Blog #49: The Unpragmatic Debate

With some degree of amusement I have been reading the debate between writers, scholars and academics regarding Cornell West’s critique of Ta Nehisi Coates’ analysis of Black life, Obama’s Presidency, and the general struggle. While I am in agreement with the premise of Cornell’s critique, there is a missing element. This missing element not only pertains to the critique, rather it is a broader philosophical and political issue encompassing the entire reality of Black existence and struggle in America.

While Black America is not monolithic in socio-political thought, some claim this diversity in thought and practice is a strength. I firmly unequivocally disagree to the extent division of thought and practice has never served Black folks well. Here is the crux of the West/Coates debate that has yet to be resolved, and won’t be resolved until there is an effort to forge among Black folks unified and uniform determinations in struggle.

Hence, the issue before the academics and Black intelligentsia is the issue of class struggle within the nation-body of Blacks. Failing to establish a critique on class divisions permits the type of internal static divisiveness often to the detriment of the whole nation-body. There is no wonder why (neo)liberals/Black capitalists took one side of the debate, nationalists took another, and progressive/socialists yet another, by which none in totality reached the heart of the problem.

For example, in respect to Obama’s residence in the White House, does anyone disagree that Obama is a Black capitalist-imperialist? He represented the velvet glove of the iron fist, the Black face of U.S. militarism and white supremacy. To deny this premise would be a delusional escape from the reality that America is a white supremacist capitalist-imperialist empire. The placement of a Black person in position to represent the interest of America’s hegemony only served to cast the illusion of Black American inclusion in empire building. While there was a hue and cry lauding the first Black President as a historical event, which it was, there was an overwhelming failure by academics, scholars and the Black intelligentsia to divorce itself from the socio-psychological and emotional significance of Obama’s election with the stark socio-economic and political reality of the system he represented. I admit to having also shed a tear embracing the historic moment, then quickly sobered up to the fact that a Black face in the White House would not significantly alter or change the socio-economic and political reality of Black folks here and abroad. [In fact, I wrote a poem/prose “The Obama-Nation” and for his second term “Obama Mania” expressing my sober concerns]. In this regard, Cornell’s critique of Ta-Nehisi is correct. However, Cornell West’s seemingly scapegoating Coates essentially relieved the entire (neo)liberal Black capitalist class of any consequential ramifications for the continued oppression/repression of Black people under the Obama administration. Ta Nehisi Coates represents the symptom of a larger and more virulent ailment, the failure to engage in class struggle toward national unity (See: We Are Our Own Liberators – Three Phase Theory for National Independence). The ostracizing of Coates should lend to a much broader discussion by writers, academia and scholars on their purpose when the Black body continues to be under racist assault. Is simply talking about these issues in the abstract enough, absent an analysis of the entire exploitative system producing these destructive/genocidal conditions, and an action plan of resistance?

When the Black intelligentsia are divided into (neo)liberal capitalist-imperialist, cultural-nationalist and/or progressive socialist camps, we find the majority of Black folks similarly divided in their personal and collective aspirations. It is just that simple! Thus, we find ourselves in a quandary, whereby white (neo)liberals find themselves in a spasm of delight witnessing how their anointment of Coates has instigated a public Black intellectual paroxysm that only serves to exacerbate divisions and the hardening of disparate camps. We’ve collectively forgotten the admonishment of Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz that our differences should be hashed out behind closed doors, and to emerge to the public as a united front.

If there are to be any lessons learned from the historic debates between Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Martin L. King, Jr., at minimum it should be the above mentioned admonishment. My point is that to inhibit liberals or conservatives of any persuasion to negatively impact Black folks effort to unite, our intelligentsia will need to discern what is ultimately in the best interest of Black folks by engaging in class struggle. That is the task going forward, that is the call to action to the Black intelligentsia – if in fact they hold an unabated love for Black freedom.

We have come to an era in which Dr. King, on April 4, 1967, informed that “A revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth,” from government policy of what Dr. King identified as the “Triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism.” So, I raise the question: are these the times in which the Black intellectual community should focus on and devise the means and methods to prevent the destructive ramifications of the “Triple evils” ? Is it time for the Black intelligentsia to rise to the challenge of forging a “revolutionary value” and morality that seeks to challenge this government, rather than postulating personal critiques absent the organizational or institutional basis to rectify errors in socio-economic and political analyses? If so, then a call needs to be made by the most progressive Black intellectuals to establish a national consensus on political development and policy opposing the plethora of anti-Black conditions confronting Black folks: It is time for the Black intelligentsia to come out of their comfort zones, ivy towers, officious statuses and bridge the manifestation of theory into pragmatic nation-building. Failing to do so is tantamount to intellectual cowardice in the face of white supremacy’s violent resurgence!

About the writer: Jalil Abdul Muntaqim (Anthony Bottom) has been incarcerated 46+ years and is one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. He has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and Certificates in Architectural Drafting and Computer Office Management. He is the author of We Are Our Own Liberators, a compilation of prison writings. Many of his essays have been published in anthologies such as Schooling a Generation, ed. Chinsole (2002); The New Abolitionist (Neo) Slave Narratives and Contemporacy Prisoners’ Writings, ed. Joy James (2005); This Country Must Change, ed. Craig Rosenbraugh (2009). Jalil’s articles have appeared in NYC Amsterdam News and The San Francisco BayView newspapers and many progressive publications. His most recent book, Escaping the Prism … Fade to Black, a compilation of poems and essays with an extensive afterword by Prof. Ward Churchill, published by Kersplebedeb Pub. & Dist. in Canada, can be purchased at, from Barnes & Noble and AK Press. Jalil is the cofounder of the Jericho Amnesty Movement. For more information on Jalil’s NEWKILL conviction and fight for parole, check: