I'm not a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates. I respect the hell out of the man, but a fan? Nah. I understand, however, that many people are and I am okay with this. But me, myself, and I? We are still not a fan. It's nothing personal. I don't know the man nor have I ever seen him in person. He never stole my bike or tried to holler at my girl behind my back. For all intents and purposes, he's probably a stellar human-being who always tips appropriately and do you remember when Common asked if he could borrow a dollar? Maybe he sent him one. Yo no se.
I'm not a fan because I do not enjoy his writing style. At all. Not in the slightest. I find it unnecessarily dense. I also find myself feeling like an ignoramus reading his works at times. And I do not enjoy feeling like an ignoramus. I get annoyed when I know what all of the words mean individually but have trouble comprehending what I'm reading because of the combinations being used. I acknowledge this is my own problem but still. I'm no dummy and my home has many leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany. It's a stylistic thing mainly and I'm okay with that; I'm of the think like a wise man but speak in the voice of the people school of communication. So I get turned off easily by those who limit the amount of people who can access and digest the very truisms that we all need to hear in the first place. To quote Erykah Badu…what good do your words do if they can't understand you?
But like I said, it's not personal. I feel the same way about any number of Black scholars like Michael Eric Dyson and his best friend forever, Cornel West. If you'll remember, Dyson wrote a love letter to West that pretty much said, "Cornel, you fucked up some commas, BACK WHEN YOU WERE RELEVANT." Seemingly out of the blue.
True to form, Mr. West (the Californian, not the Chicagoan) decided to Beyoncé the Black intelligentsia game recently with his own critical analysis of Mr. Coates and his recently released book, Between The World And Me, a book that I'm sure people will tell me I should read to which I'll reply, somberly, "I can't". I won't cut and paste parts of the statement West dropped on Facebook of all places, but you can read it here, in all of its succinct glory.
Part of the reason I don't like Coates is his style. The other is that I'm not a fan of academic writing that seems to be part of a cirlce-jerk of Black writers who write for themselves, other Black academics, and white folks in some language that really only serves academia well. While I also don't get the entire hype behind Malcolm Gladwell (and I own and have read all of his books waiting for that 'greatest book ever' zing to hit me), he writes in a fashion that is accessible and digestible. Coates isn't an academic, he's just a guy whose got a nasty pen game that's made him the subject of sincere adulation and praise. And he deserves it. His essay entitled, The Case for Reparations, which was as impressive as it was long (pause and that's what she said) deserved every bit of kudos it received. It was well researched, contstructed, and premised. It was long as fuck #doe (it's entirely possible that I'm still reading it now and Flex dropped bombs all over that thing in June of 2014) and it definitely took me a long time to get through it. But that's, again, my problem not his.
West, a man who isn't slow, seems to also not be a fan. Which is interesting. It seems like all of the Blackademics of note seem to be sniping one another lately. And Cornel, a man whose star has begun to dim a bit since he started going at President Obama many moons ago, is yelping. I've not read Coates book (Panama slow remember), and honestly, I have no clue if Cornel has either. In fact, he seems mostly miffed by the fact that Toni Morrison (another abstract ass writing ass mofo…like, have you honestly made it through Beloved?) called the book required reading. But it's right there on the cover - I saw the book in person (cue angelic voices) at my local Busboys and Poets yesterday - and it seems like West no likey. For various reasons, but mostly because perhaps there's a new sheriff in town.
And that's what all this educated ass sniping seems to come down to, in my very humble opinion. For a long time, these guys, the Dyson's and the West's were the kings of the hill, sitting on their Ivory towers espousing all of this philosophical Black talk about the condition and the symptoms of it all. Their voices mattered in a way that was respected and awed. But times they are a changin'. Dyson is still oddly popular though it would take a serious intervention for me to understand why. But West, well, his footing seems long gone. And Coates seems like the next man up. The way his essays are spread via social media is impressive. People hit me up ask me if I read that new piece by TNC. People slide in my gchats to say, "I love TNC!"
He even has a dope acronym for a shorthand nickname. Meanwhile, ain't nobody really checkin' for Cornel West anymore. While I thought Dyson's screed was a bit petty - and I'm all for petty - he wasn't actually wrong. Which is why West going at Coates seems so extra petty. Dyson and West have positioned themselves as voices of a generation and worthy of note. TNC…my man is just writing his ass off and forcing himself into the conversation by being an individual whose finger is not only on the pulse, but with enough depth to express it in terms that both young and old people can cling to and appreciate. He's the now, and it's not because he's asking for it, it's because he's good enough that its hard to deny it. I've pointed out that I don't care for him but I respect the hell out of what he's done and written.
Are you listening Cornel?
On a funny sidenote, I had the privilege of speaking at Princeton University a few years ago at a conference about Hip-Hop and Cornel West was there. Blowhard that I think he may be (now…I do respect what has done even if my views of him are less than stellar), you can bet your ass that I noticed when he walked in. You want these guys to pay attention to you, and he did. He told me after I'd eviscerated any number of institutions and rappers that I did Morehouse proud. Dr. Imani Perry was also on a panel with me. I was amongst good company. I wasn't a Cornel West fan then. But you better believe I gave him a copy of our book AND took a picture with him holding it…the book.
All that to say, Cornel needs to chill the fuck out…and I have no shame.