Ta-Nehisi Coates and Cornel West in Jackson

Robin D. G. Kelley in the Boston Review:

CoatesWest1When the emails started coming in, I ignored them. By day’s end, my voicemail and email inboxes were filling up with links to the Guardian, followed by links to Facebook pages and blogposts devoted to Cornel West’s takedown of Ta-Nehisi Coates. I felt like I was being summoned to see a schoolyard brawl, and, now that I no longer use social media, I was already late. By the time I read West’s piece, “Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle,” it had become the center of international controversy. Perhaps because West named me as an ally, the New York Times requested a comment, followed by Le Monde, and then a slew of publications all trying to get the scoop on the latest battle royale among the titans of the black intelligentsia.

The discourse about the piece descended to the level of celebrity death match, which is never about the celebrities but rather our collective bloodlust. Reactions are still coming in from all corners, calling out West for being dishonest and jealous, and for lobbing ad hominem attacks unrelated to his critique. Meanwhile Coates-haters are delighting in what they take to be the dethroning of the liberal establishment’s literary darling. Coates, to his immense credit, has bailed out of the fray, initially engaging but then exiting Twitter with a sigh of disgust. One can only hope he is reading and working and enjoying the holiday with his family. So to even call this a “feud” is something of a misnomer.

I, too, would prefer to stay out of it. I need to get a Christmas tree, a trampoline for my youngest, and finish grading papers. But I can't, partly because West named me in his piece and partly because I believe it is irresponsible of us to allow this kind of spectacle to, once again, obscure crucial political and philosophical issues.

More here.