Good morning, my readers. By now, I am sure many of you have heard about the Cornel West essay directed at Ta-Nehisi Coates. In an essay published Sunday in The Guardian, West offers a polemic against Coates third book, We Were Eight Years in Power. It is an appraisal of the Obama Presidency.
As is to be expected, this essay caused some controversy. Most of it thus far, has been directed at West for “coming for Ta-Nehisi” – and not necessarily about the points he made in the essay. Seeing some of the commentary so far, I thought to myself if some of the people who responded read the same piece that I did. Cornel West raises some good questions in this piece.
The most glaring aspect of the essay is the focus on neoliberalism. This is a necessary discussion to have. It seems that there is some confusion about the term neo liberal. It’s not a political swear word, it describes a political reality that we have been in for at least the last three decades.
If you want a current example of a neo liberal policy, look at the issue of net neutrality. An example of the government stepping out of the way, and allowing the corporations to determine what the public can access. Put another way, it’s the idea that the “market knows best”
As for West and his criticism of Coates, looking at what he said in the essay, it holds true. Coates does not have a strident, anti-capitalist, anti imperialist outlook that West does. Class is not a focal point, and the working class is not seen as an actor that can determine how things play out in this country.
It doesn’t help matters that a lot of the white middle class left dismisses concerns about racialized oppression as “identity politics” – so there’s a historical basis for such an omission. That’s not a matter that you can patch up by merely saying “Black and white unite”
Some thinkers have mentioned that West has been harsh with Obama and intellectuals that defend him, but relatively silent on Trump’s presidency.
The key difference in why the focus was on Obama from Black intellectuals, is that some expected concessions to the Black constituency. No one, (Well maybe except for Omarosa) in the Black community expected anything from a Trump presidency. People had illusions in Obama, and many still are nostalgic about a president who was at least suave about their imperialist maneuvers.
It’s important to understand historically what the Obama Presidency was, even as millions of people “miss him”
While its important to understand the past 8 years, ultimately none of this West vs. Coates back and forth helps us deal with Trump’s America. What is the plan for the fight back against deep austerity that is on its way in the form of tax cuts? What of the coming attack on unionized labor– which is a major concern for Black workers in particular?
Going forward, the role of scholars and activists is to help us survive the moment we find ourselves in now. That’s a conversation that both West and Coates can contribute to.