Tag Archives: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me’

Reading this excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book “Between the World and Me” recently, I felt my mind changed by a text in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. I highly recommend reading this; this author’s ideas and voice are far better experienced directly than they would be summarized inadequately here by me. Some of my favorite parts, in which Coates is writing to his son, are copied below:

When Abraham Lincoln declared, in 1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” he was not merely being aspirational. At the onset of the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world. The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term people to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. As for now, it must be said that the elevation of the belief in being white was not achieved through wine tastings and ice-cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land.

… The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. This legacy aspires to the shackling of black bodies. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body. And should one live in such a body? What should be our aim beyond meager survival of constant, generational, ongoing battery and assault? I have asked this question all my life. I have sought the answer through my reading and writings, through the music of my youth, through arguments with your grandfather, with your mother. I have searched for answers in nationalist myth, in classrooms, out on the streets, and on other continents. The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile. The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, of confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from ghosts and myths.

Here are some others’ responses to this book. Here’s another.

Links: Teacher movies, teaching philosophy, etc.

1. This post about teacher movies makes a valuable point about education and how we talk about it in general terms but this makes little rhetorical sense, since education (maybe more than almost any broad aspect of our lives) is irreducibly a matter of what particular individuals learn, how individuals come to understand the world of ideas and facts but only through the framework of their own perspectives:

It would be a huge step forward if we could conceive of the people in our education system—students, teachers, families, administrators—as human rather than cartoonish media representations or, perhaps worse, mere data points. Policies not only have human consequences but they are also implemented by humans—invariably flawed, often self-seeking, sometimes incompetent humans.   It’s humans all the way down.  The language we use should reflect this and not carelessly cede ground to abstractions like “African-American males” or “the lowest-third percentile” or even “teachers unions.”  This is an acknowledgment that idealized categories, run amok, can in fact short-circuit the hard work of ensuring each individual student, in their individual family context, neighborhood, and cultural background, receives a high-quality education.

And the fact that while education is a system, learning is a particular, even private, matter, is the reason that any new educational system that attempts to treat students as indistinguishable, like Common Core (in which “common” is used to mean that every student learns the same things, in the same ways), is doomed to irrelevance.

2. Isaac Asimov’s 1964 predictions for the year 2014.

3. New Year’s traditions as religious/magical.

4. A compelling text by Ta-Nehisi Coates: “The Myth of Western Civilization.”

5. Dan Savage’s review of Sarah Palin’s Christmas book. (Via The Dish).

6. Jason Silva and awe.

7. The Scottish tradition of Hogmanay.

8. Miguel de Unamuno on consciousness.

9. An article suggesting reading on tablets is different from reading on paper, vis-a-vis getting engaged in narrative.

10. The New York Times editorializes about Finnish education. Interesting link here to Finland’s curriculum, including philosophy education:

Philosophical thinking deals with reality as a whole, its diverse perception and human activity in it. The special nature of philosophy lies in its way of structuring problems conceptually, rationally and through discussion. Upper secondary school studies in philosophy will support students’ individual development and promote the general learning and thinking skills that they will need in a changing and complex society. The theoretical themes studied in philosophy are necessary to form an understanding of cultural heritage and contemporary culture.
The practical significance of philosophy is based on the fact that students will learn to structure questions about values, norms and meanings in conceptual terms. Studies in philosophy will help them to perceive the significance that different types of skills and knowledge hold for individuals and society. To counterbalance the specialised skills and knowledge, studies in philosophy will also teach students to grasp broader conceptual systems and relationships. It will help them to see the ways in which the conceptions of reality, values and norms held in different branches of science and schools of thought may form consistent systems or contradict each other. Philosophy will develop judgement.
Philosophy instruction will promote development of creative and independent thinking. Philosophy will provide students with plenty of scope to form their own personal views. As they delve deeper into basic philosophical questions — to which there are no simple solutions — they will learn to formulate and justify their own views and, at the same time, to respect other reasoned views. Group deliberations on complicated questions will develop students’ ability
to trust their own individual opportunities to resolve even the most difficult problems. Studies in philosophy will support students’ growth into active, responsible and tolerant citizens.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Real citizens cannot fly Confederate flag

Regarding the display of the Confederate flag outside the White House over the weekend, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that “it’s not so much that a man would fly a Confederate flag … in front of the home of a black family. It’s that a crowd would allow him the comfort of doing it.” He adds:

If a patriot can stand in front of the White House brandishing the Confederate flag, then the word “patriot” has no meaning. The Nazi flag is offensive because it is a marker of centuries of bigotry elevated to industrialized murder. But the Confederate flag does not merely carry the stain of slavery, of “useful killing,” but the stain of attempting to end the Union itself. You cannot possibly wave that flag and honestly claim any sincere understanding of your country. It is not possible.

Coates earlier provides a compelling explanation of why “the Confederate flag is far worse than ‘offensive.'”:

It is not simply that the flag is offensive. It is that it is the chosen symbol of slaveholders and those who wanted to live in a republic rooted in slaveholding.

Links: 29 May 2013

1. An interesting way to run a news network: an insider at Fox.

2. Writer Lydia Davis wins Man Booker prize, but causes consternation as to how to classify/categorize her writings. Perhaps categorization is overrated?

3. A reminder of Kerouac’s spontaneous prose style. I’m not sure I’d agree with Kerouac’s idea now as much as I did when I was younger, but I still do like the idea of prioritizing a natural, idiosyncratic flow of an author’s words over the idea that every text should (or could) be perfected.

4. “Why do I teach?” by New York Times blogger Gary Gutting.

5. An overview of many songs created, performed, and/or produced by Nile Rodgers.

6. John McWhorter’s response to David Brooks’ simplistic word-usage-reveals-thinking-and-social-trends column.

7. Ta-Nehisi Coates on race as a social construct — an idea — rather than a reality.

Links: 5 March 2013

1. R. Crumb background.

2. Ginsberg reads “Howl.”

3. Bukowski: “So you want to be a writer” poem. More Bukowski here.

4. Fractal electricity demo in plywood (video). See fractals as metaphor for writing here.

5. Biological reaction to arguing.

6. Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a point about being alienated from those who protested the Iraq War.

7. Wittgenstein’s reputation and the limits of philosophy.

8. Floor plans of TV show settings. I’m not sure the Simpsons’ house plan is correct — where’s Maggie’s room?

9. A flow chart for winning global-warming arguments.

10. An interesting description of the value of diversity: multiple viewpoints and context:

People often fail to understand the importance of diversity. They assume it’s all about quotas and political correction but it is about so much more. Diversity (and we’re talking race, class, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, religion, all of it) is about putting multiple points of view into a conversation. It’s about ensuring that no one is operating in the kind of cultural vacuum where they don’t stop to consider context. It’s why certain people and shows and publications keep running into the same brick wall of public outcry about diversity—because these people consistently demonstrate a callous and willful ignorance of context. They see these lines that shouldn’t be crossed and cross them anyway because they are blissfully unencumbered by context.

11. Beyond boredom, bliss.

12. Barbarity of early U.S. history.

13. Hobbes challenged religion as well as government.

14. Another take on Kerouac.

15. The value of rereading in later life the books one was assigned to read in high school. I had this experience with “The Great Gatsby”: I did not like how my high school teacher wanted to explicate every symbol — “the green light means money!” — but when I read it in my 30s (after first overcoming the resistance to rereading), I could appreciate the value of the book. It still isn’t my favorite, but at least I gave it a real chance. Now that I’m a high school teacher, I try to show my students why certain works are interesting without also turning them off to same.

16. Watching deleted scenes and how that affects one.

17. The first word-processed book.

18. How “big-data” algorithms will affect commercial art (if not exactly killing creativity, as the article is titled).

19. AVClub staffers pick their favorite poems.

20. Why one person left teaching.

21. Syllabi for classes taught by famous writers.

22. A daughter talks about her father’s (Wolfgang Nehring’s) sudden death and his approach to life.

23. A meta-study on sugar’s role in diabetes.

24. Toddlers are fussy because their brains are growing and they’re trying to live in the world.

25. History of the c-word.