Ta-Nehisi Coates Getting Rave Reviews

Ta-nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates – Between the World and Me

I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic.  Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer.  (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics.  I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice.  Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day.  I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.)  Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth.  Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating.  I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews.  The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general.  It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time.  Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.

Who Wants to Talk to a Stranger?

I am not claiming that what I am about to write is scientific in any manner.  It is simply a matter of observation by myself.  In the past year I have canvassed for  several different political causes.  I have walked numerous neighborhoods of all different classes.  I have talked to hundreds if not thousands of people.

What I can’t stop thinking about is how different classes of people, rich, poor, working class, and middle class, react to a stranger at their door.  Although there are all different kinds of people across all classes, it does seem that middle class people seem the most open to strangers.  Working class would come in second.  Meanwhile poor people and rich people are often highly skeptical when someone knocks on their door unannounced.

It may have something to do with myself.  I grew up middle class.  Those are the people that I feel most in common with in my outlook, even if I myself make money that is definitely more working class.  I have also worked plenty of blue collar jobs.  So what I am saying is there is the possibility for unrecognized bias on my part, but I don’t think this is the case.  I am talking more about initial reaction, before we have even really had time to talk.

Another point that I want to make is that I’m not dressed up.  I have to walk miles while I do this stuff, often in Texas it is quite hot.  This winter has been a strange one, with cold and rain that we usually don’t see.  Either way, you want to be dressed to be with comfort in mind when you are out there.  Usually I just have on a t-shirt, and either shorts or jeans.  I imagine I look either working class or middle class, so people may simply be reacting to the way I am presenting myself, before I even open my mouth.  However, I again don’t believe this to be the case, I just don’t want to rule it out.

I am a white male that is 5’10”, 200lbs, and occasionally have a beard.  Although I have become more friendly since I moved to the South, and I always make it a point to say thanks and to smile at people, I know that I am not as outwardly warm as many Southerners, or at least I have been told so.  When I worked for AT&T my bosses would often tell me I needed to be warmer on the phone, though I knew that I was trying really hard!  Since moving to the South I have adopted y’all as I like that it is easiest way to talk to people and sound inclusive.  I also like that it is short and simple.  It is also neither masculine or feminine, so you can include everyone in a group without saying “you guys” or “you girls” or whatever when talking to a group.  I am just trying to lay out what people are getting when I come to the door.

If there was a certain type of person that was intimidated when a large male comes to the door who doesn’t seem like a member of their tribe, I would understand.  But I have plenty of middle class women open doors, who are home alone with their kids, before a lot of people are home on their block.  If people were perceiving myself as a threat, I would assume that a small pregnant woman with a two or three year old would not open their door to me, but this happens time and time again.  Meanwhile people in groups or males larger then myself will view me with a skeptical nature.

Again this seems to happen the most, people looking sideways at me, if the home appears to be really rich or really poor.  No other factor appears apparent.  Yesterday I was walking in a neighborhood that is going through gentrification, in which there were people of all classes.  Sometimes it was block by block, and sometimes it was home by home.  You would see a million dollar home next to a house that looked like it was falling down.  You would also see blocks of safe looking suburban homes and blocks of houses that look like they were boarded up after a hurricane.

Race did not seem to be apparent in peoples reaction to me.  A middle class black person would generally behave more in line with a middle class white person, than with a poor black person.  Again, this does not mean that stereotypes always apply.  There were different experiences with people of all classes and colors.  The only discernible difference was that again poor people and rich people seemed to be less trusting of strangers than middle or working class people.

I also want to add that I was asking people questions about what they wanted to see in their city, and was not pushing a specific political agenda.  I have done that in the past, but this time I was simply collecting data.  One of the questions I asked people was what they wanted to see built in a certain portion of the city.  This was giving all people a chance to have a voice in their city.

There are many conclusions that I could draw from this.  However, I would rather not do that at this time, because I don’t believe I could accurately draw any conclusions.  However, I want to know why this is so.  There are so many questions.  Has America treated poor people so badly that they are no longer trusting of people?  Do poor people feel so disenfranchised that even when they are given a voice, they don’t feel that it is worth it to participate?  On the other hand, why are rich people in this country, who seemingly have everything, also not willing to trust people?  Why are they not willing to participate, to voice their thoughts and concerns about their city in this fashion?  I am not assuming that all of the people I talked to don’t participate in our democracy.  They may participate in other ways that don’t involve a stranger asking them questions.  They may have ways that are particular to their neighborhood, their upbringing, etc.  But all of this is very interesting to me, and also troubling.  Why are the people that have the most to lose and the most to gain in this country, the people that are the hardest to communicate with when canvassing?

Merry Christmas Racists!

White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Murkier

Merry Christmas racists!  Most of you probably have more mixed race DNA than you know!  Hahahahaha….

The above article is from the New York Times and it is about how scientists studying DNA have found that people much more mixed race than the way that we categorize them commonly.

P.S.  And Virginia’s past attempt at writing race laws is also so absurd that it is comical.  Remember that Hannah Arendt made the observation that the horrible can be amusing and sometimes even downright funny.

Old White Person Death Rattle

I describe the latest outburst of the GOP, the possible government shutdown, but really all of their recent insanity, as the “old white person death rattle.”  Basically the world is changing.  It is changing for the better and for the worse.  It is changing for the better in that more people are being welcome to the party.  People of different races and sexual orientation are now included at the table in ways in which they weren’t in the past. It is changing for the worse as the gap between the rich and poor is widening in this country. 

For sake of argument let’s simplify and say that there are two kinds of old white people.  There are rich ones and poor ones.  The rich ones want everything they already have and want more.  They don’t want anyone challenging their right to take, take, take.  They are the ones that control things like Fox News and Wall Street.  The other kind are the ones that are losing ground.  Their jobs and pensions are disappearing.  They also see the culture changing in ways that can’t understand.  They are freaking the fuck out.  The ones in power are fanning the flames and using the ones that are losing ground to achieve their means.  “Hey don’t blame us because the pie is shrinking”, said the rich white people.  “Blame the blacks and the Mexicans and the gays.” 

The world that these old white people grew up in is forever gone, or at least it soon will be.  Their world and culture is in its death throes.  Be afraid.  People are dangerous and stupid when they are clinging to the end.  This may be a somewhat simplified fable of what is really going on.  But I don’t believe I’m far off.  

The Gay Physicist

When I first moved to Austin I used to know a guy only known as The Gay Physicist.  He was gay and he was a physicist.  He lived in the same apartment complex as me.  He would smoke copious amounts of weed and then give us physics lessons.  It was quite a good laugh.  I also know plenty of people in this fair city that will smoke up and go exercise.  Weed seems to be a second currency here.  I once saw at a reggae festival someone lighting up a Cheek and Chong sized joint while a cop stood only a few feet away.  That was in the days before Count Acevedo reigned here in Austin.  I call him the count because the cops here steal people’s blood.  I’ll get back to that later though.  I’ve never seen weed ruin someone’s life like I have seen other drugs do.  The only time weed ruins someone’s life is when an unfair system gets a hold of them.

Eventually weed is going to be legal.  It might take another decade or two, especially in places like Texas, but the genie is out of the bottle.  I’m just wondering who are the people out there that still oppose it?  What kind of strange mutants are hiding out there in the American landscape?

I was arrested for a DWI about two years ago.  The thing was I wasn’t drunk.  I passed my breathalyzer and when the results came back I passed my blood test too.  I eventually defeated the cops in the court of law, but it should have never even have gotten that far.  I had to spend the night in jail and get an expensive lawyer.  If you don’t like cops out of jail, wait till you meet the ones in jail.  I was stripped naked, put in a prison uniform, spent about 16 hours in solitary, and was given no information, all without having broken any laws.  The reason that they thought I was drunk was I had played a show earlier that night and was wearing cowboy boots.  When I had to take one of the field sobriety tests, the one where you stand on one leg, I shook a little as the boots were hard to stand in on one foot.

In jail with me there were a lot of poor black kids.  I remember thinking that I had a family that could afford a good lawyer and get me out relatively fast.  These fuckers were doomed.  It’s a scary thing when you realize how much leeway the police have over people’s lives.  How many other people there that night didn’t deserve to be there?  What kind of havoc was it going to wreck on their lives?

As horrible as that experience was I was glad that I had it.  It taught me how screwed up our justice system is.  On an earlier blog I posted the fact that: With an overall marijuana incarceration rate that has doubled since 1991, at last national count in 2007 whites were arrested at 195 per 100,000 while blacks are at 598 per 100,000 for possession of marijuana. (precinctreporter.com)

Something tells me people aren’t being treated fairly, don’t you think?

This also comes at a time when the police are being increasingly militarized.  I recently read an article on Huffington Post which talks about this.  That was one of the many articles that I’ve read on this.  Here is one quote from the article:  “What is it with this growing concept that SWAT shouldn’t exist?  Why shouldn’t officers utilize the same technologies, weapons systems, and tactics that our military comrades do?”

Those are pretty chilling words when considering they come from a policeman.  Aren’t cops supposed to protect and serve?  In Austin and other cities now they have no refusal weekends where cops can take your blood.  I always grew up thinking vampires were the only ones that stole your blood.

In Austin there have also been several incidents where the cops have shot people’s dogs without any real reason.  I’m not saying that every cop is bad and that being a police officer isn’t a hard job at times.  We do need some kind of police force.  But what I’m just saying is that things have gotten out of hand.  We as a people need to let our government know that we want our police to treat our citizen’s with humanity and dignity.  Isn’t that the way that the police would like to be treated?

Until such a day I side with the gay physicist, the freaks, the hippies, the black kids that are picked up for looking suspicious, and all those that fall outside “mainstream” society and yet don’t threaten it.  I don’t trust cops.  And they are the ones that have bred that mistrust.