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Coates and West in Jackson | Boston Review
"For my part, I see value in putting Coates’s and West’s perspectives in dialogue. To be clear, I am not interested in repeating or endorsing West’s critique here, and Coates needs no one to defend him, certainly not me. Readers of Boston Review know that I have taken issue with parts of his Between the World and Me (2015)—yet, even when I disagree, I find Coates’s writing generative, thoughtful, and startlingly honest, and he pushes me to think harder and deeper about the depth of racism in both the public and inner life of black America. Rather, I want to offer brief reflections on what I find valuable in both Coates’s recent book, We Were Eight Years in Power (2017), and in West’s insistence on the transformative power of social movements. I believe that the reconciliation of their respective insights might open new directions. My mother raised my siblings and me to be Hegelians (even if his 1807 The Phenomenology of Spirit is not exactly bedtime reading), and that means the purpose of critique is dialectical, to reach a higher synthesis, which in turn reveals new contradictions demanding new critique.

****

West’s position should not surprise anyone, nor should his ideas be reduced to a couple of interviews and a short piece in the Guardian. He has always combined the black prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power with what he identifies as the anti-foundationalism of young Marx—a critical observation central to West’s book, The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought (1991). West’s Black Prophetic Fire (with Christa Buschendorf, 2014) consists of dialogues that consider the lives and work of black prophetic figures, including Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, and Ella Baker. His insights into these figures are acute and often original, and he refrains from hagiography. For example, he is sharply critical of Douglass, whom he castigates for his relative silence on Jim Crow once he became a fully enfranchised and powerful voice in the Republican Party. The book also contains a subtle indictment of President Barack Obama, implying that his two terms as president, and the emergence of a black neoliberal political class, represent a betrayal of the principles basic to the black prophetic tradition. His criticisms of President Obama are not personal but directed at policies that reflected both the neoliberal turn and the persistence of U.S. imperialism.

Coates found his calling during a particularly combative period for black intellectuals. In March of 1995, West was the target of a scurrilous attack by New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, an essay promoted on the issue’s cover with the headline “The Decline of the Black Intellectual.” A month later Adolph Reed, Jr. followed with a piece in the Village Voice titled, “What Are the Drums Saying, Booker?: The Curious Role of the Black Public Intellectual” which names West, Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., bell hooks, and yours truly. In the essay, Reed characterizes us as modern-day minstrels and attacks us for being “translators” of black culture to white folks, and thus palatable to fawning white liberals. Reed’s piece left a deep impression on Coates. As he recalls in We Were Eight Years in Power, “I was determined to never be an interpreter. It did not occur to me that writing is always some form of interpretation, some form of translating the specificity of one’s roots or expertise or even one’s own mind into language that can be absorbed and assimilated into the consciousness of a broader audience. Almost any black writer publishing in the mainstream press would necessarily be read by whites. Reed was not exempt. He was not holding forth from The Chicago Defender but from The Village Voice, interpreting black intellectuals for that audience, most of whom were white.”

Those “feuds” of twenty-two years ago also generated an important Boston Review forum that centered on a provocative essay by Reverend Eugene F. Rivers III, “Beyond the Nationalism of Fools: Toward an Agenda for Black Intellectuals” (1995)"



"Importantly, Coates’s title is a reference not to Obama’s administration, as many seem to suppose, but rather to Reconstruction and the white backlash that followed its tragic overthrow. Coates quotes Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction (1935): “If there was one thing that South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government, it was good Negro government.” Du Bois’s insight is key here; he recognizes that it was the success of Reconstruction in creating arguably the world’s first social democracy that posed the greatest threat to white supremacy. History has a long life: the ways in which formerly enslaved people not only helped overthrow the Confederacy but immediately went to work building a new society—armed, organized, and fighting back—is the story that haunts and illuminates Obama’s presidency.

Coates is certainly attentive to the forces arrayed against the Obama administration, and to the extraordinary hope black people had invested in him, but he is no apologist for Obama."



"So what are the substantive differences between West and Coates?

At the end of his Guardian essay, West writes that we cannot afford “to disconnect white supremacy from the realities of class, empire, and other forms of domination—be it ecological, sexual, or others.” Coates would agree. He treats these forms of domination as deeply intertwined but not synonymous: “I have never seen a contradiction between calling for reparations and calling for a living wage, on calling for legitimate law enforcement and single-payer health care. They are related—but cannot stand in for one another. I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty, and even war finding their union not in synonymity but in their ultimate goal—a world more humane.” He may not map out what that “fight” for a more humane world might look like, but I don’t think his perspective can be reduced, as West does, to “narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism.”"



"This is where West and Coates part ways. It is not so much their understanding of history, though. West understands that U.S. “democracy” was built on slavery, capitalism, and settler colonialism. But he also recognizes its fragility or malleability in the face of a radical democratic tradition.

This radical democratic tradition cannot be traced to the founding fathers or the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Instead, it is manifest in the struggles of the dispossessed to overturn the Eurocentric, elitist, patriarchal, and dehumanizing structures of racial capitalism and its liberal underpinnings. It is manifest in the struggle to restore the “commons” to the commonwealth, which has been at the heart of radical abolitionism—or what Du Bois called the Abolition Democracy. West knows that social movements, or what he calls “our fightback,” have and will alter history. West believes that we can win. While I wouldn’t call Coates’s vision fatalistic, it is deeply pessimistic because his focus is on structures of race and class oppression, and the policies and ideologies that shore up these structures. He is concerned that we survive."



"So I propose that we turn away from the latest celebrity death match, turn our attention to Jackson, Mississippi. Read Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi (2017), edited by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya, And revisit the work of West and Coates and others wrestling with the critical issues of our times. I stand with West and his unwavering commitment to the power of collective resistance, his optimism of the will. And I stand with Coates and his insistence on a particular kind of pessimism of the intellect that questions everything, stays curious, and is not afraid of self-reflection, uncomfortable questions, or where the evidence takes him.

And above all, I stand with the people of Jackson, who have built the country’s most radical movement, mobilized new forms of political participation, and elected a people’s government committed to building a socialist commonwealth. Free the Land!"
ta-nehisicoates  cornelwest  2017  robinkelley  jackson  mississippi  kaliakuno  ajamunangwaya  chokewlumumba  chokweantarlumumba  activism  democracy  capitalism  cedricrobinson  edmundmorgan  barbarafields  davidroediger  brackobama  imperialism  reconstruction  webdubois  slavey  reparations  patriarchy  eurocentrism  oppression  race  class  politics  abolitionism  history  karlmarx  jeremiahwright  shirleysherrod  empire  us  martinlutherkingjr  malcolmx  frederickdouglass  idabwells  ellabaker  penieljoseph  eugenerivers  adolphreedjr  michaelericdyson  henrylouisgatesjr  neoliberalism  mlk  chokwelumumba 
december 2017 by robertogreco
Cornel West on state of race in the U.S.: "We're in bad shape" - CBS News
[via: "Showed kids 60 Minutes with Cornel West last night. ("I'm unimpressed by smartness.") http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-cornel-west-on-race-in-the-u-s/ "
https://twitter.com/ablerism/status/711908596540379136

"+ See also West on Mandela: "a militant tenderness, subversive sweetness and radical gentleness." http://www.cornelwest.com/nelson_mandela.html "
https://twitter.com/ablerism/status/711908847695368192 ]

"Cornel West is a different kind of civil rights leader. His below-the-radar presence at racial flash points across America recently, stands in stark contrast to many of the more traditional civil rights leaders and their bright light press conferences.

Some of the new generation of African-American activists seem to be gravitating towards West, a charismatic academic scholar who doesn't lead an organization or have an entourage.

Cornel West has a message about how poor and disadvantaged Americans are being treated today and he can be searingly provocative on matters of race, never more so than when he criticizes President Obama.

Cornel West: When I call the president a black puppet of Wall Street, I was really talking about the degree to which Wall Street had a disproportionate amount of influence on his policies as opposed to poor people and working people.

James Brown: Why use such harsh language with-- showing no respect for the office of the president?

Cornel West: I tend to be one who just speaks from my soul, and so what comes out sometimes is rather harsh. In that sense I'm very much a part of the tradition of a Frederick Douglass or a Malcolm X who used hyperbolic language at times to bring attention to the state of emergency. So all of that rage and righteous indignation can lead one not to speak politely sometimes.

Eight years ago, Cornel West was a fervent supporter of candidate Barack Obama. Today, he blames the president for not doing more on issues like income inequality and racial justice. A product of the turbulent sixties, West has joined protests led by civil rights groups like Black Lives Matter. Here in Ferguson, Missouri, he was one of many arrested for civil disobedience.

James Brown: The young people who are leading the Black Lives Matter charge, you're all behind them?

Cornel West: Oh, very much so. I think that's a marvelous new militancy that has to do with courage, vision. The fundamental challenge always is will their rage be channeled through hatred and revenge or will it be channeled through love and justice. You got to push 'em toward love and justice.

James Brown: Why do you think you have that kind of currency with young people?

Cornel West: They know that I take their precious lives seriously. When I go to jail in Ferguson and say quite explicitly, "I'm old school, and I want the new school to know that some of us old folk love y'all to death" and they hear that and say, "Well, dang, you know, we might not always-- agree with this brother, but this Negro looks like a fighter for justice."

[March: This is what democracy looks like. Justice!]

Nyle Fort: I think a lot of young people really gravitate towards him not only because he's a giant of an intellectual, he is somebody that you want to be around.

Nyle Fort is a 26-year-old activist and religion PhD student at Princeton. He first saw West speak at a rally four years ago.

James Brown: The manner in which Dr. West has been criticizing the president. Your reaction?

Nyle Fort: I think it's important for us to listen to the substance of his argument. And I think that his critiques not just of President Obama, but of our current state of democracy in this country, the current state of the world, is something that we need to pay attention to.

A favorite on the lecture circuit, we were with him at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, when the crowd of 1,500 broke into applause before he said a word.

Then, for more than an hour, an extemporaneous journey filled with biblical passages and quotes from philosophers and poets about decency and virtue. All in support of West's warning about the dangers of inequality.

Cornel West: I have nothing against rich brothers and sisters. Pray for 'em every day. But callousness and indifference, greed and avarice is something that's shot through all of us.

Cornel West has diverse influences to say the least; crediting jazz giants John Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan with helping him understand human suffering. West sees civil rights pioneer, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as one of the great treasures of the 20th century.

Cornel West: It's never a question of skin pigmentation. It's never a question of just culture or sexual orientation or civilization. It's what kind of human being you're going to choose to be from your mama's womb to the tomb and what kind of legacy will you leave.

Cornel West was born 62 years ago in Oklahoma, but grew up in Glen Elder -- a predominantly black neighborhood near Sacramento, California. He is the second of four children. His father, Clifton was a federal administrator and his mother, Irene was a teacher. They were a close-knit, church-going family.

Cornel West: I feel as if I have been blessed to undergo a transformation from gangster to redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities.

James Brown: You actually were a thug when you were a youngster?

Cornel West: Oh absolutely, I got kicked out of school when I was seven-- seven years old.

James Brown: Doing what, Dr. West?

Cornel West: I refused to salute the flag because my great uncle had been lynched with the flag wrapped around his body. So I went back to Sacramento and said, "I'm not saluting the flag." And teacher went at me and hit me, and I hit back. And then we had a Joe Frazier/Muhammad Ali moment right there in the third grade.

Clifton West: He was the only student I ever knew that came home with all As and had to get a whipping.

Clifton West is Cornel's brother, best friend and was his role model growing up. He says behind his little brother's bad behavior, was a relentlessly curious mind.

Clifton West: We had this bookmobile. And we would come out, and check out a book, and go on back in the house and start reading it. So Corn, at one point, I don't know how long it took, he had read every book in the bookmobile.

James Brown: Excuse me?

Clifton West: I don't know it had to be 200 books, easy. And the bookmobile man, who was a white guy, went to all the neighborhoods, little chocolate neighborhoods, saying, "There's this guy in Glen Elder that read every book in here."

Anecdotes like that convinced teachers to give their troubled student an aptitude test. West's recorded IQ: 168.

Cornel West: I got a pretty high score. So they sent me over all the way on the other side of town. Mom used to drive me all the way to school and then drive back to her school where she was teaching first grade.

The new school had a gifted program that challenged his mind and changed his behavior.

James Brown: Was that when you first grabbed hold of the notion that you were smart?

Cornel West: You know, I never really thought I was that smart. Because there was so many other folk in school that I was deeply impressed by. But I'll say this, though, that I've never really been impressed by smartness."
cornelwest  barackobama  race  2016  via:ablerism  love  activism  socialjustice  blacklivesmatter  generations  inequality  values  nylefort  jamesbrown  cliftonwest  eddieglaude  decency  virtue  callousness  indifference  greed  avarice  jazz  suffering  humanism  abrahamjoshuaheschel  life  living  legacy  religion  belief  ferguson  racialjustice  racism  civildisobedience  wallstreet  intellectualism  intellect  curiosity  poverty  policy  language  malcolmx  frederickdouglass  rage  indignation  civilrights  johncoltrane  wisdom  smartness  sacrifice  conformism  sarahvaughan 
march 2016 by robertogreco
Mark Twain And Grant's Memoirs - Ta-Nehisi Coates - National - The Atlantic
"…beautiful thing about writing is it has no real respect for credentialism. You can get various degrees in writing. (…my initial plan was to get MFA.) But a degree can't make you a writer in the way that JD can make you a lawyer.

Great writing comes from all classes people…all kinds of experience. Edith Wharton was raised rich. EL Doctorow was not. 

When I visit schools around country I consistently repeat this—not because I think school is worthless, but b/c, very often, there are kids in audience who are lost, just as I once was. I don't come there to contravene their education…to tell them to drop out. On the contrary, I try to reinforce the ethic of hard work. But they need to know that a grade in a class, is not who they are—and I would say that whether the grade is an A or F. I failed English in HS…then failed British Literature in college. For whatever reason, it simply wasn't my time. But had I taken those grades as an eternal mark, I doubt I would be talking to you now."
ulyssessgrant  frederickdouglass  civilwar  abrahamlincoln  eldoctorow  marktwain  learning  readiness  grading  grades  deschooling  unschooling  education  credentialism  credentialing  credentials  writing  ta-nehisicoates 
february 2012 by robertogreco
An Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage - Magazine - The Atlantic
"Man is the only government-making animal in the world. His right to a participation in the production and operation of government is in inference from his nature, as direct and self-evident as is his right to acquire property or education. It is no less a crime against the manhood of a man, to declare that he shall not share in the making and directing of the government under which he lives, than to say that he shall not acquire property and education. The fundamental and unanswerable argument in favor of the enfranchisement of the negro is found in the undisputed fact of his manhood. He is a man, and by every fact and argument by which any man can sustain his right to vote, the negro can sustain his right equally. It is plain that, if the right belongs to any, it belongs to all. The doctrine that some men have no rights that others are bound to respect is a doctrine which we must banish, as we have banished slavery, from which it emanated…"
frederickdouglass  1867  classideas  freedom  government  voting  us  history  race  civilrights  equality 
december 2010 by robertogreco

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