Washington, D.C. (September 15, 2015)— In the spring of 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates made a powerful “Case for Reparations” in the pages of The Atlantic. Now Coates is back on the cover of the magazine’s October issue, with a follow-up piece, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” which takes an unflinching look at how the deep reach of America’s criminal-justice system have affected black families. Focusing on Detroit and Baltimore, Coates traces the historical roots of the policies that have led to America’s carceral state and urges policymakers to change a damaging system. It is The Atlantic’s longest article in more than a decade.
The digital edition of the piece at TheAtlantic.com includes dozens of embedded annotations by Coates, offering deeper explanations and historical references. In conjunction with the piece, The Atlantic’s politics team has also published an annotated edition of the famous Moynihan Report from 1965—“The Negro Family: A Case for National Action”—along with additional accompanying documents. Three original videos from The Atlantic illustrate the effects of mass incarceration.
Also in the October issue: Yoni Appelbaum on why the Constitution itself may be the cause of the political gridlock in Washington; Andrew Moravcsik, the husband of Anne-Marie Slaughter, who wrote the explosive 2012 Atlantic cover story “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” makes the case for fathers as lead parents; James Parker wonders why everyone on reality television is getting naked; and Jerry Useem explores why your boss may be irrelevant.
The October issue of The Atlantic is now available online—with key pieces summarized below:
Cover: “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”: “One can imagine a separate world where the state would see these maladies [mental illness, illiteracy, drug addiction, poverty] through the lens of government education or public-health programs. Instead it has decided to see them through the lens of criminal justice. As the number of prison beds has risen in this country, the number of public-psychiatric-hospital beds has fallen. The Gray Wastes draw from the most socioeconomically unfortunate among us, and thus take particular interest in those who are black.”
After decades of mass incarceration that have left the United States with the largest incarcerated population in the world—increasing sevenfold since 1970 to account for 25 percent of all the world’s prisoners today—politicians across the spectrum are suddenly declaring the policy a mistake. But their pronouncements have failed to reckon with the phenomenon’s deep historical roots, or with the damage it has done to black families. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report on “The Negro Family” tragically helped launch this assault, Ta-Nehisi Coates demands that we reclaim Moynihan’s original intent. Coates writes that peril is generational for black people in America, and incarceration is the mechanism for ensuring that the peril continues. “One does not build a safety net for a race of predators,” Coates writes of American policy toward black families over the past 50 years. “One builds a cage.”
Feature: “A Death at Torrey Pines”: San Diego police believe that DNA evidence finally enabled them to solve the gruesome 1984 murder of 14-year-old Claire Hough. With two suspects dead from apparent suicide, police think they finally have their killer in Kevin Brown, a retired criminalist, after his DNA was identified on the victim in January 2014—two decades after her death. But what if that DNA evidence was wrong? Reporter James Vlahos, tracing the twists and turns of this cold case, explores just how possible it might be for errors in DNA evidence to incriminate an innocent person.
Essay: “David Hume and the Buddha”: After her seemingly perfect life unraveled into a spiral of depression, Alison Gopnik began looking to the philosophies of David Hume for guidance in her own life, and along the way noticed surprising similarities to the teachings of Buddhism. Gopnik reveals how a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment may have solved a philosophical mystery—and ended a midlife crisis.
Domestic Affairs: “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First”: “A female executive needs what male CEOs have always had: a spouse who bears the burden at home,” writes Andrew Moravcsik, a Princeton professor, the husband of Anne-Marie Slaughter, and a lead parent. Three years after his wife famously questioned whether women could really ever “have it all” on the cover of The Atlantic, Moravcsik reveals his side of the family’s story. In a first-person account of his own experiences as “lead parent”—taking on most of the child-raising duties while his wife’s career skyrocketed—Moravcsik argues that greater numbers of fathers need to take on primary parenting roles.
History: “Our Fragile Constitution”: Amid the political dysfunction and disagreement on nearly everything in Washington, D.C., the Constitution still seems to be the one thing that unites the major political parties. Though what if this breakdown of the political system is not the result of abandoning the Constitution, but the product of flaws inherent in its design? According to politics editor Yoni Appelbaum, the Founders established a fundamentally flawed system of government, creating not a radical democracy, but a very traditional mixed monarchy. As the political system becomes more polarized and as compromise happens less often, America’s best hope may be to have less faith in its own Constitution.
Study of Studies: “Measuring Up”: Why do we care so much about keeping up with the Joneses? Matthew Hutson looks at data that explain why we constantly measure ourselves against our peers.
Sketch: “The Anti-Redskin”: In the fight over the name of the football team that represents the nation’s capital, Ray Halbritter is an adversary unlike any the NFL has faced before. Just in time for football season, Ariel Sabar profiles the multimillionaire leader of the Oneida Indian Nation behind the fierce campaign to sack the Redskins’ mascot.
Business: “Are Bosses Necessary?”:When Zappos adopted holacracy, a radical new system of self-governance, earlier this year, the online retailer went from the world’s happiest shoe company to, well, not so much. Freed from direct supervision, employees are expected to join non-hierarchical groups called circles, in which they propose their own job descriptions, ratify the roles of others, and decide which projects to undertake. Fourteen percent of Zappos’s workforce opted to take a buyout rather than embrace this newfound freedom. Jerry Useem looks at this experiment and writes that, much like democracy centuries before it, “it’s hard not to imagine a future in which the only thing strange about what’s going on at Zappos is that it ever seemed strange at all.”
Health: “The Nature Cure”: For the millions glued to their smartphones, it may be a novel idea: Put the phone down and grab a handful of dirt. It just might improve your health and well-being. Senior editor Dr. James Hamblin explores the growing field of ecotherapy—how prescriptions for park visits and therapeutic camping sessions can help ailments ranging from depression to ADHD and addiction.
From the Culture File:
Omnivore: “Race to the Bottom”: Reality TV is currently experiencing a naked boom. A recent crop of shows follow the typical formula—elaborately engineered first dates, far-flung tests of survival in the world’s most dangerous terrains, inquisitive shoppers weighing their real-estate options. But there’s something more: No one is wearing clothes; strategic blurring has replaced fabric. James Parker explores the cultural phenomenon behind naked TV, from VH1’s Dating Naked and Discovery’s popular Naked and Afraid, to TLC’s Buying Naked, in a quest to find out why everyone seems to be stripping down when the cameras roll.
Books: “Hit Charade”: Britney Spears has “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and Rihanna claimed “Umbrella,” while Taylor Swift recently released “Bad Blood.” Fans of these iconic pop songs might be shocked to discover that a small group of unknown middle-aged Scandinavian men are behind some of the most famous pop songs of all time. In his review of The Song Machine, Nathaniel Rich takes a behind-the-scenes look at the business of popular music and the virtually anonymous hitmakers behind it.
This month’s Big Question asks: “What was the most consequential sibling rivalry of all time?” Writers, psychologists, and historians weigh in on history’s iconic bickering duos, from Cleopatra and Pharoah Ptolemy XIII to Ann Landers and Dear Abby.
The October 2015 issue of The Atlantic is available today, September 15, 2015, on TheAtlantic.com and The Atlantic’s mobile app, and on newsstands later this week.