It is often Cornel West’s blatant bias that makes him unpalatable, even when his arguments contain some validity (i.e. his attack on the 44th president, Barack Obama). However, his attack on Ta-Nehisi Coates is plain absurd. To say that he contributes from the sidelines is not only a misnomer, but outright slander and disrespect. In an era where reputable journalism is being chataracterized as “fake news” we need our fighters on all fronts. Would West have called Ida B. Wells a sideline contributor when she was detailing the attacks on black people? I think not. It was her willingness to say and expose what others wouldn’t, in a format capable of reaching all people, that made her writing so impactful. In her own words “Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.” This is what Coates does today.
West proclaims, “There is no doubt that the marketing of Coates – like the marketing of anyone – warrants suspicion. Does the profiteering of fatalism about white supremacy and pessimism of black freedom fit well in an age of Trump – an age of neo-fascism, US style?” I hate to say this about West because he is an intellectual of grand stature who has paved the way for so many, but he often sounds quite bitter and envious. It appears that the presence of other Black intellectuals is fine, as long as no one outshines him. He’s an intellectual who has had a brilliant career but refuses to hand the baton to the next generation graciously.
It often feels that West takes the smallest point and makes the grandest of leaps. For instance, often when he says Coates reveals himself when he says X, I have to squint my eyes to not miss all of the reaches that are occurring. But what West fails to realize is he reveals himself as someone with a habit of projecting. For instance, there are moments throughout the article where his blatant bias against Obama is laid bare. West reveals himself when he states “This gross misunderstanding of who Malcolm X was – the greatest prophetic voice against the American Empire – and who Barack Obama is – the first black head of the American Empire – speaks volumes about Coates’ neoliberal view of the world.” His use of “black head” is a double entendre and draped in disrespect. He could have easily said, “leader of the free world” or some other verbiage. Now, is what I said true? Who knows. But it could easily be argued that this was his intent. These are the reaches that West makes throughout his article on Coates.
Toward the end of the article West states that his claims are not from envy. However, writing that this is not about envy does not make it so. You cannot bamboozle an audience by discrediting concerns with selective criticisms and disdain. This is better explained by writer Jalani Cobbs here. In short, as Damon Young writes, “ I am disappointed that a man as brilliant and iconic as West would believe and publish such a thing.” Furthermore, “Continuing the sports/sidelines analogy, some of us are in the paint. But we’re all on the court somewhere—all in play—because sidelines are a privilege we just don’t possess, and a black person assessing the investments of another black person in blackness based on how close he happens to be to the fire is fruitless and fucking dangerous. It’s also myopic because the assessment is based on how close he believes he happens to be today, neglecting to account for the fire he might have literally just leaped out of and the flames he might be pushed back into tomorrow (or tonight).”
As writers it is known that our ideas are open to critique, but we never expect an unwarranted attack, especially not from our heros.
In 2018, I pray that we are all better and want for each other what we want for ourselves. As Jay said, “we all lose when the family feuds.” I want to see us all win.
-Ms. Malcolm Hughes