That’s All You Can Do, Brother

Last week on CNN.

DON LEMON: I’m not excusing what they did at all, but aren’t these people and even the Ahmaud Arbery, the hate crimes trial, aren’t these people in many ways, in a big way caught up or coopted in a system even now that is refusing to even teach people about race, to talk about race, to call people who try to bring light to it race-baiting? Do you understand what I’m saying? Who don’t want to confront the issue even to bring it to a positive place? Aren’t they caught up by that, they’re victims of that system?

CORNEL WEST: Yeah, in some sense we’re all wrestling with it. But keep in mind the attempt to do away with critical race theory means what? 1619 Project number one “The New York Times” bestseller week after week after week after week. So we can use the various kinds of ways to be narrow to continually broaden, deepen, universalize our vision and our efforts. It’s just we should never, ever get so discouraged that we think all we do is just react to all these vicious acts. No. We are taking off with vision, with power, with courage, with compassion regardless. Now, if we end up — if it ends up that America’s just over and it dissolves and it’s disintegrated because of hatred and the greed completely took over, we can say we went down swinging. We held on with integrity. That’s all you can do, brother.

MLK was a Radical

PC: Underwood Archives/UIG/REX/Shutterstock

By Dr. Cornel West, for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., originally posted in The Guardian

The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. King’s courageous and compassionate example shatters the dominant neoliberal soul-craft of smartness, money and bombs. His grand fight against poverty, militarism, materialism and racism undercuts the superficial lip service and pretentious posturing of so-called progressives as well as the candid contempt and proud prejudices of genuine reactionaries. King was neither perfect nor pure in his prophetic witness – but he was the real thing in sharp contrast to the market-driven semblances and simulacra of our day. Continue reading “MLK was a Radical”

The Moral and the Ethical

CornelFrom Cornel West, in an interview last month with Salon.

Part of [the global struggle for human rights] is realizing that we are in a moment now where people’s conception of community has been degenerated into a conception of constituency. It’s that people’s conception of a cause has been degenerated into a conception of a brand. People’s conception of the public has been degenerated into PR strategies. This creates a spiritually and morally impoverished culture. And so in order to have some notion of human rights that is actually full of content and substance, one has to have some primacy of the moral and the ethical. The calculations cannot be just the Machiavellian. So much of the culture just comes down to strategies and questions such as, “How am I going to make more money? How am I going to get something out of somebody?” Continue reading “The Moral and the Ethical”

We Sat up There Singing “This Little Light of Mine”

Cornel WestAn excerpt from a New York Times interview with Dr. Cornel West.

What is distinctive about our moment is the relative cowardliness of the liberal and neoliberal middle. The right wing in the last 10 to 15 years has simply become more visible, but they don’t constitute the vast majority of the people. What you do have is a neoliberal and liberal center that is so weak and feeble, so cowardly and milquetoast, that they don’t have the enthusiasm or the energy that the right wing has.

You know, when I was in Charlottesville, they looked at me in the eye and I looked at them in the eye. They got their guns, their ammunition, they got their gas masks on, and we sat up there singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Continue reading “We Sat up There Singing “This Little Light of Mine””

A Vision

CornelAn excerpt from The Sun Magazine’s interview with Dr. Cornel West.

Fluidity doesn’t necessarily mean subversion. You can be highly fluid and just come up with creative ways of adjusting to or reproducing the status quo. Fluidity and flexibility are important, but to transform society you need more than that. You need a vision. You need a different way of looking at the world. That’s where the Hebrew prophets and the legacy of Jerusalem come in. The words of Isaiah, Micah, and others authorized an alternative vision of the world. Continue reading “A Vision”

Fortitude: That is What We are Looking For

James ConeMay the eulogies for James Cone continue to rise among us.  This is an excerpt from Cornel West’s tribute at Dr. Cone’s funeral on May 7, 2018.  The entire transcript can be accessed here.  

James Cone was not just an academic theologian. He lived life-or-death. His theology was grounded in the cry of black blood, the wailing of black suffering, the moans and groans of black hurt and black pain, and it was trying to convince us not just to have courage, but fortitude. A Nazi soldier can be courageous and still be a thug; fortitude is courage connected to magnanimity and greatness of character. That is what we are looking for. James Cone served, he sacrificed for the least of these, he tried to hold up the bloodstained banner with a level of spiritual nobility and moral royalty already enacted by Lucy, already enacted by Charlie, already enacted by the best of his church by the time he began to interact with vanilla brothers and sisters. He was misunderstood, he was misconstrued. But just because he was mad and enraged, because he was focusing on the sin, that didn’t make him a hater. He had charitable Christian hatred: he hated the sin, but still tried to love the sinner. And the problem is so easy. Others look at black folk and ask, How come they’re so mad? How come they’re so angry? Well, if your children were treated that way, if your children were going to jail, your children were receiving a decrepit education, you’d be upset. But you don’t expect us to be upset?

A Market-Driven Soulcraft

A recent report from Matthew Albright on Dr. Cornel West’s recent speech at University of Delaware, originally posted at The Delaware News Journal:

America is facing a “Westspiritual blackout” because of its obsession with money and must recommit to “soulcraft,” Cornel West preached to a crowd at the University of Delaware in Newark on Tuesday.

“A society ruled by big money, big banks, big corporations, the commodification of culture, the commercialization of our culture,” he fired off. “How do you talk about integrity in the face of that ubiquitous cupidity?” Continue reading “A Market-Driven Soulcraft”

The Long and Difficult Process

WestDay 23 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.    

Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.

Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.
Excerpts from a recent Democracy Now interview with Dr. Cornel West of Union Theological Seminary:

…by “neoliberal,” what I mean is, when you see a social problem, you financialize, you privatize and militarize. You have mass incarceration on the one hand, privatized schools…and then you militarize, which is to say drop bombs on seven Muslim countries and then wonder why Muslims are upset, or you drop bombs on innocent children with U.S. drones and then wonder why the gangsters, the fascists coming out of the Muslim world, are organizing. And, of course, we’ve got to be anti-fascist across the board. But this is going to be the most trying of times in our lifetime. There’s no doubt about it. And at 63 years old, I am thoroughly fortified for this fight. I’ll tell you that.

… Unfortunately, given the right-wing populist and authoritarian orientation of Trump, he uses that kind of anguish to scapegoat Mexicans, Muslims and others, rather than confront the most powerful. Twenty-one percent of those who voted for Trump do not like him, but they feel as if they had no alternative. And we have to keep in mind, 42 percent of our fellow citizens didn’t go to the polls at all, already given up on the system, you see. And so, the system itself now is in such a chronic crisis. And we said before the election that Trump would be a neo-fascist catastrophe. And it’s very clear from his picks that he’s moving in that direction.

Deodorized Discourse

cornelFrom Dr. Cornel West in Black Prophetic Fire (in conversation with and edited by Christa Buschendorf, 2014):

The central role of mass media, especially a corporate media beholden to the US neoliberal regime, is to keep public discourse narrow and deodorized.  By “narrow” I mean confining the conversation to conservative Republican and neoliberal Democrats who shut out prophetic voices or radical visions.  This fundamental power to define the political terrain and categories attempts to render prophetic voices invisible.  The discourse is deodorized because the issues that prophetic voices highlight, such as mass incarceration, wealth inequality, and war crimes such as imperial drones murdering innocent people, are ignored.   Continue reading “Deodorized Discourse”