Cornel West, left; Ta-Nehisi Coates, right, and a screen shot of Coates' Twitter signoff.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In what Salon.com is calling the “most pointless feud ever,” best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates this week deleted his Twitter account during an argument with Harvard philosophy professor Cornel West.
West, a leading black intellectual, has sniped at Coates before, particularly when it comes to Coates’ support of the presidency of Barack Obama, whom West sharply criticized as a tool of capitalist oppressors.
This week, writing in the Guardian, West rehearsed an argument against Coates that is gaining currency among some on the African-American left: West claimed that Coates “fetishizes white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable.”
Coates fired back at West on Twitter. But he appeared to become weary of the whole business when white supremacist Richard Spencer tweeted an endorsement of West’s view. “He’s not wrong,” the normally not-laconic Spencer said.
Coates tweeted: “peace, y’all, i’m out. i didn’t get in it for this.” Then he deactiviated his Twitter account, which had more than 1.25 million followers.
In his Guardian piece that started the latest flareup, on Sunday, West fires the “neoliberal” epithet at Coates more than a half-dozen times.
It is clear that his narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes or black elite indifference to poverty.
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
In other words, neoliberalism advocates for a laissez-faire approach to economics that opposes government spending, taxes, regulation and other government interference with the “invisible hand” of capitalism.
Two intellectual giants threw a lot of bullets but nobody really got hit. Both Coates and West made extremely valid points, as they always do — smart people normally do make good points, but now what? How does this transfer into anything that will help the poor, disenfranchised and incarcerated people who were brought up by both of them? I’ll answer: It won’t.
Coates, whose “We Were Eight Years in Power” is among the year’s most popular books, found many defenders.
New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb, a former Spelman professor, threw in with Coates (after noting that he and Coates were old friends from their days at Howard University).
2. And also, given what I do for a living and the necessity of intellectual engagement I should say up front that no one is above critique. It’s an indispensable part of growth. But I was frankly embarrassed by @CornelWest’s threadbare commentary.
Several tweets later, Cobb got to what many think is the heart of the matter, accusing West of a base professional jealousy. (Parental warning: his tweet contains some coarse language.)
Frankly I preferred not to say any of this. @tanehisicoates is a grown man. He can fight his own battles. But it’s a little tiresome to see and hear the hypocritical bullshit of academics who would prefer the community not be defended if doing so means accolades for someone else.