Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cornel West and Cedric Johnson on Ta-Nehisi Coates

From Dr. Cornel West - In Defense of James Baldwin :
Coates is a clever wordsmith with journalistic talent who avoids any critique of the Black president in power. Baldwin’s painful self-examination led to collective action and a focus on social movements. He reveled in the examples of Medgar, Martin, Malcolm, Fannie Lou Hamer and Angela Davis. 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. How I wish the prophetic work of serious intellectuals like Robin DG Kelley, Imani Perry, Gerald Horne, Eddie Glaude commanded the attention the corporate media gives Coates. But in our age of superficial spectacle, even the great Morrison is seduced by the linguistic glitz and political silences of Coates as we all hunger for the literary genius and political engagement of Baldwin. As in jazz, we must teach our youth that immature imitation is suicide and premature elevation is death. Brother Coates continue to lift your gifted voice to your precious son and all of us, just beware of the white noise and become connected to the people’s movements!
From Cedric Johnson's An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Liberals Who Love Him | Jacobin:
...towering mid-twentieth-century liberal and radical left intellectuals and activists such as A. Philip Randolph, John P. Davis, Esther Cooper Jackson, John Jackson, Bayard Rustin, and scores of others would have found themselves quite at odds with Coates’s liberal antiracist viewpoint that working-class-centered, anticapitalist political projects are patently inadequate for addressing the concerns of black voters.

The claim that social democracy and socialism are always and everywhere at odds with racial progress is simply false. It is not supported by the actual history of progressive struggles and the substantive ways they transformed black life.

Ultimately, Coates’s views about class and race — and this nation’s complex and tortured historical development — are well-meaning and at times poetic, but wrongheaded. The reparations argument is rooted in black nationalist politics, which traditionally elides class and neglects the way that race-first politics are often the means for advancing discrete, bourgeois class interests.

...had Coates widened his interpretive lens beyond Chicago’s West Side — which was settled by Southern black migrants after the Second World War — to include the city’s more well-established black South Side, a very different, and in some ways more complicated, set of political alliances and social relations would have troubled his narrative of racial conflict, where all the predators are white and all the prey are black.

In Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis, Preston H. Smith II offers a critical account of postwar housing policy and African-American class politics on Chicago’s South Side. During the same period Satter discusses, the South Side was defined by a more class-diverse black population, and one where the interests of the black professional-managerial elite as landlords, administrators, politicians, shopkeepers, supervisors, and homeowners sometimes coincided with, and at other times grated and clashed with, the demands and needs of black workers, public housing tenants, and the poor.

Smith documents how the horizon of social democracy embodied in progressive New Deal reforms — the ideal that all citizens should have access to housing regardless of their ability to pay — was ultimately eclipsed within black public life by a focus on racial democracy: the guarantee of access and participation in the consumer society in a manner comparable to all others of equal class standing.

Coates’s reparations argument rests in the latter aspiration, demanding racial parity within a market society, rather than the decommodification of housing, education, health care, and other human needs.
ETA: Sorry Ta-Nehisi Coates, The NAACP’s Reparations Plan Looks Exactly Like What Bernie Sanders Is Proposing by Yvette Carnell.