On Music and Books


(Editor’s note: Reader questions are in bold, followed by Ta-Nehisi’s replies.)

I’ve been listening to Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound album on repeat for a couple days now and it blew my mind when I looked at the credits and realized it was you at talking at the end of “Love Ya.” How did that even happen?

They asked to sample. I said, sure. It’s a cool album.

What music have you been grooving to recently?

Rihanna. Frank Ocean. Kilo Kish. Old Jay-Z.

What sort of history books, if any, are you reading these days? I loved your discussion of Bloodlands.

Very slowly making my way through Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction.

Have you been following Jamelle Bouie’s reading of it at Slate?

Nah. Gotta stay in my own head.

I know you’re not much of a football fan these days, but I was wondering if you have any thoughts on (what seems to be) the steadily growing pushback against taxpayer-subsidized stadiums in major cities around the country (including, as of this week, San Diego). Will we see an end to these sorts of deals anytime soon? Should we?

I actually am back watching. Got pulled back in. Was looking for some part of me that was lost. More on that soon.

How has your living in France modified your point of view about race and culture, or has it?

Left me thinking a lot more about the international implications of the twin legacies of colonialism and enslavement. I’m not prepared to say anything definitive. But there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. Things like looking at the reaction of white Southerners to the Civil War, and the reaction of les pieds noirs to the Algerian War.

Just questions right now, honestly. Nothing certain.

How’s your French, at this point? Have you tried it out shouting at an American tourist or two?

Ça avance. Mais la langues étranger sont toujours difficile. Particularmente pour les adults. J'ai une prof privée. Nous rencontrons une fois ou deux fois chaque semaine. Donc, je vais continuer. J'adore français.

Désolé pour mes faults.

“Les langues”! C’est pluriel. Bonne continuation!


On Race Relations


(Editor’s note: Reader questions are in bold, followed by Ta-Nehisi’s replies. In the video above, he discusses issues surrounding his cover story, “My President Was Black.”)

After reading you for the last 5+ years or so, and becoming more aware of the racial strains that permeate the U.S. on so very many levels, and realizing that you are so much more aware of these things than I am (from experience and study), I wonder if you despair of Americans ever living together in truly racially peaceful and tranquil society, rather than being riven by racial division, strife, and conflict? Is a real peace—with something approaching fairness and justice—ever going to be on offer in America in your view?

Nah. I don’t despair. The world is imperfect. Long view of history shows evil triumphing more often than we’d like to admit. That’s just how it is. I don’t despair too much about dying either. It’s just a fact of being human.

How do you try and communicate that insight to children?

I talk to them, just like I’m talking here. I’ve never tried to hide anything.

As a black mother and an advocate for racial equality, I am concerned about your totality of belief that black people will never gain true equality in America. Don’t you think you should use your position in the media to forge alliances and proffer the reality that there are many blacks and whites that seamlessly bridge the gap between the races?

Nah. I’m a writer. My job is to speak what that which I think is true. If that bridges the gap, that’s good. If it doesn’t, that’s too bad.

As a Gen-X pundit of repute, what’s the most frustrating gap you see between Boomer and Millennial (and younger, now) activism? Is there something you’d wish both could grasp, but somehow they cannot?

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On Trump and the Election


(Editor’s note: Reader questions are in bold, followed by Ta-Nehisi’s replies. The speech above was delivered the day after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.)

With the election and current political climate, there’s a lot of very understandable gloom and trepidation right now. But is there anything happening in America now that makes you feel optimistic about our future as a society? Any bright spots you would like to see more focus on and draw peoples’ attention to?

I don’t know. I don’t tend to look for reasons for optimism or pessimism. I think human societies tend to be problematic. And we are just conforming to the rule.

Trump is very aggressively attacking the credibility of the media. How can the media and journalists best respond to his tactics?

Not sure they can. Dunno if this is really up to them. Feels like something larger happening. Obviously you can do your job well. But I don’t think, say, The New York Times doing its job well is going to garner them cred among the people who believe Trump is a credible press critic.

Do you believe in the meme that it was liberal intolerance for conservative views that generated the backlash personified by Trump? Or the related meme that liberals have ignored white heartland people?

Nah. Trump was polling well back in 2012 in GOP primaries.

How do you think protest movements are gonna evolve in the next few years to counter the alt-right direction that national politics have taken?

No idea. But they need to take appropriate measures against the very real possibility of government surveillance and harassment. We’ve done it before. Like, in the life-times of many Americans. No real reason to think it could not happen again.

What lessons can today’s protest movements take from the civil rights movement, Black Panthers, etc.?

Read On »

‘I Miss Blogging, Terribly’


(Editor’s note: These questions from Atlantic readers—in bold—and replies from Ta-Nehisi were compiled from an “Ask Me Anything” he did with the TAD group on 1/12. In the podcast above, starting at the 114:30 mark, Ta-Nehisi speaks at length about the bygone era of blogging and his writing today. Money quote: “Blogging was real-time, ongoing learning process. That went away. … I didn’t write too much [during the 2016 election] because I didn’t want to take this oracular role. There was no space to try to figure it out. There was no space to think about it.”)

I have been dying to ask about the new book. Is it by any chance the historical fiction one you’d started oh so long ago? I always thought you had captured some lightning with that one.

Hi Sandy. Yes. Signed a two book deal. First, is essays. Second is that historical fiction.

You tweeted earlier this year that you’re focused on book-writing. How much has your process changed as you’ve gotten more attention and a wider audience? How different is your day-to-day process now from the days of The Atlantic blogging and the original Horde?

Changed a lot. More people looking. Probably more than I’m comfortable with. Much less room to think out loud. So, thinking is much more of a private thing these days. The landscape isn’t really set up for the public act of asking questions.

It’s cool though. There was a time when I asked questions privately—before I got to The Atlantic. Basically have to go back to that. Maybe that’s as it should be.

Do you miss blogging? [Atlantic colleague and former Dish editor] Chris B. was lamenting the fall of blogging as a platform for thinking and learning in public and I always found that to be my favorite kind of process to read.

Yes. Terribly.

You seem both surprised and a little discomforted by how much attention you got following BTWAM [Between the World and Me] and, obviously, a lot of it was hostile. I remember reading about your Park Slope house purchase and your comments on the whole response to that. How do you manage that? I'm legit just curious about it as someone who feels, y'know, affection for you from your work but also invested in your work and what it adds to the discourse.

The house was actually in Lefferts-Garden, where I’d rented when my wife, my son and I first moved to New York. Was attached to that neighborhood. Got the house. Neighborhood blog plastered my face up. Realtor talked. And suddenly it wasn’t home anymore. It was performance.

When you know that people know who you are, you are always working—and not the work you want to do. You are sort of performing, because you know they are looking, or at least glancing at you. Would hate to walk out thinking about that.

There is something else: People never stop to think about you as an actual person with a family in these situations. I’ve said this publicly now, so it’s no point hiding it. My wife has long had women’s health issues at the core of her mission, specifically reproductive rights. She’s actually in med-school now, and the plan was always for her to be active on that front. When you want to go into that work, and your address is plastered all of the internet, with pictures and floorpans of your house, well … When I talked about “not feeling safe,” it wasn’t just for me.

Read On »

‘Superhero Comics Are Largely a Response to Trauma’


(Editor’s note: These questions from Atlantic readers—in bold—and replies from Ta-Nehisi were compiled from an “Ask Me Anything” he did with the TAD group on 1/12.)

As someone who’s largely a DC [Comics] reader, Black Panther is effectively my first real introduction to the character. What immediately jumped out at me was the dialogue. It feels a bit different from most comic books (in a good way!), and I look forward to seeing what happens in it down the road. Is there any other comic book you’d love to write? Or do you think Black Panther might be it for you?

I expect to be on Black Panther, or BP-related things, for a while.

How would you like to see the Black Panther series (and world) grow and change? Any inclusion of other, missing characters? What would they be?

Want it to get bigger. Much, much bigger.

When discussing writing Black Panther, you’ve talked about the need to disregard fan opinion on some level to work toward the goal of creating work that will hold up five or 10 years from now. As the stories you’re writing have progressed, has the fan reception of your work changed that outlook for you or confirmed it?

Still believe it. I don’t want artists making work that they think I want to see. I want them to pull from their heart, and if I love it, I love it. If I don’t, oh well.

Where does feminism intersect with your work? Does it at all?

Right now, it’s most prominently in my comic books. I don’t want to blow the story, but basically one of the main threads is a revolution launched against the main character. The facts of sexual plunder, a society ignoring that plunder, and the fact of resistance to it, basically runs through every issue.

And that is how it’s manifest in its least subtle ways. I think in a lot of other ways, it’s much more subtle, but there. Snuck in an Audre Lorde citation in the last issue.

I don’t expect everyone to read comic books, so if folks aren’t seeing this, it’s cool. But it is there. Here’s a good summary of the early stuff and the most obvious aspects of it.

Any specific female writers that you’re engaging with right now? (I so vividly remember the days you were reading Southern Confederate female writers.) Who are the female voices that, I dunno, really speak to you and influence the work you’re doing on the comics? I know that Roxane Gay was tapped to work on the prequels.

Read On »