Sunday, March 20, 2011

Black Public Thinking: The Case of Ta-Nehisi Coates

The in-process and communal exchanges that take place on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog lead me to view the site as an important example of black public thinking.

Coates and his expansive group of commenters regularly referred to as "the Golden Horde" hardly focus on just race. However, the sustained conversations about black people, ideas, and culture on the site as well as the critiques of anti-black racism are definitely distinguishing features of the blog.

[Related: Black Writing & Community--TNC and the Golden Horde]

To the extent that Coates shares his writings about black topics on The Atlantic, this highly visible and long-established platform, we could easily view him in the tradition of the black public intellectual. Perhaps?

But, Coates has a background in journalism. By contrast, the more popular black public intellectuals such as Cornel West, bell hooks, Michael Eric Dyson, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., are typically employed by academic institutions.

Following Coates’s blog, it's possible to regularly observe him in the process of thinking on subjects in a way that is uncommon for the more widely known intellectuals whose careers are based largely on books and speeches. We usually observe their thoughts after they have made up their minds on a subject.

[Related: 10 Reasons to attend upcoming Coates's Presentation at SIUE.]

It's worth noting of course that bell hooks's conversational writing style helped make her the most widely read and beloved black feminist writer. But even hooks's audiences gained access to her primarily through books.

Coates’s frequent and in-process postings, not to mention his active engagements with commenters on his blog, lead me to view his blog as a site to witness a black person thinking and not just a black intellectual.

The function and operation of blogs or new technologies and media in general and the high-profile of The Atlantic are what get me to highlight the notion of public when discussing TNC’s display of thinking.

[Related: TNC the blogger vs. TNC the memoirst]

Referring to what’s happening on Coates’s site as black public thinking also allows for an expansion or reconsideration of the popular concept of “black public intellectuals.” It’s one thing to focus on popular intellectuals. It’s something else to focus on processes of thinking.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy Mr. Coates' postings on The Atlantic...however, is it the transparency of the 'process' of blog writing that your're mostly enamored by? Im not actually seeing Mr.Coates' postings as unique in that sense, if this is the case. Lastly, the idea of wrestling with how 'black intellectuals' move from conceptualization to operationalizing with books being the end product, is important in gaining further interpretation of the authors' web of thoughts. Just my thoughts....

H. Rambsy said...

The transparency is part of it. I think my interest with his work also relates to the topics covered and the engagements with Coates and his audience. The topics, especially the conversations related to race, broadly conceived, and the investments that the audience have in the topic are fascinating.