Tom Blumer reported earlier for us that Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic anointed MSNBC host Melissa Harris- Perry as “America’s Foremost Public Intellectual.” If you think that’s funny, see what happened next.
Politico media reporter Dylan Byers claimed on Twitter that Coates had compromised his “intellectual cred” and listed other (whiter) leftist intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Paul Krugman, and Jeffrey Sachs. This led Coates to a bitter reply locating Byers inside “a machinery of racism” that apparently doesn’t recognize any intellectuals that are black:
This was caricature—a pose not wholly unfamiliar to Byers—and it was greeted with all the mockery which #blacktwitter so often musters. But black people—and #blacktwitter—mostly laugh to keep from crying...
I believe Harris-Perry to be among the sharpest interlocutors of this historic era—the era of the first black president—and none of those interlocutors communicate to a larger public, and in a more original way, than Harris-Perry.
Now Melissa Harris-Perry neither needs (nor likely much cares about) my endorsement. Regrettably, there's no cash attached to the "TNC Public Intellectual Prize." Moreover, other people will make other cases. What sets Byers apart is the idea that considering Harris-Perry an intellectual is somehow evidence of inferior thinking.
I came up in a time when white intellectuals were forever making breathless pronouncements about their world, about my world, and about the world itself. My life was delineated lists like "Geniuses of Western Music" written by people who evidently believed Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin did not exist. That tradition continues. Dylan Byers knows nothing of your work, and therefore your work must not exist.
Here is the machinery of racism—the privilege of being oblivious to questions, of never having to grapple with the everywhere; the right of false naming; the right to claim that the lakes, trees, and mountains of our world do not exist; the right to insult our intelligence with your ignorance. The machinery of racism requires no bigotry from Dylan Byers. It merely requires that Dylan Byers sit still.
So now MHP is the Aretha Franklin of cable TV opinion-slingers? Or is she an impressive mountain of the world? Coates left out this other (re)tweet from Byers on her "greatness" if not her number-one-with-a-bullet status:
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) January 7, 2014