recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : michaelericdyson   2

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
Everybody Hates Cornel West | Jacobin
"We live in an era in which Clinton — who proudly supported mass incarceration and the obliteration of welfare — declares that a social-democratic program of financial reform and single-payer health insurance “won’t end racism.” A recent WikiLeaks publication of internal Clinton campaign emails reveals another line they were testing out against Sanders: “Wall Street is not gunning down young African Americans or denying immigrants a path to citizenship.”

It’s a sentiment that would’ve bewildered civil rights veterans like A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr, John P. Davis, Bayard Rustin, and Lester Granger, all of whom were committed to social-democratic politics as a crucial means of putting racism on a path towards ultimate extinction. The tragedy of West isn’t that he’s “full of bitterness,” as his liberal detractors claim. It’s that the politics of West’s “black prophetic tradition,” try as he might to wield them for socialist ends, will today find their strongest, clearest articulation in the same old quest of “interpreting the drums” for a mostly white ruling class.

Earlier in the primary season, during an interview on the Real News Network, West directly called out the black elite — whom he calls “the lumpenbourgeoisie” — for abandoning “the black prophetic tradition” for “individual upward mobility” and the “formation of the black professional class.” As he put it, “Black folk for the most part became just extensions of a milquetoast neoliberal Democratic Party. But Adolph Reed and a host of others told this story many years ago. It’s becoming much more crystallized. We have to be willing to tell the truth no matter how unpopular it is.”

West didn’t hesitate to proclaim that his biggest left-wing critic had been right all along. But the fact that he felt betrayed by this “lumpenbourgeoisie” in the first place only shows the limits of this political vision and the power of Reed’s original critique. After all, why would a “lumpenbourgeoisie” act different than any bourgeoisie? A vision of a harmonious insular black “community” without any internal class tensions might sound appealing to some in 2016 — particularly to the Democratic Party — but it’s a delusion no serious leftist can afford to entertain.

But as tragic as West’s crusade can appear, the sincerity of his commitment to a more just and egalitarian world — and the righteousness of his passion — cannot be called into question. Those who, like Michael Eric Dyson, claim that West’s political commitments now derive from nothing more than hurt feelings over unreturned phone calls to Barack are either not paying attention or shamelessly projecting their own guilty consciences onto West.

As soon as Sanders laid down his arms and endorsed Clinton, West was already on the trail for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, telling Bill Maher that “the Clinton train — Wall Street, security, surveillance, militarism — that’s not going in the same direction I’m going . . . she’s a neoliberal.” And while many criticisms of the Green Party’s electoral myopia are warranted, it’s impossible not to respect West’s drawing a line in the sand against the Democrats — a party he sees as irredeemable. If his break with Obama made him “sad and bitter,” one can only wonder what his elite critics think of him now.

The truth is that Cornel West is being punished for choosing a genuine commitment to a more egalitarian society over the faux radicalism (and career opportunities) of the DNC and MSNBC black intelligentsia. On an appearance on late-night television a couple years ago, David Letterman pitched him a softball question on the overall improvement in “race relations.” Instead, West chastised Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for their inaction on police violence: “It’s a question of what kind of persons do you have, not just black faces.” After Letterman pointed out how at least things had improved for the LGBT population, West countered: “The system is still structured in such a way that one percent of the population owns 43 percent of the wealth, you end up with an embrace of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, especially upper–middle class and above, but the gay poor, the lesbian poor, they’re still catching hell . . . It’s not just black. It’s white. It’s brown. It’s the structure of a system . . . it’s worse [than ever].”"



"Because for the first time in years, it seemed like something really was happening. And the man on stage was the perfect one to give voice to that excitement, to that first hint of a lifelong passion and commitment. I remember looking around the auditorium: the young, this new generation who would soon file out in Occupy and, a few years later, join the Sanders campaign, were hanging on his every word as they listened to West define what it meant to be radical, what it meant to be on the Left. “That means we cut radically against the grain of the last forty years, especially in the American empire, where we have been told lies. Unfettered markets generating self-sufficiency, prosperity, and justice is a lie!. . . Wall Street oligarchs and the corporate elites are sucking so much of the blood of American democracy in such a way that more and more people are just useless, superfluous. And they don’t care! They think that they can get away with it because there’s been no resistance of large scale! And they think in the end, the chickens don’t come home to roost, that you don’t reap what you sow . . . we simply say at Left Forum,” and here he backed away from the mic, lowered his voice and smiled, “We stand for the truth.” People were on their feet, exploding in applause.While West’s reputation has suffered greatly among liberals, it has never been better among socialists. And while still marginal, after the Sanders challenge to the entire liberal class, ours is a corner with some confidence now. West is a longtime member of the Democratic Socialists of America and his reputation for generosity among younger members is unparalleled. He seemingly has time for everyone. Especially those who offer him nothing in career opportunities or elite respectability."
cornelwest  politics  race  2016  hillaryclinton  berniesanders  connorkilpatrick  democrats  michaelericdyson  joanwalsh  jonathancapehart  jillstein  adolphreed  blacklivesmatter  us  socialjustice  inequality  socialdemocracy  economics  barackobama  bobavakian  elitism  elites  aphiliprandolph  martinlutherkingjr  johnpdavis  bayardrustin  lestergranger  socialism  lumpenbourgeoisie  democraticparty  bourgeoisie  egalitarianism  radicalism  racism  racerelations  radicalization  occupywallstreet  ows  capitalism  statusquo  mlk 
november 2016 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read