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West writes: "Coates is a clever wordsmith with journalistic talent who avoids any critique of the Black president in power."

Professor Cornel West. (photo: Vice News)
Professor Cornel West. (photo: Vice News)


In Defense of James Baldwin - Why Toni Morrison (a Literary Genius) Is Wrong About Ta-Nehisi Coates

By Cornel West, Cornel West's Facebook Page

17 July 15

 

n 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!

In Defense of James Baldwin – Why Toni Morrison (a literary genius) is Wrong about Ta-Nehisi Coates. Baldwin was a great...

Posted by Dr. Cornel West on Thursday, July 16, 2015

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+16 # PeacefulGarden 2015-07-17 21:38
Well, I have about 5 glasses of wine in me. Wine from grapes that I have planted. And, yes, reality is blurry. But, linguistic glitz, immature imitation, suicide, and a premature engagement as death is taking my overly tested SAT and PSAT mind to places unknown = [useless]

Cornel, I love you, I think you are the true revolution, please stay strong. Remain positive. We, and I do mean we, because I am basically an Iranian-America n, need to praise those positive happenings.

Praise. Don't bring attention to the negative.
 
 
+12 # Juliajayne1 2015-07-17 23:21
I love Cornell West as well. But this thing he has with the president is getting a tad stale. And he, in one breath, calls Toni Morrison a literary genius and in another imtimates that's she's easily seduced. I've been reading Mr. Coates for a while now and I find what he has to say very worthy. I just ordered his new book. I'm going to keep loving Dr. West, but choose to embrace Mr. Coates and cherish the opinion of Toni Morrison. There's room for all voices and I welcome them.

And as Melissa Harris Perry's daddy used to say "The struggle continues".
 
 
+24 # lfeuille 2015-07-17 23:42
Quoting Juliajayne1:
I love Cornell West as well. But this thing he has with the president is getting a tad stale. And he, in one breath, calls Toni Morrison a literary genius and in another imtimates that's she's easily seduced. I've been reading Mr. Coates for a while now and I find what he has to say very worthy. I just ordered his new book. I'm going to keep loving Dr. West, but choose to embrace Mr. Coates and cherish the opinion of Toni Morrison. There's room for all voices and I welcome them.

And as Melissa Harris Perry's daddy used to say "The struggle continues".


I don't see an inherent contradiction between being a literary genius and being easily seduced.
 
 
+3 # Juliajayne1 2015-07-18 07:29
But 'tis rather insulting to say she's been seduced. That smacks of saying her judgement is somehow not right.

verb: lure or entice away from duty, principles, or proper conduct

This is a rebuke of Mr. West by Michael Eric Dyson: http://observer.com/2015/07/cornel-west-delivers-blistering-takedown-of-ta-nehisi-coates/

Please note that Dr. West didn't even know the proper spelling of Toni Morrison's name, ha! He called her Tony before he corrected it. Ya know, I love dude. I loved him when he had his show with Tavis. I love him whenever I see him on TV. But he sometimes goes off the hook. Just sayin'.
 
 
+6 # Billsy 2015-07-18 13:40
No one is above criticism where merited, no matter how talented.
 
 
+8 # Farafalla 2015-07-17 22:25
The piece on black bodies and oppression in the recent Ta-Nehisi Coates book did make me think hard on how black people feel. I'm sorry that another of my icons, Cornell West, is not impressed.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/
 
 
+10 # Juliajayne1 2015-07-17 23:27
That was a magnificent piece. And Dr. West is right about gender being packed into all of this, because women have the same worries about bodily safety. So I can relate to what Mr. Coates had to say in the piece you linked to and also take the counsel of Dr. West. It's a multi-layered conversation with great intersectionali ty. And it need not all fall on one man or one woman's shoulders. We have many fine black intellectuals right here and right now. I wonder how Dr. West feels about Michael Eric Dyson for example?
 
 
+3 # Rockster 2015-07-17 23:25
It must be that oppressed peoples in the physical And spiritual realms have walked those hard roads before we of the lighter skin have been seduced into emotional enslavement That all can connect to such powerful truth. Proff West is a prophet of this time.
 
 
+14 # Mtguide 2015-07-17 23:40
West is a bit rough on Coates all right, but he's certainly earned the right to do that. And I think Coates will take it in good stride and benefit from it in the long run. You could be a lot less fortunate than to be considered worthy of critical effort by the likes of Cornell West, whom I'm sure would not waste the time unless he thought Coates was well worth the trouble.

After all, West is a teacher, and a great one. And the best ones are always the toughest; they brook no excuses, they take no prisoners, they prepare their students to surpass them, and achieve greatness--and indeed West intimates that of Coates, in his remarks. Coates may not yet be at the level of James Baldwin, but he is well on his way, and a little more fire and hammering on the anvil from Professor West can only serve to further refine and temper the fine steel of his considerable talents. bravo to both of them for their insight and work. We have not heard the last of Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Brother Baldwin is watching.
 
 
+7 # Colleen Clark 2015-07-17 23:56
Baldwin was a great and insightful writer. He didn't have children, so he didn't have the fear for the life of his son that Coates has and that Obama understands, even though he has daughters. Coates is not obliged to criticize Obama. And certainly not to please West.
 
 
+9 # moby doug 2015-07-18 03:17
West bludgeons Coates by saying he, Coates, is not the equal of James Baldwin? That's a nice rhetorical trick. Very very few writers are Baldwin's equal. Actually, it's rather flattering to compare Coates to a great like Baldwin, even if the comparison is invidious, even if West finds Coates, by comparison, woefully wanting. West himself, for example, for all his rhetorical flourishes, looks short when he stands next to Baldwin.
 
 
+7 # cordleycoit 2015-07-18 03:25
Baldwin appeared to me to b e carrying out revolution as a day to day internal -external phenomena. Capitalism was challenged by the events in Paris and the rest of France 68 and it mutated into our current fascist state. Socialism failed entirely due to its lack of understanding of the human condition.Klept ocracy and religious hatred are now a way of life.
 
 
-22 # Chiniquy13 2015-07-18 05:02
More gobbledygook from another self proclaimed leader of "black" people.

https://chiniquy.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/the-present-day-sad-situation-of-the-people-of-african-descent/
 
 
+13 # Anonymot 2015-07-18 08:34
I met Baldwin in Paris and knew his writing. Behind a sleepy exterior was a brilliant man of incredible bravery for those times. Today, every incident or two someone comes forth with a big mouth and self-proclaims their importance for all the media to hear.

I think Baldwin would be appalled at the maximum noise and the minimal change that legislation has brought. Until both black and white America really changes (which may or may not be possible) all we'll have is the superficial. Of course, that's very American.

Real integration is a change of heart and mind that happens slowly via profound motivation. We're still waiting for that.
 
 
+5 # tanis 2015-07-18 09:50
I love Cornel West and I think he is a most valuable contributor to this country and this world right now. I think Baldwin is a great american writer for all time. I hope others will rise to his level, the more the better!
 
 
+4 # candida 2015-07-18 20:09
I take it Morrison compared Coates to Baldwin? A reference to Morrison's comments would be nice for understanding better West's comments in context. Anyone have a link to what West is referring to? RSN?
 
 
+3 # elizabethblock 2015-07-19 08:46
Coates's piece on reparations, in the Atlantic, was brilliant. Every American should read it.

Is Cornel West doing what is often done (but should never be done), that is, critiquing not what a writer has written but what the critic thought he should have written?
 
 
+2 # elizabethblock 2015-07-19 08:47
And since when does James Baldwin need defending?
 
 
+1 # elkingo 2015-07-20 14:58
O Boy: This is a tough one. Yes Coates plaint is exquisitely personal, but if politics and liberation don't begin in the personal, where do they? In broad social theory? Vastly moved as never before by Coates' article about himself and his son, and I ain't no Whitey liberal. But Cornie is right. Coats in no way addresses the broad social and political issues (what crap language) make that revolutionary exigencies of our times of racism, bloodshed and all round horrible stratification. And yet, again, doesn't it all begin with that one lone voice? Is Coates obligated to write in a way other than his own? And for what it's worth, I adore Cornell West. He is America's great public intellectual, having succeeded - for my money - the great Susan Sontag.
 

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