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raceAhead: Ta-Nehisi Coates Quits Twitter

December 19, 2017, 11:22 PM UTC

And then he was gone.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates abruptly deleted his twitter account last night after a debate about his latest work brought out an unusual alliance of critics. “[F]eminists, white supremacists and leftists all in agreement. Wow,” he tweeted.

The catalyst was a sharp critique from Dr. Cornell West, who focused his analysis on Coates’ most recent book “We Were Eight Years In Power,” a collection of mostly previously published Atlantic essays that explored the Obama legacy and the re-emergence of white supremacy as an open, political force.

According to West, Coates has made an unforgivable mistake by focusing on whiteness rather than black response and failing to discuss Wall Street excess, global U.S. military policies, and gender.

In short, Coates fetishizes white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable. What concerns me is his narrative of “defiance.” For Coates, defiance is narrowly aesthetic – a personal commitment to writing with no connection to collective action. It generates crocodile tears of neoliberals who have no intention of sharing power or giving up privilege.

The essay elicited an immediate response, alright, mostly (but not all) in support of Coates. Coates also weighed in on Twitter, politely posting links to his work that refuted West’s point.

This epic Twitter thread by professor and New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb, also weighed in, while calling West out for what appeared to be a personal grievance.

“It’s one thing to challenge and interrogate,” he tweeted. “Quite another to cloak petty rivalry as disinterested analysis. Neoliberal? What part of neoliberalism demands reparations @CornelWest — and places that demand squarely within the history of racist American public policy.”

Cobb’s entire thread is worth your time. “Pray for someone to back you up like Jelani backs up Ta-Nehisi,” sighed black opinion Twitter in unison.

One notable dissenter, however, was white supremacist Richard Spencer, who highlighted the above quote from West’s essay and declared, “He’s not wrong.” Coates retweeted the screenshot of the exchange. “And here we end up. My god,” he wrote, of the irony of a great black intellectual and a white supremacist in agreement. Then, “peace, y’all. I didn’t get in it for this.”

Minutes later, his account was deleted.

Losing Coates’ Twitter voice feels like a blow in these strange times.

He has become an extraordinary presence in American life, an unusually dedicated explorer of difficult subjects and an unconventional intellectual force whose path to prominence has always included deeply personal stories interspersed with references to hip-hop, Dungeons and Dragons, and comic books. He brings no formal academic receipts, which earns him sniffs from the sanctum and cheers from the cheap seats.

Here he is explaining the Civil War to White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly. Here he is patiently explaining why white hip-hop fans shouldn’t use the “n-word,” even if they really love the song. There are more examples, but they’re gone now.

His critics aren’t going to go away so easily. And the battle is bigger than just Coates.

This recent essay by Thomas Chatterton Williams in The New York Times Magazine, also drew a dotted line between Coates and white supremacy, but takes the extra step of including an interview with Spencer himself.

“Though it is not at all morally equivalent, it is nonetheless in sync with the toxic premises of white supremacism. Both sides eagerly reduce people to abstract color categories, all the while feeding off of and legitimizing each other, while those of us searching for gray areas and common ground get devoured twice. Both sides mystify racial identity, interpreting it as something fixed, determinative and almost supernatural.”

Spencer explained “gleefully,” that he believed Coates’ focus on white supremacy to be a unique opportunity. “This is the photographic negative of a white supremacist,” he said to Williams.“This is why I’m actually very confident, because maybe those leftists will be the easiest ones to flip.”

That remains to be seen.

While I will leave the discussion of neoliberalism in the Coates canon to the true intellectuals — I’ll link to those critiques as I find them – I am moved to say one thing definitively.

In this poignant 2008 interview, Coates talked about his first book The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, that covered the devastating crack epidemic in Baltimore, his larger than life Black Panther/Howard University professor father who raised seven children with four mothers, and his own fragile path into (and ultimately out of) Howard University.

The book was, in part, a look-back at his earlier self. “At that point, I had a feeling that I would not do anything that would be equal to what my father and my father’s generation did,” he said. “There would be no great battles. All the great battles had been fought, for better or ill.”

In this, for certain, Coates turns out to be wrong.


On Point

Women are invited to give fewer talks at universitiesAnd it’s not because they’re too busy leaning in elsewhere. Big colloquium events, where research is presented and invaluable contacts are made, tend to be overwhelmingly male-centric. PhD candidate Christine Nittrouer and a team did a survey of 50 top U.S. universities and analyzed the colloquium speakers from the biology, bioengineering, political science, history, psychology, and sociology departments. The tale of the tape: Men gave a whopping 69% of the talks. A further survey of female professors showed that they were willing and able to present. So what gives?The Atlantic

Religious leaders sign an open letter affirming marriage as one man, one woman and disavowing transgender identities
In a painful development for the LGBTQ community, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a new open letter that disavows transgender identities. While saying that gender and sex cannot be separated, and “[t]he movement today to enforce the false idea—that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa—is deeply troubling,” they are also calling for some measure of compassion. “A person’s discomfort with his or her sex, or the desire to be identified as the other sex, is a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth.” But not affirmation, apparently. The letter was signed by other religious leaders, including representatives from the Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox and Muslim faiths.
Think Progress

Sean Combs wants to buy the Carolina Panthers and Colin Kaepernick is here for it
The Carolina franchise is up for sale after owner Jerry Richardson became embroiled in an investigation of workplace misconduct. Music and business mogul Combs raised his hand on Twitter. “There are no majority African American NFL owners. Let’s make history.” His first act? Hire Colin Kaepernick. But the quarterback had his own ideas. “I want in on the ownership group!” he tweeted.

Unhappy with the talent pipeline, employers are creating their own college courses
It’s a real problem. The Manpower Group reports that 40% of employers are having trouble finding workers with the skills they need, some of which are highly technical, but others are workplace readiness. The short-form courses are springing up all over the place. edX, a collaboration started by Harvard and MIT, teaches specific tech skills, along with critical thinking and collaboration. But the trend, capably outlined in this Wired piece, isn’t universally lauded. “A cookie-cutter course is not going to solve the need for creating thinking in the future,” said professor Jonathan Rees, author of the book “Education is Not an App.” It won’t give corporations what they need.“You just have a lot of poorly trained data scientists coming out of universities.”

The Woke Leader

Word to the tech community: You are not the good guys
Much love to our former colleague, Erin Griffith, for this searing indictment of the enduring, clueless optimism of Silicon Valley, and the billionaires who are blithely continuing to talk about changing the world when they have utterly failed to change themselves. As a tech journalist, she’s saying no. “They’re continuing their quest to move fast and break things—regardless of what broken objects are left in their wake,” she writes. The “bad boys” and business swashbucklers seem to be the last to know their bubble has popped. “We’re wary of artificial intelligence and its potential to eliminate jobs. We’re dubious of tech leaders’ promises to make their products safe for their kids to use.” The harassers in hoodies. The broken promises of inclusion. While they may not realize it, 2017 was the year that tech became the world’s villain.

Testing abandoned rape kits yields results and justice
If you want a sense of how horrific the experience of reporting a rape or assault is for women, then consider this tender victory for Wayne County, Michigan’s top prosecutor, Kym Worthy. In 2009, she uncovered a stash of 11,341 untested rape kits, some dating back to 1984. Working with a small team, they began the work of testing, investigating and prosecuting the crimes — all while raising money to continue the effort. To date, they’ve investigated nearly 2,000 cases, won 127 convictions and identified 817 serial rapists. This is all in just one county. “There are estimated to be 400,000 untested rape kits in the country,” Worthy told the Detroit Free Press. And serial rapists are common. “A rapist rapes on average seven to 11 times before they're caught,” she said. “Of our set of 817 ... over 50 of them have 10 to 15 hits apiece.”
Detroit Free Press

Meet the first black ballerina to lead the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker
At 12, Samrawit Saleem is lovely, strong and poised, just as any future diva might be. But the first black lead in the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual production is also a graduate of a special program, which identified promising talent from Seattle’s inner-cities and gave them a chance to train in classical ballet. The DanceChance program started in 1994 and has been largely supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Those who are selected to continue are offered a two-year scholarship for PNB classes, complete with apparel, shoes, tickets to performances and transportation to and from training. Saleem sounds delightful. “Clara is a very joyful person, so when I’m dancing I have to make sure the audience can tell what I’m doing to help [them] understand [the story] better,” she told Sherrell Dorsey, writing for The Stranger. Oh, and she codes, too.
The Stranger


America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us. To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror…a race that travels forever on an upward path.
Richard Spencer