Friday, July 17, 2015

In Defense of Ta-Nehisi Coates

Yesterday, Dr. Cornel West dissed renown writer Ta-Nehisi Coates on Facebook. He are a few excerpts from Dr. West's post:
Coates is a clever wordsmith with journalistic talent who avoids any critique of the Black president in power...Coates’s fear-driven self-absorption leads to individual escape and flight to safety – he is cowardly silent on the marvelous new militancy in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Oakland, Cleveland and other places...Coates can grow and mature, but without an analysis of capitalist wealth inequality, gender domination, homophobic degradation, Imperial occupation (all concrete forms of plunder) and collective fightback (not just personal struggle) Coates will remain a mere darling of White and Black Neo-liberals, paralyzed by their Obama worship and hence a distraction from the necessary courage and vision we need in our catastrophic times.
Blah. Blah. Blah.

Anyone who is familiar with my blog knows that I highly respect Dr. Cornel West. I usually defend him. However, today, I cannot and I will not defend Dr. West. He is simply wrong, dead wrong.  Instead, I am defending Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Dr. West asserted that Coates "avoids any critique of" President Obama. Contrary to that assertion, Coates has written several articles criticizing President Obama. Here are a few examples. In his article entitled How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America, Coates wrote:
But I also think that some day historians will pore over his [Obama's]many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks and the timidity it showed in addressing a foreclosure crisis, which devastated black America (again). They will weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.

I think the president owes black people more than this. In the 2012 election, the black community voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic community in the country. Their votes went almost entirely to Barack Obama. They did this despite a concerted effort to keep them from voting, and they deserve more than a sermon. Perhaps they cannot practically receive targeted policy. But surely they have earned something more than targeted scorn.
In his article entitled Color-Blind Policy, Color-Conscious Morality, Coates wrote:
And you will hear no policy targeted toward black people coming out of the Obama White House, or probably any White House in the near future. That is because the standard progressive approach of the moment is to mix color-conscious moral invective with color-blind public policy. It is not hard to see why that might be the case. Asserting the moral faults of black people tend to gain votes. Asserting the moral faults of their government, not so much. I am sure Obama sincerely believes in the moral invective he offers. But I suspect he believes a lot more about his country which he chooses not to share.
In Fear of A Black President, Coates wrote:
Whatever the political intelligence of this calculus, it has broad and deep consequences. The most obvious result is that it prevents Obama from directly addressing America’s racial history, or saying anything meaningful about present issues tinged by race, such as mass incarceration or the drug war. There have been calls for Obama to take a softer line on state-level legalization of marijuana or even to stand for legalization himself. Indeed, there is no small amount of in­consistency in our black president’s either ignoring or upholding harsh drug laws that every day injure the prospects of young black men—laws that could have ended his own, had he been of another social class and arrested for the marijuana use he openly discusses.
Clearly, those three articles alone rebut Dr. West's claim that Coates avoids criticizing Obama.

Next, Dr. West falsely claimed that Coates "is cowardly silent on the marvelous new militancy in Ferguson, Baltimore..." It is becoming painfully obvious that Dr. West is not familiar with Ta-Nehisi Coates' writings. In several articles, Coates discusses the rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore. In Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid, Coates states that:
Black people know what cannot be said. What clearly cannot be said is that the events of Ferguson do not begin with Michael Brown lying dead in the street, but with policies set forth by government at every level. What clearly cannot be said is that the people of Ferguson are regularly plundered, as their grandparents were plundered, and generally regarded as a slush-fund for the government that has pledged to protect them. What clearly cannot be said is the idea of superhuman black men who "bulk up" to run through bullets is not an invention of Darren Wilson, but a staple of American racism.

What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence—like nonviolence—sometimes works. "Property damage and looting impede social progress," Jonathan Chait wrote Tuesday. He delivered this sentence with unearned authority. Taken together, property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. They describe everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining.
On the issue of Baltimore, Coates boldly asserts in Nonviolence as Compliance that:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
Lastly, Dr. West incorrectly claims that Coates does not analyze capitalist wealth inequality. Well, Coates' article entitled The Case for Reparations
addresses wealth inequality. Coates writes:
Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do. Effectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net. When financial calamity strikes—a medical emergency, divorce, job loss—the fall is precipitous.

And just as black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth, so too do they remain handicapped by their restricted choice of neighborhood. Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods,” Sharkey writes, “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.”
In sum, Dr. West's claims about Ta-Nehisi Coates are false. By making such unsubstantiated assertions, Dr. West has undermined his own creditability and reputation. As prominent scholar, Dr. West should have done his research before posting fallacies on Facebook. Such conduct raises disturbing questions about Dr. West's real motives. Apparently, the substantive issues are not Dr. West's motivation. Egoism and jealousy are.  Dr. West should apologize and delete that post.

No comments:

Post a Comment