Clarifying the Process of Struggle: A Critical Response Lecture to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World And Me”

I was invited to lecture at Pacific Lutheran University on Friday, September 28, 2017, for their inaugural Callista Brown Common Reading Lecture.  My lecture was a critical response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 book Between the World And Me.  In this lecture I unpack what Coates means by the term “struggle” that he mentions on page 97 when he tells his son Samori: “you are called to struggle…because it ensures you an honorable and sane life.”  I talk about what struggle meant to four journalists who owned or co-owned their own presses: Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), Pauline Hopkins (1859-1930), Hubert Harrison (1883-1927), and Marcus Garvey (1887-1940).  I classify journalists in this lecture as either being loyal to industry, as I argue Coates is in his work for The Atlantic, or being loyal to advocacy, as I argue the four previous journalists are in their work.  This industry-advocacy dynamic is at most present in a recent article by Jim Naureckas where he critiques industry journalist Douglas Schoen’s claim that the Democrats need Wall Street monopoly capital.  Naureckas analyses the arguments in ways that most closely resemble the analyses we read of Wells, Hopkins, Harrison, and Garvey.  However Naureckas’s argument falls short of a Garveyite analysis because he is unable to critique the capitalism of Bernie Sanders who, in May 2015 told George Stephanopoulos he would support imperialist Hillary Clinton if he lost the Democratic Party nomination, knowing full well that this monopoly capitalist party would not allow him the nomination.  Sanders’s understanding of socialism is also fundamentally incomplete; he told a Georgetown University audience on 11/19/15 that: “I don’t believe government should own the means of production” even though a government owning the means of production is a central tenet in a socialist economy like Cuba’s. Sanders’s stated utopia of “democratic socialism” is fundamentally, like Schoen’s utopia is a capitalist one that depends on the “good will” of monopoly capitalism.

The same argument Naureckas makes of Schoen can be made of Sanders.  This industry-advocacy dynamic is real.  Wells, Hopkins, Harrison, and Garvey are all advocacy journalists.  Although Ta-Nehisi Coates is an industry journalist, as a result of the Russia-phobia that him and U.S. intelligence agents are peddling, he is still crucially important to read and to understand because he is introducing into the mainstream questions, ideas, and issues that need to be raised and we are better as a society for it.

I hope this lecture will provide all of us with a greater appreciation for the struggle these four journalists endured to tell the truth.

We need to support advocacy journalists of today who are doing the hard work like Margaret Kimberley and Glen Ford of BlackAgendaReport.com, like Yvette Carnell of Breaking Brown, and like Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange.org.

Thanks to Maurice Eckstein and to Angie Hambrick for inviting me to Pacific Lutheran University.  Thanks to the Pacific Lutheran faculty and staff for their warm and gracious invitation, members of whom I specifically acknowledge in this video.  Thanks to Aryn Fine of Pacific Lutheran University for this video.  -RF.

Here is the lecture:

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