Ta-Nehisi Coates and the State of Black Studies
As a public intellectual articulating a radical critique of American race relations informed by scholarship in the academic field of black studies, Ta-Nehisi Coates has attained a reputation as the foremost popular advocate of African American social and political concerns. In many ways, he has consciously borrowed the stances and rhetorical appeals of figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Richard Wright in order to generate a penetrating discourse of black political investment in the Obama and Trump eras. He has also engaged key concerns of black studies, such as the question of reparations and the theoretical maneuvers of Afro-pessimism. However, he has also been criticized for his support of Barack Obama and what Cornel West has called his “[fetishization] of white supremacy.” By giving very public voice to an understanding of white supremacy’s foundational agency in American sociopolitical life, he has, according to West, placed racial oppression beyond the reach of black, interracial, and internationalist activism, and thus reinforced neoliberal quietism about racial and economic injustice.
This seminar seeks to interrogate Coates’s pertinence for current theoretical, cultural, and political research in black studies. We welcome contributions that, for example, locate Coates’s writings in traditions of African American intellectual work; that (re-)examine Coates’s arguments through theoretical lenses drawn from Moten, Spillers, Wilderson, Sexton, Hartman, and/or others; that address Coates’s biographical writings in the context of the history of African American life-writing; that think Coates’s political stances within and/or against the history of African American radicalism, the black radical tradition, neo-liberalism, or other discourses; that interrogate intersectional class, gender, and/or sexual dimensions of Coates’s work on race; or that consider Coates’s work on race relations in dialogue with other fields of ethnic studies.