Struggling with Style - Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Row houses in Baltimore, Maryland's inner city. Source: seul contre tous hide caption

itoggle caption Source: seul contre tous

It was the Age of Crack, when black inner cities were rife with murder, gangs, and violence. West Baltimore was one of those cities— it offered staggering dangers and temptations to its youth — like the young Ta-Nehisi Coates. In his memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, Coates describes his coming of age in Baltimore. Through tough-love, Paul Coates, Ta-Nehisi's father, was a steadfast guide for his seven children. A former Black Panther leader and Vietnam veteran, he taught them righteousness through Afrocentric literature. Ta-Nehisi was bound to the lyrics of Chuck D and Public Enemy, the hypnotic drumming of the djembe, and the legends and stories from his father's basement publishing business, Black Classic Press. Ultimately, our hero made his way to what he describes as Mecca — Howard University — and the pages of some of the nation's top publications. If you came of age in the inner city, what was it like for you? Tell us your story.

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I would like to pause a moment to comment that many such memoirs seem to be dedicated to the father and focused on the black man. To name just one more, Barack Obama focused on the "Dreams of my Father," but there are other examples. What is the impact of such choices? I would say that one impact is to erase the stories of black women's lives, another is to encourage a very (neo)conservative gender politics in which the black community will presumably be changed when the black man assumes his rightful place as head of a bourgeois, and perhaps white, nuclear family. I would hope we might question such assumptions, and I would hope that we could imagine alternative ways that a community could be structured that would promote equality in women as well as men, gay people as well as straight.

Sent by Elena H. | 3:17 PM | 6-9-2008