our drivers and security guards, asking them about life in their neighborhoods, what their kids were studying in school, and what they were hearing from relatives in other parts of the country. Our staff marveled at his keen interest in the minutiae of their lives. Raed, our security chief, said, "He was more interested in why my son is studying than I am." 

    But that was Tony's great gift: his insatiable curiosity about -- and deep empathy for -- ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His journalism was shot through with this quality, enriched by it. Yes, he interviewed heads of state and talking heads, but it was his familiarity with the lives of Iraqis, Lebanese, Egyptians, Libyans and Syrians that made him the best journalist operating in the Middle East.

    Before I started writing professionally, I assumed that those qualities--deep empathy and insatiable curiosity--were essential to a career in journalism. They are not. Indeed, they are quite rare. And this is a real loss.

  • Pat Buchanan Out

    The End Of White America begins with Buchanan's (temporary) exile from the airwaves. Good for MSNBC.

    The End Of White America begins with Buchanan's (temporary) exile from the airwaves. Good for MSNBC. It's amazing he lasted so long. It's worth remembering who Buchanan is:


    Thus, Sotomayor got into Princeton, got her No. 1 ranking, was whisked into Yale Law School and made editor of the Yale Law Review -- all because she was a Hispanic woman. And those two Ivy League institutions cheated more deserving students of what they had worked a lifetime to achieve, for reasons of race, gender or ethnicity.
    Anyway. Can we get some outro music?

  • Please Stop Using Jeremy Lin to Illustrate Your Pet Theories

    If your writing file displays little interest in professional sports, Jeremy Lin is a really bad place to start.

    If your writing file displays little interest in professional sports, Jeremy Lin is a really bad place to start. There are just too many trip-wires. From David Brooks:

    Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He's a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn't neglect the biggest anomaly. He's a religious person in professional sports.

    This is precisely backwards. The fact that Jeremy Lin is "a religious person in professional sports" may well be the least anomalous thing about him, short of him being an actual athlete. As any casual sports fan knows, America's major sports are overrun with God-thanking, Bible-study-convening, Christ-quoting athletes.

    Brooks seems to be aware of this when he says "We've become accustomed to the faith-driven athlete and coach," but that directly contradicts his original point. He then goes on to argue that "the moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith." A sympathetic reading says that the point about Lin being an anomaly was poor-wording on the way to this much more substantive argument.

    Fair enough. But I don't really see why sports is any more in "tension" with the "moral ethos of faith" than a great variety of other human endeavors. I'm not even sure that it is. And if we agree that Lin is, in fact, not an anomaly, then why are we talking about this now? Why not with Tony Dungy? Or Charlie Ward? Or Kareem-Abdul Jabbar? Why now?

    I think we need to clear about something: Jeremy Lin is a human being with the athletic capacity to play, and evidently, excel at professional basketball. That fact differentiates him from the vast majority of the population--regardless of ethnicity. As Stacy said in comments a few days ago--Jeremy Lin is a freak athlete. Like Michael Vick is a freak athlete. Like Wes Welker is a freak athlete. Like Peyton Hillis is a freak athlete.

    Lin's religiosity, it turns out, tends to be fairly common among freak athletes. I'd push it further and (disagreeing with my label-mate Robert Wright) say that the fact that Lin's ability to see the floor in a way that most civilians don't, is also fairly common among freak athletes who excel at playing point-guard. There is a great significance in the fact that Lin is Asian-American--but that significance, I would argue, lies more in what we see, than in what he is.

  • 'We're Going to Have Our Own Tank'

    Why does a town with almost no crime need a $300,000 armored truck?

    s-BEARCAT-large.jpg

    Radley Balko highlights my old stomping ground, (sorta) Keene, New Hampshire, the sight of only two murders since 1999, and finds the cops adopting the Lenco Bearcat (pictured above.) I love the logic from the arms merchants:


    Jim Massery, the government sales manager for Pittsfield, Mass.-based Lenco, dismissed critics who wonder why a town with almost no crime would need a $300,000 armored truck. "I don't think there's any place in the country where you can say, 'That isn't a likely terrorist target,'" Massery said. "How would you know? We don' t know what the terrorists are thinking. No one predicted that terrorists would take over airplanes on Sept. 11. If a group of terrorists decide to shoot up a shopping mall in a town like Keene, wouldn't you rather be prepared?" 

    Massery said Keene's anti-Bearcat citizens deliberately mischaracterize how the vehicle would be used, and pointed to incidents he said have saved police officers' lives. "When you see some Palestinian terrorist causing problems in Jerusalem, what do you usually see next? You see a tank with a cannon show up outside the guy's house, and the tank blows the house to smithereens. When a Lenco Bearcat shows up at a crime scene where a suicidal killer is holding hostages, it doesn't show up with a cannon. It shows up with a negotiator. Our trucks save lives. They save police lives. And I can't help but think that the people who are trying to stop this just don't think police officers' lives are worth saving."

    Basically. If you don't buy turn your police force into an army, the terrorists win.

  • The Cowboy and the Welfare State

    The myth of self-reliance, the idea that we can support ourselves without assistance, is powerful.

    I finally finished Binyamin Applebaum's (that name sounds familiar) and Robert Gebeloff's epic piece profiling an area of Minnesota where people inveigh against the welfare state, despite being inextricably tied to it:


    The government helps Matt Falk and his wife care for their disabled 14-year-old daughter. It pays for extra assistance at school and for trained attendants to stay with her at home while they work. It pays much of the cost of her regular visits to the hospital. 

    Mr. Falk, 42, would like the government to do less. 

    "She doesn't need some of the stuff that we're doing for her," said Mr. Falk, who owns a heating and air-conditioning business in North Branch. "I don't think it's a bad thing if society can afford it, but given the situation that our society is facing, we just have to say that we can't offer as much resources at school or that we need to pay a higher premium" for her medical care... 

    He said that his family appreciated the government's help and that living with less would be painful for them and many other families. But he said the government could not continue to operate on borrowed money. 

    "They're going to have to reduce benefits," he said. "We're going to have to accept it, and we're going to have to suffer."

    This kind of thinking reminds me of home. I went to school with a significant number of people who were on some sort of government assistance. The projects were the most obvious, and I suspect that some portion of the violence which characterized them came from the need to control something. The others -- food stamps and welfare, for instance -- weren't generally talked about, for fear of mockery. Indeed, the first retort any black kid of my era learned was "That's why your momma on food-stamps." The other, of course, was "That's why your momma's an African Bush boogie." Not pretty. 

    What you see in both of these insults -- one socio-economic, one racial -- is a kind of self-loathing, a sense of shame. I think of the great Just Ice calling welfare "embarrassing and downright indignant" and a seed of "low self-esteem." I think about Big Daddy Kane describing a woman on welfare as, "the heavyset one with about ten children." I don't have the polling available, but my recollection is that despite the racial aspects of welfare reform, it enjoyed considerable support  in the black community.

    The fact is that black people are Americans, and among all Americans -- and perhaps all humans -- the myth of self-reliance, for better or worse, is powerful. Has it always been this way? Are there some effects from public assistance becoming increasingly racialized? Is it some combination of both? An old self-image mutating with the racial politics of the day?

    I'm not sure. But what I strongly suspect is the sort of shame you see in Mr. Falk's is neither crazy, nor ignorant, nor shocking, once you think about it. We all want to be cowboys. More, we sometimes want leaders who push toward that imagined self, as opposed to our statistical self. 

    As I have always said, this not a matter of voting "against your interest." Your stated interest is in being a cowboy. The way to engage that person is not to condescend to them and assume they just have less information than you. It's to try to get them to game out where cowboy logic leads.

    At the end of Applebaum piece there's a disabled man who identifies as a "conservative" who beautifully demonstrates how that work looks. I won't excerpt it. I hope you guys read the whole thing. It's worth it.
  • The Second Lives of Pro Football Players, Cont.

    Retired players are plagued by more than just expensive injuries

    In my post the other day I missed a large and obvious factor in the effort these guys put into balancing their checkbooks--family:


    I think there's more to the money issue than squandering it or upgrading a lifestyle. These guys are under immense pressure not only to provide for themselves and whatever wives and children they have but for other family members as well. I think this also speaks to @Dex's point about winning the lottery. Is IS a bit like that. Especially when you consider that athletes do not typically have access to the "wealth networks" that people who've built money over time have access to (or, more likely were BORN into). That makes them more vulnerable to bad advice...something that plagues investors of all backgrounds. 

    One thing I think I've been thinking a lot about as the concussion issue gains steam is how much these brain injuries factor into their decisionmaking while they play which is directly related to the ability to transition in my opinion. We're finally beginning to understand how concussion affect players post-career--depression for example. I think the next wave will be understanding player behavior during their careers.

    Good stuff, here. Part of the wealth gap isn't simply not having that down-payment for your first house, it's having to help support the household where you were raised. Most pro athletes can get past the latter, but the former will still be there.

    More here and in the video below. Watch it. Lot of good arguments.

  • The Jeremy Lin Backlash

    Detractors who attribute his success to his race have nothing to stand on

    I feel like I should have smelled this coming. Nevertheless, courtesy of Floyd Mayweather Jr, here it is:


    "Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian," Mayweather wrote on micro-blogging website Twitter. The NBA's breath of fresh air "Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise." 

    Lin graduated from Harvard University and initially failed to get drafted into the NBA, but he was signed by the Golden State Warriors as a free agent in July 2010. He moved to New York in December after being dropped by the Houston Rockets and outshone the legendary Kobe Bryant by scoring 38 points as the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 92-85 on Friday.

    I think these sorts of comments ultimately are most revelatory of the person speaking. It does not take incredible reasoning skills to understand that race and talent--as explanatory factors--are not mutually exclusive. In other words, it could that Jeremy Lin is Asian, and that he's talented. But I suspect that it's that Lin is Asian-American, and that he's not a big man, and that he's playing in New York, and that he went to Harvard, and that he was undrafted, and that he is talented. It's true that if he were black this would probably be a smaller story, but if he weren't talented it would not be be a story at all. 

    I'm not sure why that's wrong, or even unfair.

    I would bet that part of the attention that Neil Degresse Tyson gets has to do with people geeking out on a black astrophysicist who can make science interesting. If were not black he probably would be somewhat less interesting. But if he weren't a good communicator, he would not be interesting at all. 

    I consider myself a writer of some merit and talent, who says some interesting things from time to time. That's all very nice. But I understand that if I were in my exact same job, and happened to be just another white dude from an Ivy, I'd attract less interest. Race, as lived by individuals, is biography and people are always interested in biography when it differs from the norm in any field. I have no idea why it should be any different with Lin.

    If anything grates, I strongly suspect it's the long-held tension (some) people feel with the NBA as a massively popular product, and yet one that is consistently derided as a home for thugs in need of a dress-code.  The automatic judgement often placed on black ball players that they play "street ball" or don't play the game the "right way" has long disturbed a lot of us. This seems to hold constant no matter how well Chris Webber passes the ball. 

    That may have something to do with how the larger world perceives Jeremy Lin, but it has nothing to do with his level of talent. The fact that racists rooted for Larry Bird doesn't then make him overrated. Hitler rooted for Max Schmeling. But Max Schmeling was so much more than that.

    The micro and the macro are not the same. It's always dehumanizing to shoe-horn one into the other.
  • The Alchemy of Obama



    In this month's cover story, James Fallows takes a moment to zero in on 2010, and the Obama Administration's soft hand with the banks

    An official familiar with the administration's economic policy told me: "The recapitalization of the banks was a good idea, and necessary. But we did not put enough conditions on [their] getting the money. Ultimately not being tougher with the guys that got the money is the thing that overthrows the government twice--in 2008 [in a reaction against Bush's TARP plan] and again in 2010." Keeping the system going was the guideline during the early days of financial rescue, and again later during the argument over government shutdowns and the raising of the debt ceiling. During the initial rescue, 

    Obama's response was of course shaped by the technocrat circle that guided the effort. From their experience with Asian and Latin American financial panics during the Clinton era, the likes of Summers, Geithner, and Orszag understood that their task was akin to emergency-room medicine, or firefighting. They had to contain the emergency first, because otherwise there was no telling how dire the consequences could be, and worry about anything else later. 

    "Larry, Tim, Peter--when they heard about restricting bonuses or compensation, they would think, These are people's contracts, we can't change their contracts," a member of the executive branch said. "But really it was the idea that the problem was enormous, the economy is in big trouble, do we want to make enemies while we're putting out the fire? Usually they opted for whatever they thought would keep the economy going." 

    This rings true about the mood in the middle of an emergency, and also about the cultural tone-deafness that can affect people who all come from the same rarefied world.

    I think this is really the sort of thing that burns up the president's more populist critics. In our guts, a lot of us wanted to see the sort of justice meted out which we are all subject to in our daily lives. And yet meting out that justice may well have made matters worse. Part of the advantage of power isn't just in wielding but in being able to escape the full brunt of punishment for wielding it irresponsibly.  

    As an aside, I enjoyed Fallows piece. Along with some of the better journalism we've seen over the past few months, it really makes clear that the inexperience criticism we heard during the Clinton campaign was substantive. And yet, given that Clinton folks are behind some of the administration's greatest shortcomings, I'm still not sure what to make of that point.


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