I like Cornel West. I like Ta-Nehisi Coates (BKA “TNC.) I thought West’s remarks about TNC were “sort of” right – TNC’s prose is awe-inspiring, capable of moving one’s soul to fight for justice and critique the myriad privileges and entitlements that make up the historic and modern American experience. He also has the tendency to get wrapped up in the personal, which doesn’t always translate to the contemporary condition, which can make using his work as a compass or vision problematic.
However, I think that is less of an issue with Coates as it is our modern media – race is de jure these days, but within a “Can’t we all just get along” sort of way that fits neatly inside the realm of economic inequality that Coates has written and spoken about extensively, which is why West is sort of wrong about Coates.
The best indication is the coverage Coates’ new book “Between The World and Me” has received in comparison to the coverage of his seminal piece ‘The Case for Reparations’ – while World and Me has received significant acclaim (as well as idiotic derision from the right) – it is safe in the confines of the way we talk about anti-racism more broadly, uncoupled from the damages of unrestrained capitalism, increasing poverty and homelessness, and increasing inequality. Compare this to the Reparations, which effectively points to the need for wealth redistribution, and an allocation of governmental resources and power to correct state sponsored financial pillaging of black communities. While “World and Me” is likely coming to a college reading list near you, can anyone identify a governmental entity that has declared: “You know what? Redlining and denying mortgages to black folks and thus robbing them of wealth necessary to empower them and their communities was some bullshit! We should do something about that!”
As Coates noted during his speech in April at UW-Madison, “Racism is not a disease of the heart but of the pocketbook,” a concept that doesn’t fit neatly into our buzzword heavy (therefore safe for corporate consumption) strategies of tackling racism.
Madison isn’t immune to this conundrum – as words like “engagement,” “equity,” “inclusion,” “diversity” spread over our community, they naturally mean different things to different people, and can be used in different ways to achieve different goals, which can ultimately make them meaningless. I recall local journalist Derrell Connor asking why local publications only come to people of color about “race” issues of the day, and not well any other issue in town. Although issues of housing and employment are relevant and critical to communities of color, the issues as presented by local media are spoken around us instead of by us – which are relevant to the very existence of this site – but also separate issues of class and race into separate silos, thus making them appear to be separate problems, requiring separate solutions.
Thankfully, Madison 365 will be a home and voice for a diverse collection of views, ideas, concepts, questions, concerns, comments, critiques, and random expletives from communities of color, that will recognize, acknowledge, and tackle the interconnect experience that is living in Madison and Dane County.