ta-nehisi coates

tanehisi coates


intro’d to Ta-Nehisi when he paneled a session at the aspen institute 2015 with the mayor of new orleans.

esp enlightening – his insight on our focus on black on black stats – ie: we tend to do violence local.. so not about black on black but about who you live by.


image above from video in this – letter to my son – july 2015


Everyone had lost a child, somehow, to the streets, to jail, to drugs, to guns. It was said that these lost girls were sweet as honey and would not hurt a fly. It was said that these lost boys had just received a GED and had begun to turn their lives around. And now they were gone, and their legacy was a great fear.

ged ness.. keeping us there. there’s got to be a nother way. where everyone gets a go.. everyday. as the day. no prep/training/credential required. everyday a new. all of us.


That year I felt myself to be drowning in the news reports of murder. I was aware that these murders very often did not land upon the intended targets but fell upon great-aunts, PTA mothers, overtime uncles, and joyful children—fell upon them random and relentless, like great sheets of rain. I knew this in theory but could not understand it as fact until the boy with the small eyes stood across from me holding my entire body in his small hands.


Somewhere out there beyond the firmament, past the asteroid belt, there were other worlds where children did not regularly fear for their bodies.


When I was your age, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with who I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, who or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which is to say that I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with securing the body.


How could they send us out into the streets of Baltimore, knowing all that they were, and then speak of nonviolence?


And this view of things was connected to the fear that passed through the generations, to the sense of dispossession. We were black, beyond the visible spectrum, beyond civilization. Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior. And our inferior bodies could not possibly be accorded the same respect as those that built the West. Would it not be better, then, if our bodies were civilized, improved, and put to some legitimate Christian use?


And now I looked back on my need for a trophy case, on the desire to live by the standards of Saul Bellow, and I felt that this need was not an escape but fear again—fear that “they,” the alleged authors and heirs of the universe, were right. And this fear ran so deep that we accepted their standards of civilization and humanity.


My great error was not that I had accepted someone else’s dream but that I had accepted the fact of dreams, the need for escape, and the invention of racecraft.


And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own.


I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past. Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dress-making and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone. “Slavery” is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved.


resonating with convo with Skip – on have\have not.


july 2015


Jones’s death so alienated Coates that when he watched 9/11, slightly stoned, on the roof of his Brooklyn building, he recalls that he felt nothing at all. “You must always remember,” Coates writes to Samori, “that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”


Reading new books, trading notes with his commenters, Coates sharpened his sense of the historical weight of white supremacy: The Civil War was fought over slavery and nothing else; the American Dream could not be separated from slavery because “slavery was the dream.” At the time, most young journalists were leaning on social science for authority — history had a human warmth. Coates noticed the good people on the wrong side of history, suggesting that individual virtue was a weak counter­weight to the pathologies of states. Had he been alive and had means, he tweeted, “I would have owned slaves too.”


Coates’s quarrel isn’t really with Obama, in the end, or with civil-rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. It is instead with the metaphors through which they made a compromise with the country — Obama as the embodiment of hope and King the embodiment of dreams. These formulations gave white liberals a pass.


Aspen Ideas Festival. Private jets were scattered over the tarmac, each sleek and bony as a fish skeleton. Aspen is a junket to end all junkets. Tickets cost up to $9,000; there are pop-up planetariums; at sponsor dinners, Atlantic writers sometimes stand up from their tables, forks clinking against glasses, and discourse for three minutes about, say, mass incarceration. The speakers are ideologically promiscuous. The collision of real intellectuals and real money is surreal.


Landrieu started to talk about “black-on-black crime,” then retreated, saying he might be using the wrong words. Coates said the term didn’t offend him: “I think it’s actually inaccurate.” The plain fact, he said, was that when black people killed one another, the victims were their neighbors. They didn’t kill their neighbors because they were black. Inner-city violence, he said, had everything to do with the legacy of structural neglect in the inner city and nothing at all to do with culture.


What a strange, dark, beguiling place America is. It killed Prince Jones. It reveres Ta-Nehisi Coates.


Part of it is the welcome exchange of one social mask for another: Because his French is not so smooth yet, he says, he is seen first as American in Paris rather than as black, and this is a relief.


Coates writes to his son, about the allure of Paris. “I wanted you to see different people living by different rules.” Travel is an ordinary, bourgeois desire for one’s children: “I want him to see more than I saw,” Coates said. It is also the instinct of a survivor, who realizes his home is fundamentally inhospitable: to keep an eye on the exits, and to map out the routes of escape.



Prince Jones was killed 15 years ago. His mom has been thinking about that for 15 years. It’s hard to think of it as a new moment because people are now paying attention. It might be. I just don’t know.


Nikki Haley says Roof perverted the flag. No, he correctly understood what it stood for. It stood for the right to take people’s bodies. We have a responsibility for the perpetration of that lie.


I am always surprised people are surprised that people haven’t read things.


As a writer I was shaped by a desire to write for black people. That things were not being represented. That was my motivating force. That it has become what it has become is shocking to me. I just wanted to be able to take care of my kids.


interview on democracy now july 22 2015


3o min – political prisoner as abstraction – my first memories are of black men in jail

50 min – ed system..  i had no idea why i was in school


collection of responses



find/follow Ta-Nehisi:

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Ta-Nehisi Coates (/ˌtɑːnəˈhɑːsi ˈkts/ tah-nə-hah-see kohts; born September 30, 1975) is an American writer, journalist, and educator. Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic, and blogger for that publication’s website where he writes about cultural, social and political issues. Coates has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications. In 2008 he published a memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. He joined the City University of New York as its journalist-in-residence in the fall of 2014.

James Baldwin



between the world and me


I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request.

you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body…. destruction is merely the superlative form of dominion.

when the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her form the most gorgeous dream.

the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, i have found ultimately answers itself.

in accepting both the chaos of history and the fact of my total end, i was freed to truly consider how i wished to live- specifically, how do i live free in this black body?…. the black body is he clearest evidence that america is the work of men.

and i am afraid. i feel the fear most actually whenever you leave me.

we were laughing, but i know that we were afraid of those who loved us most. (after talking of beatings from parents – et al – in order to keep their children safe)

a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you (ie: his son) with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker. However you call it, the result was our infirmity before the criminal forces of the world. It does not matter if the agent of those forces is white or black—what matters is our condition, what matters is the system that makes your body breakable.

in his small eyes i saw a surging rage that could, in an instant, erase my body… the boy with the small eyes stood across from me holding y entire body in his small hands.

there were other worlds where children did not regularly fear for their bodies.

I knew that some inscrutable energy preserved the breach.

the streets transform every ordinary day into a series of trick question, and every incorrect answer risks a beat-down a shooting, or a pregnancy.

i recall learning these laws clearer than i recall learning my colors and shapes, because these laws were essential to the security of my body….. full one-third of my brain was concerned with….

you have seen all the wonderful life up above the tree-line, yet you understand that there is no real distance between you and trayvon martin, and thus trayvon martin must terrify you in a way that he could never terrify me… the streets were not m only problem. if the streets shackled my right leg, the schools shackled my left.

What did it mean to, as our elders told us, “grow up and be somebody”? And what precisely did this have to do with an education rendered as rote discipline?

to be educated in my baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly.

Educated children walked in single file on the right side of the hallway, raised their hands to use the lavatory, and carried the lavatory pass when en route. Educated children never offered excuses – certainly not childhood itself.

i was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity they were concerned with compliance.

the curious boy ness..

I sensed the schools were hiding something, drugging us with false morality so that we would not see, so that we did not ask.

not being violent enough could cost me my body. being too violent could cost me my body.

She (grandmother) also taught me to write, by which i mean not simply organizing a set of sentences into a series of paragraphs, but organizing them as a means of investigation.

i came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. one enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. but fear and violence were the weaponry of both. fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body.

My mother and father were always pushing me away from secondhand answers—even the answers they themselves believed.

That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being “politically conscious”—as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.

i must get out.. but into what? i devoured the books because they were the rays of light peeking out from the doorframe, and perhaps past that door there was another world, one beyond the gripping fear that undergirded the Dream.

black is beautiful – which is to say that the black body is beautiful, that black hair must be guarded against the torture of processing and lye, that black skin must be guarded against bleach, that our noses and mouths must be protected against modern surgery. we are all our beautiful bodies and so must never be prostrate before barbarians, must never submit our original self, our one of one, to defiling and plunder.

malcolm was the first political pragmatist i knew, the first honest man i’d ever head. he was unconcerned with making the people who believe they were white comfortable in their belief.

malcolm spoke like a man who was free, like a black man above the laws that proscribed our imagination… i knew that he had chafed against the schools,…

But even more I knew that he had found himself while studying in prison, and that when he emerged from the jails, he returned wielding some old power that made him speak as though his body were his own.

why this. prison. school. and school to prison ness..

perhaps we try still\ness over solitary…. as the day.

if you’re black, you were born in jail, malcolm said. and i felt the truth of this in the blocks i had to avoid, …my reclamation would be accomplished, like malcolm’s, through books, through my own study and exploration.

i was haunted because i believe that we had left ourselves back there, undone by cointelpro and black flight and drugs, and now in the crack era all we had were our fears. perhaps we should go back. that was what i heard in the call to keep it real. perhaps we should return to ourselves, to our own primordial streets, to our own ruggedness, to our own rude hair. perhaps we should return to mecca. (community as howard)

my work is to give you what i know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your won.

the mecca is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrated the dark energy of all african peoples and inject it directly into the study body…monopoly on black talent… howard in dc.. chocolate city.. proximity to both federal power and black power…. history, location, alumni combined to create the mecca – the crossroads of the black diaspora.

i first witnessed this power out on the yard, that communal green space .. i saw everything i knew of my black self multiplied out into seemingly endless variations… it was like listening to a hundred different renditions of redemption song each in a different color and key…. could be experienced in a 20 min walk across campus.

frederick hall.. muhammad ali addressed fathers and mothers in defiance of nam

i could see now that that world was more than a photonegative of that of the people who believe they are white..

the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it, white people would cease to exist for want of reasons.

grandparents banned tarzan and lone ranger and toys with white faces from the house. they were rebelling against the history books that spoke of black people only as sentimental firsts – first black five-star general, first black congressman, first black mayor – always presented in the bemused manner of a category of trivial pursuit. serious history was the west, and the west was white.

i felt this weight and saw this beauty, (mecca/yard), not just as a matter of theory but also a demonstrable fact. and i wanted desperately to communicate this evidence to the world, because i felt – even if i did not completely know – that the larger culture’s erasure of black beauty was intimately connected to the destruction of black bodies.

queen nzinga – ordering her adviser to become a human chair – that was the kind of power i sought, and the story of our own royalty became for me a weapon..had any people, anywhere, ever been as sprawling and beautiful as us?

frustrated me.. but by end of chapter he addresses it beautifully.

i had to inhale all the pages. (ie: how specifically did europe underdevelop africa; would pharaohs live in harlem)

Things I believed merely a week earlier, ideas I had taken from one book, could be smashed to splinters by another.

I would imagine Malcolm, his body bound in a cell, studying the books, trading his human eyes for the power of flight.

I wanted to pursue things, to know things, but I could not match the means of knowing that came naturally to me with the expectations of professors. The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.

whimsy matters. today 7 bill can experience that new. everyday.

The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.

the art i was coming to love lived in this void, in the not yet knowable, in the pain, in the question.

it is important that i tell you their names, that you know that i have never achieved anything alone.

poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and i was left with the cold steel truths of life.

I was learning to live in the disquiet i felt in Moorland-Spingarn, in the mess of my mind. The gnawing discomfort, the chaos, the intellectual vertigo was not an alarm. It was a beacon.

and there was so much terrible out there, even among us. you must understand this.

being black did not immunize us from history’s logic or the lure of the dream.

could it be supposed that simply because color was important to me, it had always been so? (questioning from howard history dept… they felt it their duty to disabuse me of my weaponized history. they had seen so many malcomites before they were ready.

among the people in that room, all those centuries ago, my body, breakable at will, endangered in the streets fearful in the schools, was not closest to the queen’s but to her adviser’s, who’d been broken down into a chair so that a queen, heir to everything she’d ever seen, could sit.

perhaps the irish too had once lost their bodies. perhaps being named black had nothing to do with any of this; perhaps being named black was just someone’s name for being at the bottom, a human turned to object, object turned to pariah.

from earlier – about queen nzinga.

p. 55

there was nothing holy or particular in my skin; i was black because of history and heritage. there was no nobility in falling, in being bound in living oppressed, and there was no inherent meaning in black blood. black blodd wasn’t black; black skin wasn’t even black. and now i looked back on my need for trophy case, on the desire to live by the standards of saul bellow, and i felt that this need was not an escape but fear again – fear that “they” the alleged authors and heirs of the universe, were right. and this fear ran so deep that we accepted their standards of civilization and humanity.

but not all of us.

my great error was not that i had accepted someone else’s dream but that i had accepted the fact of dreams, the need for escape, and the invention of racecraft.

what i remember is my ignorance, i remember watching her eat with her hands and feeling wholly uncivilized with my fork.

i am black, and have been plundered and have lost my body. but perhaps i too had the capacity for plunder, maybe i would take another human’s body to confirm myself in a community.

we name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.

and i could no longer predict where i would find my heroes.

today – just saw video of cristian dressing up like homeless..

I almost never danced, as much as I wanted to. I was crippled by some childhood fear of my own body. But I would watch how black people moved, how in these clubs they danced as though their bodies could do anything, and their bodies seemed as free as Malcolm’s voice.

All I then wanted was to write as those black people danced, with control, power, joy, warmth.

the truth of us was always that you were our ring. we’d summoned you out of ourselves, and you were not given a vote. if only for that reason, you deserved all the protection we could muster. everything else was subordinate to this fact…… everything that was the past seemed to be another life. there was before you, and then there was after, and in this after, you were the god i’d never had.

The birth of a better world is not ultimately up to you, though I know, each day, there are grown men and women who tell you otherwise. The world needs saving precisely because of the actions of these same men and women.

ch 2

prince jones had made it through, and still they had taken him.

the need to forgive the officer would not have moved me, because even then, in some inchoate form, i knew that prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all the fears that have marked it from birth.

for a young man like me the invention of the internet was the invention of space travel.

i had not formed any of this into a coherent theory but i did know that bin laden was not the first man to bring terror to that section of the city. i never forgot that….in the days after, i watched the ridiculous pageantry of flags, the machismo of firemen, the overwrought slogans. damn it al. prince jones was dead. and hell upon those who tell us to be twice as good and shoot us not matter.

this need to be always on guard was n unmeasured expenditure of energy, the slow siphoning of the essence.

i feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason…. be twice as good, which is to say accept half as much.

it struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered. the robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments….. the raft of second chances for them, and 23 hr days for us.

as the day. for all. 2nd chances to infinitum.

i understand the gravity of what i was proposing – that a four yr old child be watchful, prudent, and shrewd, that i curtail your happiness, that you submit to a loss of time. an now when i measure this fear against the boldness that the masters of the galaxy imparted to their own children, i am ashamed.

on the dynamics/diversity of ny.. everyone’s particular mecca, packed into one singular city.

on… it only takes one person to make a change.. this is also a myth. … not the kind of change that would raise your body to equality with your countrymen.

my experience… the people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration.

solzhenitsyn – to do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. this is the foundation of the Dream.

on turning toward something murkier and unknown (than the Dream).. too difficult for most americans … but that is your work. it must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.

the video in 50 first dates. as daily detox. until. and so.

on civil war – 600000 died.. yet glossed over in ed… 1859 enslaved.. 1865.. we weren’t..when i visit battlefield, i felt like i was greeted as if i were a nosy accountant conducting an audit and someone was trying to hide the books.

for the mean who needed to believe themselves white, the bodies were the key to a social club, and the right to break the bodies was the mark of civilization.

there is not them without you, and without the right to break you they must .. fall… determine how to build suburbs on something other than human bones… how to erect a democracy independent of cannibalism.

part of what i know is that there is the burden of living among Dreamers, and there is the extra burden of your country telling you the Dream is just, noble, and real, and you are cray for seeing the corruption and smelling the sulfur.

the white people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick.

ch 3

i asked dr jones if she regretted prince choosing howard….. no.. i regret that he is dead.

on pics from 60s sit ins.. faces neither angry, nor sad, nor joyous.. past their tormentors,… beyond anything known to me.

on country forgetting her son.. the forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream.

i am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free.

perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, . has done to the world…. but you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. our moment is too brief.

.. .. they must ultimately stop themselves.. struggle.. but do not struggle for the Dreamers. hope for them. pray for them, if you are so moved. but do not pin your struggle on their conversion. the Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.

nationality: human

no labels..




sept 2015 – Ta-Nehisi (ta na ha si) on democracy now – 1 hr on labor day

the violence is not new – the cameras are new


reading from between the world and me – prince’s mother

24 min – on the dreamers of today rather living white than free


sept 2015 – the black family in the age of mass incarceration


end of p 1

Our carceral state banishes American citizens to a gray wasteland far beyond the promises and protections the government grants its other citizens. Banishment continues long after one’s actual time behind bars has ended, making housing and employment hard to secure. And banishment was not simply a well-intended response to rising crime. It was the method by which we chose to address the problems that preoccupied Moynihan, problems resulting from “three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment.” At a cost of $80 billion a year, American correctional facilities are a social-service program—providing health care, meals, and shelter for a whole class of people.

first of p 2

Through the middle of the 20th century, America’s imprisonment rate hovered at about 110 people per 100,000. Presently, America’s incarceration rate (which accounts for people in prisons andjails) is roughly 12 times the rate in Sweden, eight times the rate in Italy, seven times the rate in Canada, five times the rate in Australia, and four times the rate in Poland. America’s closest to-scale competitor is Russia—and with an autocratic Vladimir Putin locking up about 450 people per 100,000, compared with our 700 or so, it isn’t much of a competition. China has about four times America’s population, but American jails and prisons hold half a million more people. “In short,” an authoritative report issued last year by the National Research Council concluded, “the current U.S. rate of incarceration is unprecedented by both historical and comparative standards.”

p 3

When the doors finally close and one finds oneself facing banishment to the carceral state—the years, the walls, the rules, the guards, the inmates—reactions vary. Some experience an intense sickening feeling. Others, a strong desire to sleep. Visions of suicide. A deep shame. A rage directed toward guards and other inmates. Utter disbelief. The incarcerated attempt to hold on to family and old social ties through phone calls and visitations. At first, friends and family do their best to keep up. But phone calls to prison are expensive, and many prisons are located far from one’s hometown.


The black man without a criminal record fared worse than the white man with one. “High levels of incarceration cast a shadow of criminality over all black men, implicating even those (in the majority) who have remained crime free,” Pager writes. Effectively, the job market in America regards black men who have never been criminals as though they were.


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.

p 4

It is impossible to conceive of the Gray Wastes without first conceiving of a large swath of its inhabitants as both more than criminal and less than human. These inhabitants, black people, are the preeminent outlaws of the American imagination. Black criminality is literally written into the American Constitution—… From America’s very founding, the pursuit of the right to labor, and the right to live free of whipping and of the sale of one’s children, were verboten for blacks.


From the 1890s through the first four decades of the twentieth century,” writes Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, “black criminality would become one of the most commonly cited and longest-lasting justifications for black inequality and mortality in the modern urban world.” Blacks were criminal brutes by nature, and something more than the law of civilized men was needed to protect the white public.


1914 war on drugs – Wright spelled it out: “It has been authoritatively stated that cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes of the South and other sections of the country.”


The principal source of the intensifying war on crime was white anxiety about social control. In 1927, the Supreme Court had ruled that a racial-zoning scheme in the city was unconstitutional. The black population of New Orleans was growing. And there was increasing pressure from some government officials to spread New Deal programs to black people.

p 5

The cure, as Nixon saw it, was not addressing criminogenic conditions, but locking up more people. “Doubling the conviction rate in this country would do far more to cure crime in America than quadrupling the funds for [the] War on Poverty,” he said in 1968.


In 1968, while campaigning for president, Nixon was taped rehearsing a campaign ad. “The heart of the problem is law and order in our schools,” he said. “Discipline in the classroom is essential if our children are to learn.” Then, perhaps talking to himself, he added, “Yep, this hits it right on the nose, the thing about this whole teacher—it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro–Puerto Rican groups out there.”


Moynihan had by the late Reagan era evidently come to believe the worst distortions of his own 1965 report. Gone was any talk of root causes; in its place was something darker.


No one can say I’m soft on crime,” Clinton would say later. Joe Biden, then the junior senator from Delaware, quickly became the point man for showing that Democrats would not go soft on criminals.


In 1993, Texas rejected a bid to infuse its schools with $750 million—but approved $1 billion to build more prisons. By the end of her term, Richards had presided over “one of the biggest public works projects in Texas history,” according to Robert Perkinson’s Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire. In New York, another liberal governor, Mario Cuomo, found himself facing an exploding prison population. After voters rejected funding for more prisons, Cuomo pulled the money from the Urban Development Corporation, an agency that was supposed to build public housing for the poor. It did—in prison. Under the avowedly liberal Cuomo, New York added more prison beds than under all his predecessors combined.


Prison presented a solution: jobs for whites, and warehousing for blacks.

p 7

Shakur sounded a lot like Moynihan—except he understood that the family was interacting with something larger.


Peril is generational for black people in America—and incarceration is our mechanism for maintaining that peril.

p 8

In casting African Americans as beyond the purview of polite and civilized society, in referring to them as a race of criminals, Moynihan joined the long tradition of black criminalization. In so doing, he undermined his own stated aims in writing “The Negro Family” in the first place. One does not build a safety net for a race of predators. One builds a cage.


For African Americans, unfreedom is the historical norm. Enslavement lasted for nearly 250 years. The 150 years that followed have encompassed debt peonage, convict lease-labor, and mass incarceration—a period that overlapped with Jim Crow. This provides a telling geographic comparison. Under Jim Crow, blacks in the South lived in a police state.

p 9

Our current debate over criminal-justice reform pretends that it is possible to disentangle ourselves without significantly disturbing the other aspects of our lives, that one can extract the thread of mass incarceration from the larger tapestry of racist American policy.


Moynihan wrote in 1964. His point was simple if impolitic: Blacks were suffering from the effects of centuries of ill treatment at the hands of white society. Ending that ill treatment would not be enough; the country would have to make amends for it. “


What of the 20th-century wars on drugs repeatedly pursued on racist grounds, and their devastating effects on black communities? The post-civil-rights consensus aims for the termination of injury. Remedy is beyond our field of vision.


A serious reformation of our carceral policy—one seeking a smaller prison population, and a prison population that looks more like America—cannot concern itself merely with sentencing reform, cannot pretend as though the past 50 years of criminal-justice policy did not do real damage. And so it is not possible to truly reform our justice system without reforming the institutional structures, the communities, and the politics that surround it.


To pull too energetically on one thread is to tug at the entire tapestry.

a nother way… so needed. rewilding us.


nov 2015 – w Kathryn Edin


what is mass incarceration – level historically/geographically diff than rest of world.. next is russia.. but not even close… 5% of world 25% of incarcerated.. 4000/100000 for african american

one things i thought before got here.. in camp.. numbers are old.. habit of using criminal justice system to deal with social problems is not particularly new

you can’t just find criminalization w/in numbers.. but in the history.. ie: fugitive slave clause; slavery for pursuing any right; … if you follow up with telling yourself black people have a criminal history… you justify lynching.. et al

ie: important to see how martin luther king was seen in his time, ie: like a criminal..

why did america choose solutions that other countries didn’t…

we as thinkers.. on talking about neighborhood violence


a serious weight.. when you’re black.. you’re always switching the language.. ie: waiting to let others get far ahead so they don’t think you are following them… so criminality piece is just another thing

much of what people look at in black america and construe as anger is in fact deep deep fear

i knew i was afraid but thought others weren’t…. then you have a child.. and that’s all you have… all parents are afraid.. black parents are afraid in a different particular way..

can’t separate amount of violence from depravation..

i remember being young and so much of the violence was about being hard… you can’t separate that kind of pose

on violence of police state/policy and having to be hard… it’s a difference of distribution.. but basically same violence..

as americans we make decisions about policy that don’t seem obviously violent.. but have violence as outcome..

lynching, depriving of right to vote.. weren’t just to be mean.. but to make a point to others.. that that’s what the policy is.. basically – cutting a group out.. that is plunder

say you stop doing that and follow it up with this policy of incarceration…  it’s puts a certain weight on us.. i don’t know if it ends with just.. let’s do less incarceration…

have to go deeper.. a nother way.. leap frog to a global do-over..

what do we do about the last 40 yrs… not enough to stop harming someone… have to start healing..

detox for all

i can’t think of a case that it was.. moral improvement.. rather than some huge upheaval..

poor african americans today have much fewer middle class neighbors than in 1970s – bill julius wilson

1978 – poor blacks age 12 and over.. only marginally more likely than affluent blacks to be victims of violent crime.. by 2008 that has changed to 75 per 1000 affluent down to 23 per 1000 – bill

david simon in the wire did a great job at capturing de populization – bill

easier for parents to control children when strong institutional resource base exists.. – bill


neighborhoods w/a weak institutional resource base.. parents have a more difficult time of raising children, controlling adolescence.. – bill


these parents live under constraints that others can’t imagine.. – bill

agreed.. but rather not talk about controlling people..

disadvantage manifest is in the family – kathryn.. i’m going to start w/family but end w/incarceration.. try to convince.. there are not single parent families… what’s really happening to low income families.. getting a more accurate understanding of family helps..

there are no single mothers…  80% in a romantic relationship .. half time living together.. also .. very high rates of dissolution .. americans love to get together and break up and get together again… when you look at this from child’s pov.. only 4% of children spend lives in stable family household.. – kathryn

we blame too much on single mothers… these are actually complex unstable families… some think family is child and mother… but men are everywhere… unique in u.s. hasn’t been like this before.. – kathryn

so what – turns out kids are really resilient.. what’s really consequential is the rate of change.. and that rate is so rapid.. kids are having trouble adjusting.. –  kathryn

85% of men in non -marital situations are actively parenting at least one of their children..  – kathryn

all policy is family policy – direct interventions into family don’t work very well… but indirect ones do.. ie: pre school, wage subsidies.. increase probability that men will live with families… ie: peri pre school 40 yrs out.. – kathryn

incarceration – we have lots of evidence.. is doing the opposite – kathryn

the divide is.. you’ve got to convince the whole country – ta nehisi

on recent reporting on spike in white heroin use.. i don’t remember crack news like that – ta nehisi… ie: to immediately ask .. what did she do.. ie: entire country to see black people differently

a nother way ness.. no labels

i don’t see slavery as a group of people who sacrifice for us.. it was wrong.. individuals died..  – ta nehisi – these folks didn’t ask to be your martyrs..

on france.. being just a place… there’s deeply human problems – there is not escape… you’ll go to another society and just find yourself again – ta nehisi

deep enough for all of us ness

“I don’t really modulate in my writing, and I just realized that. That’s why I love it!” Coates said. #TaNehisiCoatesHarvard

the writing is the self care.. thats more me than me sitting here… – ta nehisi

White supremacy is wrong, and even doing less of it is incredibly wrong. #TaNehisiCoatesHarvard#tanehisiharvard

“I think what I argue against is the notion of inevitable progress,” Coates says.
i do think it’s important to work across dimensions.. requires critical mass to give up an interest – coates

“I argue against the notion of inevitable progress.” Progress requires a critical mass of people to give something up#TaNehisiCoatesHarvard


acceptance speech for between the world and me – nov 2015

what i do have the power to do is …. you won’t enroll me in this lie..


jan 2016 – the case for considering reparations.. for considering incuriosity..


The task I took on with “The Case For Reparations” was to counter this thinking—to show how the damage of slavery and Jim Crow was extended and compounded by ongoing discrimination, how this continues to devastate black communities, and why a debt was owed. Perhaps Drum lives in a country where white people are deeply cognizant of American history and openly confess to pillage and plunder, and thus feels no case even needs to be made. One sees this belief evidenced in Drum’s post just yesterday, where he asserted his complete unawareness of one of the most significant trends in American historiography (“Dunning? Never heard of the guy.”)

Ignorance is no great sin—there are always things we haven’t read or don’t know. But arguing out of admitted ignorance, opining despite one’s ignorance, isn’t ignorance at all—it’s incuriosity.


Incuriosity is what most “practical” arguments against reparations boil down to. A sincerely curious reader might well have looked at Boris Bittker’s work, or Sandy Darity’s work, or Charles Ogletree’s work. Curiosity might compel one to investigate the victims of the Tulsa pogrom, consider the reparations offered to the victims of John Burge, or the victims of North Carolina’s sterilization campaign. Or curiosity might compel one to support John Conyers’s bill to actually see whether these smaller, successful reparations claims might illuminate something larger.


’s argument implies that before any of this can be answered—or even really asked—a detailed plan of repayment must first be constructed. It suggests that assailants should only consider paying compensation after their victims have offered spreadsheets detailing how best to dispense it. Drum believes that the problem with the bringing pirates to justice is the distribution system. I believe the problem is piracy itself, and grand piracy always extends beyond the act of theft. It requires the construction of an elaborate architecture to either justify the theft, or to justify non-compensation for the theft.


I have always believed that one of the great benefits of considering reparations lies in their potential to expand the American political imagination. Before there could be a Republican Party, abolitionists first had to imagine emancipation. A country that could actively contemplate atoning for plunder, by devoting significant resources to compensating its victims, would be a very different nation than one we live in now. You don’t get to that different country by waiting to talk about it.

And in this sense the conversation ends right where it began: Liberals and radicals see no problem imagining a socialist presidency. They do not demand specific details of how single-payer health care, free public-college tuition, and the break-up of big banks would make it through a Republican Congress. They are not wrong. God bless them and their radical imagination. I mean it. I just want them to imagine more. Like the movie says—You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

huge…actively contemplate atonement… – via an imagination to free us.. and imagination free via curiosity..

imagining more.. a nother way

we can.

so we can’t not.


feb 2016 interview on democracy now:

p 1


p 2



David Dayen (@ddayen) tweeted at 7:33 AM – 14 Dec 2016 :

The folks @TheAtlantic asked me to respond to @tanehisicoates’ big piece on Obama. I focused on the dispossessed. https://t.co/eemQSO0X7o (http://twitter.com/ddayen/status/809043530123329536?s=17)


#MacFellow @tanehisicoates’ advice to budding journalists–”you should not be on Twitter”: https://t.co/UGF8ozVsAU via @voxdotcom https://t.co/iBQZfce8jX

Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/macfound/status/811707827920179204


Talmon Joseph Smith (@talmonsmith) tweeted at 6:19 AM – 31 Jan 2017 :

Very excited to welcome @tanehisicoates to NYU’s Journalism Institute as a Distinguished Writer in Residence. https://t.co/RSuv2hNANi (http://twitter.com/talmonsmith/status/826419524253655041?s=17)


first white pres


It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at this sort of grandiosity. When W. E. B. Du Bois claims that slavery was “singularly disastrous for modern civilization” or James Baldwin claims that whites “have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white,” the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump. The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president—and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.


via Zeynep rt

Paul Blest (@pblest) tweeted at 10:52 PM – 18 Dec 2017 :

The best critiques of Coates I’ve read are by Doug Williams (https://t.co/ICH02UjmZu) and Tressie McMillan Cottom (https://t.co/OFbq5g4VWr), and something both pieces have in common is that they’re focused on engaging Coates on his words (http://twitter.com/pblest/status/942995961516822529?s=17)


by Naomicoateswest feud


Where we differ is that we don’t think these criticisms apply just (or even especially) to Coates.

high time to change the subject from West vs. Coates, and begin the much more salient debate about what we all can do to rediscover the power of a genuinely internationalist, anti-imperialist worldview. A power that our movement ancestors well understood.


The forces waging war on bodies and the planet are irreversibly global, and we are vastly stronger when we build global movements capable of confronting them at every turn.