Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Twitter is gone once more.
The influential author (most recently of We Were Eight Years in Power, a collection of essays written about the Obama era) has drifted in and out of Twitter over the past few years. His most recent deactivation came on Tuesday. In the wake of an ongoing debate with fellow intellectual Cornel West, Coates wrote “peace, y’all. I’m out” and disappeared once more from the social media platform.
Coates has achieved wide acclaim in recent years for his searing essays and reports about the ongoing effects of white supremacy on the African-American population. In “The Case for Reparations,” for example, Coates uses historical analysis and interviews with older African-American residents of the Chicago neighborhood North Lawndale to show how white supremacy operated in American institutions; real-estate policies like “redlining,” for example, kept American cities segregated and relegated African-Americans to neighborhoods without investment or development, and those policies compounded over decades to create radical racial inequality in this country. As the title of that essay suggests, Coates argues that this institutional racism entitles African-Americans to argue for reparations from the American government. He isn’t specific on what those reparations might look like but has sometimes used the monetary reparations given to Japanese-Americans for World War II-era internment as an example.
West, however, doesn’t find that solution sufficient. In a recent essay for The Guardian, West acknowledged that “Coates rightly highlights the vicious legacy of white supremacy,” but found his solutions to the problem (such as reparations) lacking. Coates also writes positively about President Barack Obama (especially in “My President Was Black,” which like “The Case for Reparations” was originally published in The Atlantic but is also collected in We Were Eight Years in Power), whereas West has been a longtime critic. Unlike Coates, West situates American white supremacy in the greater global context of neoliberalism, a political doctrine which in addition to oppressing vulnerable populations also forecloses the possibility of radical collective action to change things. He writes, “It is clear that his narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes, or black elite indifference to poverty. For example, there is no serious attention to the plight of the most vulnerable in our community, the LGBT people who are disproportionately affected by violence, poverty, neglect and disrespect.”
Coates reputed West in a now-deleted Twitter thread, but for now, this debate has taken its leave of Twitter.