Ta-Neshi Coates Gets Trolled by Cornel West

“Eat your heart out, Cornel.”

Ta-Neshi Coates is widely regarded as America’s best and brightest social critic (and I share the sentiment). If writers wield power through their employment and arrangement of words, Coates flexed his muscles in the 2014 essay in The Atlantic, “The Case For Reparations” which moved the debate in an entirely new direction. It certainly opened to the possibility of a legitimate claim for reparations which avoided the non-starter argument of slavery as the justification.

Coates is having his moment in the spotlight as he makes the rounds of television, magazine, web interviews to promote his new book, Between the World and Me. Already the book has been lauded by liberals, crapped on by critics and its author praised by one of America’s literary lions.

“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.” Toni Morrison in a note to Ta-Neshi Coates’ agent.

That annoting did not sit well with one Cornel West who took to his Facebook page to retort:

In Defense of James Baldwin – Why Toni Morrison (a literary genius) is Wrong about Ta-Nehisi Coates. Baldwin was a great writer of profound courage who spoke truth to power. 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!


There are many ways to take that. I take that to mean Cornel West thinks Toni Morrison and Ta-Neshi Coates are full of shit.

But so is West if he (a) thinks James Baldwin needs defending and (b) he’s the guy to do the defending.

Michael Eric Dyson,  the former West ally turned bitter enemy went public with his break in a New Republic piece,  dumped derision on West’s kneecapping of Coates in an interview  “It shows the vast ineptitude of Professor West’s scholarship. The point I made in my piece is that he doesn’t keep up, he doesn’t read the freshest, newest, most insightful scholarship, nor does he write about it in any serious fashion or teach it in his curriculum, and it shows here.”

Dyson described Coates as a “greatly gifted writer” who forms “sentences and thoughts that sing on the page and stick to the mind.”

“Every charge he made against Ta-Nehisi is patently false,”  Dyson added. “Shall I introduce you to his essay on reparations? It has every bit of the analysis that West was hankering for,”

Dyson rallied to Morrison’s defense.  “And so now that makes her look like a dupe and a boob when she is a literary genius who possesses a Nobel Prize in literature,” he said. “I think her pedigree of assessment is far more convincing than Cornel West’s.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates_book

Coates may have incurred West’s undying wrath in 2011 in an essay entitled,    where he wrote:

In the matter at hand, there is no real difference between the tribalism offered by [Dinesh] D’Souza and his ilk, and the tribalism offered by West and his defenders. There is no real difference between Tea Partiers who insist that NAACP are the actual racists, and those who believe Obama is a “black mascot” damning the influence of identity politics. There is no real difference between those who push their agenda by implying that Obama isn’t really American, and those who push their agenda by implying that Obama isn’t really black.

Both are afflicted with a species of blindness, and intellectual sloth. Understanding and debating actual policy is hard. Enumerating perceived slights and name-calling, and dubbing it a black agenda, is not.

It may have taken him four years to return fire, but West never forgets an insult and never forgives the insulter.

West has become a small, petty, vulgar, envious and shriveled little man. His ego is second only to the equally vulgar Donald J. Trump. I now consider him a failed intellectual who has invalidated his earlier status as one of the leading voices in Black Thought.

West has nearly abrogated any claim to being a serious thinker to be taken seriously.   His pathological hatred of Barack Obama  coupled with his envy and spitefulness for anyone  like Coates who disagrees with or eclipses him is sad beyond words.   He’s become a really smart rapper with no flow  who enjoys playing the Dozens with big words.

West is a crank living off his rep and is clearly on the down escalator of his career  as Coates passes him on the way up.

“I repudiate Obama and I repudiate myself for supporting Obama.”

Cornel West’s Counter-Insurgency Against Obama

A man thoroughly convinced of his own importance.

The other day  Tavis Smiley and Cornel West were bitching about President Obama.  What they were bitching about doesn’t rally matter because that’s what they do.  That’s all they do and they tear down Obama so much it makes me wonder are they angling for their own show on Fox News?   How did West and Smiley go from men of respect within Black culture to self-parody?

I’d sum it up in two words: Barack Obama. From Tavis’ perspective it’s straight up envy. He used to host a yearly gathering called “The State of the Black Union” where he would invite prominent people to discuss issues of importance to African-Americans. It was interesting to see people who were often overlooked by the White mainstream media gather to discuss and debate, but a funny thing happened with “The State of the Black Union.” Talking was all it was about. There was no action plan. There was no “Black agenda” that sprung from  these lengthy talk-a-thons.   It was equally clear if you weren’t part of the  Tavis Smiley clique of Favorite Black Folks ,   you probably weren’t going to be invited to speak. Then there’s  the issue of the gathering of Black thinkers  being underwritten by Smiley’s corporate pals,  Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo.

The defining moment came in 2008 when Smiley invited Sen. Obama to appear at the yearly gathering.   The eventual nominee was still in the middle of  primary battle with Hillary Clinton  and instead of coming off the campaign trail, he wrote Smiley a letter offering to send Michelle Obama in his stead.  Smiley flatly rejected Obama’s wife as his representative and got really ugly about it. Smiley, a Clinton supporter, invited her to appear instead and she accepted.

Smiley continued to attack Obama for not appearing.   Suddenly, even Smiley’s supporters started looking sideways at this raging egotist and wondering who was he to demand Obama appear personally to kiss his ring?

This led to Smiley eventually quitting the Tom Joyner radio show, the program that initially raised his national profile and a bitter falling out with Joyner himself. Smiley wrote a book after Obama won the presidency called “Accountable” where he pompously asserted how it was up to Black people like him to hold Obama accountable if he didn’t deliver the goods to the Black community once he took office.

The book tanked hard and Smiley griped Obama supporters had turned on him and caused the book to flop. He’s been a little pebble in a big can rattling around ever since about how Obama ain’t shit.

Cornel West…now that’s an entirely different and much sadder story. It’s also downright pathetic at points.  A frustrated supporter in 2008,  West despises Obama so much he can’t abide anyone that doesn’t share his negative opinion of the president.

“I love Brother Mike Dyson, but we’re living in a society where everybody is up for sale,” West said in a Huffington Post story. “Everything is up for sale. And he and Brother (Al) Sharpton and Sister Melissa (Harris-Perry) and others, they have sold their souls for a mess of Obama pottage. And we invite them back to the black prophetic tradition after Obama leaves. But at the moment, they want insider access, and they want to tell those kind of lies. They want to turn their back to poor and working people. And it’s a sad thing to see them as apologists for the Obama administration in that way, given the kind of critical background that all of them have had at some point.”

Who needs Cornel West’s kind of “love.”  If everybody is up for sale, where’s West hiding his price tag?

“Sister Melissa” hasn’t been reluctant to call out West for his single-minded mission to demean and defame Obama at every turn as her 2011 column in The Nation stripped West’s hypocrisy down to the bone with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.

Harris-Perry has gone from West’s colleague to his nemesis

“As tenured professors Cornel West and I are not meaningfully accountable, no matter what our love, commitment, or self-delusions tell us. President Obama, as an elected official, can, in fact, be voted out of his job. We can’t. That is a difference that matters. As West derides the President’s economic policies he remains silent on his friend Tavis Smiley’s relationship with Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo, and McDonald’s–all corporations whose invasive and predatory actions in poor and black communities have been the target of progressive organizing for decades. I have never heard him take Tavis Smiley to task for helping convince black Americans to enter into predatory mortgages. I’ve never heard him ask whether Tavis’ decision to publish R. Kelley’s memoirs might be a less than progressive decision. He doesn’t hold Tavis accountable because Tavis is his friend and he is loyal. I respect that, but I also know that if he were in elected office the could not get off so easily. Opposition research would point out the hypocrisy in his public positions in a way that would make him vulnerable come election time. As a media personality and professor he is safely ensconced in a system that can never vote him off the island. I think an honest critique of Obama has to begin by acknowledging his own privileges.”

The days when Black Americans had  “leaders” is over and done.  We have organization heads, self-appointed experts and spokespersons on race and some celebrities who have a podium to express their beliefs. But as far as “leaders” goes, that went bye-bye when Martin and Malcolm and others left the scene, often violently and always prematurely. What we have now is a group of Second Wave Wannabees who would like to considered as picking up where King, Malcolm, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and so many others left off.

Martin didn’t have corporate sponsorship. Malcolm didn’t demand huge speaking fees. Rosa  didn’t have a talk show.  Nobody went looking for Smiley or  West to “lead” Black people.  We had REAL leaders.  Why settle for phony ones?

Pointing out West’s hypocrisy  is almost its own news desk.  Journalist and blogger Eric Wattree has long documented West and Smiley’s shameless self-promotion, “West is never short on words when it comes to denigrating high-profile Black people. He’s publicly criticized Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Jay Z, and of course, his favorite target, President Barack Obama. But when it comes to his good friend and associate, Tavis Smiley’s, involvement in Wells Fargo’s victimization of the Black community, he’s been curiously silent.”

The silence is being interrupted by the loudness of the Black community waking up to Smiley’s coziness with Corporate America and how he’s played the role of Judas goat leading African-Americans into financial ruin while profiting from their misery.  Following their second so-called “poverty tour” that West and Smiley claimed was supposed to spotlight the poor, but was confined to key states in the last presidential election, the due were called out by Najee Ali, a Los Angeles based activist, for Smiley’s cozy relationship with rabidly anti-union Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart is a billion dollar corporation. They should be able to offer a better medical package for their associates and a living wage. The involvement of corporations like Wal-Mart in Tavis Smiley’s own PBS show is troublesome,” says Ali. “Wal-Mart is one of the major sponsors of his show. Therefore, Wal-Mart plays a major role in sustaining Smiley’s popularity. If Smiley and West want to address poverty shouldn’t they involve Wal-Mart in the conversation and hold them  accountable as well?”

Pete and Repeat are back in black.

Pete and Repeat are back in black.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Dear Brother Cornel to answer that.

West is a joke. There’s a rock song entitled, “I Am What I Hated When I Was Young” and that sorry state where West is at now.  A vain, prideful man with a slight Messiah Complex,  whenever West opens his mouth he sounds more irrational, more deranged, more self-righteous and more butt hurt than ever.   There is nothing remotely intellectual in the vicious and highly personal ways West scorns the president.

What do you get when you match a vain, egotistical academic with delusions of divinity with a vain, egotistical hustler searching for a way to stay relevant?  Nothing good.  Just two clowns without a circus fighting to stay in the spotlight.   If it wasn’t so damn annoying it would be sad.

The Long Shadow of America’s Greatest King

When your birth date falls on the same day as the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday observance you accept the fact that you’re going to have to settle for second billing and like it.   Fortunately, Dr. King is one of my few heroes and sharing my day with him honors and humbles me.

As I have said in the past, King was far more than an action figure with a string in the back that says “I Have A Dream”  when pulled.   That’s too simple and King was far too complicated to be reduced down to a catchphrase.

King was not a popular man at the time of his assassination.   Breaking with President Johnson over the Vietnam War had done more than cost King the best friend the movement ever had in the White House.  He was vilified by the Left and the Right.  Black revolutionaries sneered at his message of non-violence.

But most of all,  King was tired.  Tired of marching. Tired of re-fighting battles that should have already been won.   Tired of being away from his wife and children so much.   Tired of the death threats on his life.

Michael Eric Dyson, scholar and author of I May Not Get There With You,  the account of King’s later years says we should note King cut less than an iconic figure at the time of his death.

[King] was at the low point of his popularity at the time of his death. When Martin Luther King Jr. met his end on that balcony in Memphis, he was indeed at the low point of his popularity for the first time in nearly a decade. He didn’t make the most admired list for the Gallup poll. Very few universities wanted to hear from him. No American publishers wanted to publish a book by him. And he was being questioned, even in African-American culture, for the relevancy of his non-violent approach. Dr. King was facing tremendous odds. His back was against the wall. His resources were drying up within his own organization. He was fighting with a prominent northern board member about whether or not he should speak out against the war in Vietnam and paid the price for it. So, he was facing opposition from within his organization and more broadly from the civil rights movement, and even more broadly from the mainstream American press as well as from public policymakers and politicians in America. He was quite on the outside and outskirts of popularity and acceptance in America. This notion that Dr. King was widely praised is one of nostalgia and of amnesia, and it should be combated.

Some might think it audacious and brazen to call King the greatest American ever.   Shouldn’t that sort of accolade be reserved for presidents and statesmen, not a Baptist preacher?

It is neither audacious or brazen to tell the truth and I have no problem defending Dr. King as a greater transformative figure than George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt.   A listing of the Greatest Americans places King at third, ahead of Washington and just behind Lincoln.  Ronald Reagan was named Number One, so take that as you will (I take it as patently ridiculous).

It is expected that presidents will be–for better or for worse–transformative figures.   For a private citizen to do so the unmeasurable help of millions of dollars backing them up and effecting their change by way of non-violent resistance against the evil of state-sanctioned racial discrimination is almost impossible to fathom.   Bill Gates with all his billions could not have done what King did with shoe leather and faith.

By no means was King the only one marching.   It took the commitment of thousands of like-minded souls willing to be spat upon, beaten, bitten by dogs, and in some cases murdered for their courage to be the change they sought to bring to the world.

Without them and the leadership and inspiration of a Dr. King, the part of the Dream that was realized with the election of Barack Obama does not happen.   Without Dr King there is no President Obama.

There is an urge by some to see Obama as the realization of King’s dream.  I  understand this urge, but it should be resisted. Obama is not so much the manifestation of the Dream as he is the greatest beneficiary of The Dream.   King’s mark on the world is established beyond dispute.   Obama is still attempting to make good on his and like any politician it’s a mixed bag.  “Change We Can Believe In” is hard to bring about when there is a rigid status quo resistant to changing a thing just as Dr King’s dream seemed like a waking nightmare to his opponents.

On MLK Day the man who would be Obama’s replacement praises the preacher man.  Writing on his Facebook page, Mitt Romney says,  “Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an occasion to reflect on the legacy of an outstanding American. Dr. King not only believed in the fundamental truth that we are all made in God’s image, he fought for that truth in a campaign that brought our country closer to fulfilling its historic promise of liberty and justice for all. The United States has made enormous strides toward racial equality in the decades since Dr. King’s death, but we must never rest until all people are judged, in his immortal words, not ‘by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

On the Today Show,  Romney, who got wealthy by shutting down companies and putting workers on the street said all this talk about income inequality was simply “envy.”

“You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus one percent — and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent — you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”

A clueless plutocrat like Mitt Romney could never understand a humble man like King who was motivated by a fierce sense of justice, not personal wealth.  If King were doing in 2012 what he was doing in 1968  Romney would not be mumbling empty platitudes he neither wrote nor believes.   He’d be condemning King as a dangerous radical who wanted to take from the 1 percent and give to the 99 percent.

I Mittens ever read King’s A Proper Sense of Priorities speech he would have ample reason to be scared right down to his silk skivvies.

Someone said to me not long ago, it was a member of the press, ‘Dr. King, since you face so many criticisms and since you are going to hurt the budget of your organization, don’t you feel that you should kind of change and fall in line with the Administration’s policy. Aren’t you hurting the civil rights movement and people who once respected you may lose respect for you because you’re involved in this controversial issue in taking the stand against the war.’ And I had to look with a deep understanding of why he raised the question and with no bitterness in my heart and say to that man, “I’m sorry sir, but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader.  I don’t determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Nor do I determine what is right and wrong by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion.” Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.  On some positions cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.

Mitt wouldn’t know a thing about that.  That’s why he isn’t a leader and should never be president.

Dr. King had so much more to say than just “I Have A Dream.” Take two minutes out of your day and get hip to a King many Americans do not know.   The radical Dr. King.  The threat to both racists and reactionaries Dr. King.  The Dr, King that was too dangerous to live.

I could not love Martin more if he were my father.  He inspires me and guides me as much as a father ever has a son or daughter.   This is his day and the legacy of America’s greatest King is far richer and more complex and enduring than a fading memory of a distant figure whose legacy has been watered down to four words.