Come to think of it, Georgetown professor and MSNBC personality Michael Eric Dyson had a point several months back in The New Republic. Today, Cornel West has proven it. On Facebook, West rips Ta-Nehisi Coates—one of the most talented thinkers on race writing for a national audience (The Atlantic) —for what he calls Coates “fear-driven self-absorption” and “political silences” on Ferguson and other black political urgencies in his new book, Between the World and Me. For “literary genius” Toni Morrison to anoint Coates the literary heir to James Baldwin is an error of taste and judgment, writes West. Coates is, finally, a “clever wordsmith with a journalistic talent” while Baldwin was a political voice in the wilderness, bravely fighting off the predation of American racism with uncommon literary panache.
Dyson told us West was eating his friends alive, which all began during the Obama administration. That intellectuals—black and white—are generally unreliable friends is a well-established fact of intellectual history: Langston Hughes vs. Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright vs. James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison vs. Albert Murray. Cornel West vs. Michael Eric Dyson. West, though, has taken it to a whole new level and has shown a bizarre tendency to devour young intellectual cubs who are vaunted by the liberal establishment into the limelight as he was during the 1990s. Here’s the reason: West’s creativity has taken a hit; sadly, he cannot write the kind of illuminating essays that made Race Matters an important intellectual statement of black complexity, history, and reality of the 1990s. Ta-Nehisi Coates has performed a similar feat and West sees his long twilight ever more clearly. It is a sad day in the black republic of letters.