December 17, 2017

West: Ta-Nehisi Coates is the Neoliberal Face of the Black Freedom Struggle

Cornel West – The Guardian:

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 elite’s refusal to confront poverty, patriarchy or transphobia.

In short, Coates fetishizes white supremacy.

West has long been a well-restpected intellect in black studies and the effects of race in American culture. His criticism should give pause.

I’d quibble with West’s notions of American militarism and Wall Street influence in connection with the history of white supremacy and the marginalization of people of color. Including these forces is to broaden the focus of criticism to the point of no focus at all, and to critique the culture as a whole. One could argue that whiteness itself gave rise to both American militarism and the power of Wall Street.

Coates defines his criticism more narrowly. His concern is the whiteness of American expectations and the exclusion of people of color from these expectations. Must the man mirror the work of others to be credible?

I’d also argue with West’s identification of Coates as a neoliberal. Neoliberalism concerns itself with class struggle. It’s a basic tenet of the American Democratic party.

Coates rejects class as a focus of contention, documenting the American Republican party’s successes at garnering support from both the monied elites of all ethnicities as well as from the working poor as evidence that class has little bearing on the politics of white supremacy. He rightly identifies conservatism, as manifested by the modern Republican party, as the home of American white supremacy. Coates is no neoliberal.

It can fairly be said that Coates fetishizes white supremacy, because it’s the tight focus of his writing. He’s been a major contributor to the national conversation on race for all of a decade. West has been at this for decades. The master is perhaps unsettled by the upstart’s success at finding a willing, empowered audience for his thoughts. Imagine what another decade will bring.

#TaNehisiCoates #CornelWest

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