West Vs. Coates: We All Lose In The Feud Of Black Academics

“Dialectics, so-called objective dialectics, prevails throughout nature, and so-called subjective dialectics (dialectical thought), is only the reflection of the motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites and their final passage into one another, or into higher forms, determines the life of nature.”

Fredrick Engels
Dialectics of Nature

The news is ablaze with the confrontation between two members of the black intelligentsia embroiled in a war of words.  This battle of ideas has caused reverberations that has many to taking sides in a confrontation that none can win. 

That is, the battle to define who is more qualified to speak on matters of blackness in America; author Ta-Nehisi Coates or Dr. Cornel West.    

Dr. West was the go-to-guy on matters of race, culture and society dating back to the ’90s prior to and following the publishing of his seminal work Race Matters.  Coates has occupied that role since 2008, when he burst onto the scene as Americas favorite expert on black issues with his article in The Atlantic, This Is How We Lost To The White Man.  

Since that time, he has released three books; Between the World and Me, The Beautiful Struggle and We Were in Power Eight Years.

This tactic of “calling out” contemporary thinkers isn’t anything new for West. He has gone head-to-head with fellow academic Michael Eric Dyson, who went at him in a similar manner as he has against Coates over West’s pointed criticism of the Obama administration just two years ago.

The Root on Twitter

You’re misleading a whole generation of people.” @CornelWest speaks to #TheRoot about his recent criticism of @tanehisicoates in the New York Times. https://t.co/dtRxH9BBCK

To be certain, battles of philosophy are nothing new amid individuals of African descent in America. Students of history can recall that Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois began as allies, but spent much of the rest of their careers going at one another.   The great poet and author Langston Hughes often clashed with contemporary writer, journalist and social commentator George Schuyler.  

In the context of a nation steeped in white supremacy, with agents of racism littering both parties and every social, academic, religious and government institution in America, it is more important than ever that facts and love take precedent over ego. 

Within the context of institutional racism, though it may appear as if the two parties have a dueling ideology, the left preaches against right, and vice versa, each will capitulate to the other whenever any legislation is formed or designed to mortally wound institutional racism.  It is inevitably watered down due to the efforts of both parties. 

It’d be nice if black folks of varying ideologies were as uniform in their attacks on racism as they are against one another. However, for black folks of a certain breed, disagreement seems damn near genetic.

In his critique of Coates, West stated the following;

The disagreement between Coates and me is clear: any analysis or vision of our world that omits the centrality of Wall Street power, US military policies, and the complex dynamics of class, gender, and sexuality in black America is too narrow and dangerously misleading. So, it is with Ta-Nehisi Coates worldview.

Coates rightly highlights the vicious legacy of white supremacy past and present. He sees it everywhere and ever reminds us of its plundering effects. Unfortunately, he hardly keeps track of our fightback, and never connects this ugly legacy to the predatory capitalist practices, imperial policies (of war, occupation, detention, assassination) or the black elites refusal to confront poverty, patriarchy or transphobia.

West takes particular offense to Coates approach toward chronicling the Obama administration, the manner in which he appears to disassociate the struggle of blacks in America from the global design of white supremacy, Obamas anti-reparations stance and Ta-Nehisis celebration of Black respectability, good Negro government.

During an interview with The Root, conducted after his initial critique was published in The Guardian, West was jovial and seemed to take a slightly softer stance than had been alluded to in his prior article.

Despite his criticism of Barack Obama, and his connection to Tavis Smiley, West has many supporters. Coates, despite Wests criticism of him, also has his fair share.  Their clash has wrought a flurry of editorials taking one side or another.

Justin Baragona on Twitter

It feels like this might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for Ta-Nehisi Coates — Richard Spencer endorsing Cornel West’s criticism of him.

For his part, Coates tweeted  a response before deleting his Twitter account after white supremacist Richard Spencer tweeted that he agreed with West’s criticism of him. This is classic divide and conquer at work. When black academics are arguing in the public eye, each seems to forget how this plays directly into the hands of those who they’re both speaking out against. 

Whether neoliberal, conservative or other, a white supremacist can always be defined by his deeds. Personally, I would have never compared Barack Obama to Malcolm X, as Coates did.  But no black person can ever understate just how important he was, more so for the country in general than black people in particular. But immensely important all the same.

Yes, it is necessary for a clash of ideas to help society move forward.  However, it is disheartening to witness it in real time.  In the words of Jay Z, “We all lose when the family feuds.”

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