You might have heard that the culmination of the glorious European Master’s degree is christened by the loveliest paper: a thesis. Although I must say that my 20k word requirement was assisted by a relatively easy choice for my thesis advisor. Before starting my course, I spoke with my course director about my research interests. I have to admit that I was nervous whether an interest in social movements, specifically, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement could be appeased in Dublin. After a few minutes, my worries were easily subsided when my jovial professor’s sarcasm surfaced: “Yeah, Donovan. I have never heard of BLM as a sociologist.”
But, what seemed to begin as an above average academic relationship quickly blossomed into more of a friendship. In December, my fingers only typed half the speed of which I could read (#frustrating). 10k words stood between me and the prestigious “Waffle House” franchise back home in South Carolina. Paper topics made things tolerable. For example, I explored the ambivalence of the Israeli/Palestinian debate, the dream of post-racialism, and the pervasiveness of civil society. Rough drafts seemed sufficient as I boarded the plane for the holidays.
However, editing my papers was sidestepped by the most fascinating black ideological debate of this decade: Tai-Nehisi Coates v Dr. Cornel West. Of course, I confess my description of this disagreement might be mildly dramatic. But for the 5% of Americans not being distracted by the media monopoly of our President, it might as well have been the heavyweight championship.
A long story short, in an unprovoked media interview, West criticized Coates for being an overly-celebrated, neo-liberal whose coverage of the black struggle has significant blind spots including the expanding spectrum of sexuality, the proliferation of surveillance, and the stagnation of the poor black plight. Coates responded with a point-by-point rebuttal via Twitter in which he cited and referenced his previous writings. The strength of his counterarguments was unfortunately thwarted by his admittance that he failed to cover topics where he lacked expertise. Overwhelmed by the incited disagreement over social media, he decisively deleted his Twitter account saying, “This is not what he signed up for.”
I am rambling about the details of this somewhat catty disagreement because Coates is a writer whose wordsmith talent inspired me, among other things, to apply for the Mitchell. I remember being 21 when I read his infamous “The Case for Reparations” in which he traced the unfortunate organs of slavery’s subjugation to the “newfound” parallel within our criminal justice system. He essentially argues that African-American reparations never ceased after the end of the almost foreign Jim Crow era; more so, not even the principal has been paid. His resistance was raw, but it was wrapped in a style that not even the political far right could unfairly critique. He helped me fall back in love with writing again, specifically on issues concerning my community.
I told my thesis advisor of my Coates admiration before classes started. He shared a similar sentiment. And this was only compounded when he emailed me over Christmas break to share in my fan freak out of the disagreement. It meant a lot to me. It meant that he listened. It meant he valued my opinion. It meant that this academic relationship had friendship undertones. It made me feel special, understood, and celebrated. Thanks for the personal touch, Trinity. In this new year, I feel less international and more Irish – if that’s possible.