On the Cornel West – Ta-Nehisi Coates Brouhaha

James and John are joined by our official Fanon correspondent M. Shadee Malaklou for an impromptu, lo-fi episode delving into the ongoing dustup between Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates. We puzzle through both the substance of their ongoing arguments and what is attending the spectacle of it all on social media. In the process we think about neoliberalism and form, Fanonian psychoanalysis, the white masculinist gaze, black feminism, academic boundary politics, Afropessimism, and racialized phallocentrism. Join us as we explore who’s being petty, who’s being neoliberal, and who’s bringing receipts in this brouhaha (bro-haha?).

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Links to media we discussed on the show:

Image: Cornel West

Used under CC BY-SA 4.0 license; image by DarrellNance


Image: Ta-Nehisi Coates

from Flickr, used under CC BY-ND 2.0 license; image by Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy



7 thoughts on “On the Cornel West – Ta-Nehisi Coates Brouhaha

  1. Frequent listener and as often is the case, I enjoyed the C.West/T. Coates conversation. However, I found some of the “uncle tom” language thrown around to be unnecessary and generative of an uneasy affectual dynamic for me, particularly by (as I understand it, perhaps I misheard) a non-black person of color using the term against someone who remains an important thinker in tradition of Black political thought, even if this thing with Coates is not very productive of good. I think a critical theory consideration that critiques the cruder points of the west/coates polemics and uglier, less substantive aspects of their conversation could better avoid the reproduction of similar discursive operations. Perhaps I am over responding or have an incorrect understanding of the context/user and it hardly seems to be the end of the world, but it also hardly seems to move closer to “the end of the world.”

  2. Dear Jordan,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right, and I need to be more careful with this language. While there is (I believe) no ethical relationship *anyone* who is not black (myself included, or especially) can have to black study, we/I can and should do better. The better phrase for what I was trying to articulate, but which I couldn’t think of in the moment, is that there’s a certain minstrelsy to what West is doing, but perhaps that term is equally problematic. Can there be a way for nonblack scholars of black study to wage critiques about the performativity of blackness for a white gaze without reproducing its violence? I’m not sure there can be, but again, that’s no reason not to do better, and for that reason, I am especially grateful to you for your feedback. Please keep listening, and please keep providing invaluable critiques like this one.

    M. Shadee Malaklou

  3. Thanks for the response! Yes, I agree it can be really slippery, and I inquire about this not to pick at language or pull some gotcha politics of semantic/shaming stuff, but because I have trouble ( as not only non-black, but a white grad student who deals in CRT) with these types of problematics myself. I think your line here- “Can there be a way for nonblack scholars of black study to wage critiques about the performativity of blackness for a white gaze without reproducing its violence?” is especially elegant in articulating an important facet of this, and I’m with you- I don’t think we have many “pure” resources(epistemological and otherwise) or that a clean, neat, and unproblematic analytic form is possible. Certainly I did and do understand what your critique of West is, and so again it is just something in that phrase that strikes an uneasy chord for me, and I live in an area of the country(as elsewhere) where this term specifically has been frequently weaponized in service of white supremacy. Anyway, thank you for an honest and thoughtful response devoid of defensiveness and for not marshaling your considerable intellect to prevaricate or throw some sophist or arborescent stuff back at me(as sometimes can be the case).

    Ps. Maybe you all have done this (always)already and I missed it, but if not already in existence, I would love at some point to hear an episode on/including Sylvia Wynter. Just a thought, not a directive and thank you all for all the nice discussions.


      1. Well, I am not quite yet up on all of her work( I only was pointed toward her in say the last 2-3 years and only by way of Wehiliye’s Habeas Viscus) but there are 2 I have great interest- the ” unsettling the coloniality of being/power/truth/freedom” work that is well known but does offer quite a bit. “No humans involved” also presents a good option as well and one( well really both) that definitely seems to be up y’all’s alley. Thanks for considering my suggestion- either way looking forward to future episodes!

  4. to equate TNCs mode of public self-education with neo-liberalism is bizarre, West fears that people will come to share TNC’s depressing realism but he offers no viable alternative just the same old same old “blues man in the life of the mind, and a jazz man in the world of ideas” over and over, fortunately for us Eddie Glaude picked up where his mentor left off and wrote In a Shade of Blue.

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