Dr. Cornel West clarifies his criticism of Ta-Nehisi Coates, but does he make it worse?

My response to Brother Ta-Nehisi’s new book should not be misunderstood. I simply tried to honestly evaluate the book at the level of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Since I believe there will never be another Baldwin — just as there will never be another Coltrane, Morrison, Du Bois, Simone [as in Nina], Robeson or Rakim — the coronation of Coates as Baldwin is wrong. His immense talents and gifts lie elsewhere and lead to different priorities. He indeed tells crucial truths about the vicious legacy of white supremacy as plunder on a visceral level, yet he fails to focus on our collective fightback, social movements or political hope. Even his fine essays downplay people’s insurgency and resistance. The full truth of white supremacy must include our historic struggles against it. His critical comments in his essays about the respectability politics or paternalistic speeches of the black president in power (absent in his book) do not constitute a critique of the presidency — pro-Wall Street policy as capitalist wealth inequality, drone policy as U.S. war crimes, massive surveillance as violation of rights, or defense of ugly Israeli occupation as immoral domination. For example, none of the black or white neo-liberals who coronate Coates say that 500 Palestinian babies killed by U.S. supported Israeli forces in 50 days or U.S. drones killing over 200 babies are crimes against humanity. Yet they cry crocodile tears when black folk are murdered by U.S. police. Unlike Baldwin, Coates gives them this hypocritical way out — with no cost to pay, risk to take, or threat to their privilege because of his political silence on these issues. I love Coates’ obsession with Baldwin’s beautiful prose, and Coates does have beautiful moments too. Baldwin’s beauty is profoundly soulful, wise and eager to inspire others. Coates’ beauty is deliberately nerdy, smart and draws attention to itself. Hence, Coates’ obsession with beauty weakens the Baldwin-like truths of resistance to be told or the Baldwin-like goodness tied to social hope. Like a Blues man or Jazz woman, Baldwin offers his whole blood-drenched and tear-soaked soul in words and sounds to an incomplete world, whereas Coates offers his well-crafted words with a sad spectatorial self to a doomed world. In this Age of Ferguson, we indeed need different voices, yet the most needful voices should be Baldwin-like all the way down and all the way LIVE!

Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
%d bloggers like this: