Michael Hicks just recently dropped by. He's one of the folks who has known me online for at least a decade. As I was dealing with Uptown Steve's one liner on blackfolks and economics, it came to mind that I should switch up a bit and see what he or others might consider to be thoughtful ideas from blacks to blacks. IE books. And so when I started to deal with his response to my critique about black left academics I wanted to go straight to Cornel West.
West was, most notably, one of those dude who had a sophisticated excuse for blackfolks that seemed perfectly plausible to me back in the day. I know a lot more about West and the Left now than I did then but basically his deal, that I accepted went a little something like this:
Q. If blackfolks are poor and their material conditions in America are under par, why don't they just do what other people do? That is to say what is wrong with black people using enlightened self interest and work the system of America like everybody else? Why must blackfolks resist the class system seeing how it worked for other ethnic minorities?
(this is essentially beating (progressive) West over the head with (conservative) Sowell, who explicitly calls for black Americans to read America and play the game like a player)
I'm going to find my copy of Race Matters and find his exact quote and I don't want to do it any injustice. But what I recall agreeing with is the nut of his answer. Black people don't want to be like other people. They want America to change. They don't want to get any respect from playing the system, they have other existential needs that go beyond material prosperity. In other words blacks play America like millenialist Christians play the world: In it but not of it. America is only real and moral when it works like xxx, xxx being the realized soulful black agenda perfect world blah blah. See? That's why I have to get the quote, because at this distance of 15 years I'm choking on the smell of remembered manure.
But hey, I freely admit that I was smoking West's crackpipe.
(from the archives May 1993)
Subject: BOOK CLUB: Cornel West - 'Race Matters'
Keywords: race economics politics culture relations
I. Nihilism in Black America
II. The Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning
III. The Crisis of Black Leadership
IV. Demystifying the New Black Conservatism
V. Beyond Affirmative Action: Equality and Identity
VI. On Black-Jewish Relations
VII. Black Sexuality: The Taboo Subject
VIII. Malcolm X and Black Rage
Well, y'all don't have to listen to me any more. All you have to do is go out and buy this book, and other than the discussion of the practical politics, strategies and tactics of black cultural production and political activism in computer mediated fora, I will be completely redundant. It is the sad truth that 80% of the time West speaks my mind better than I do. I don't know how I forgot to put 'culture' in the keyword list. Anyway, each and every chapter is mostly on target with me.
I'm not quite sure what CW was getting at in 7. It seems to be his weakest. bell hooks has got him trumped on that score. Still, throughout this breif book, (105) pages, his concise and well-considered words hit their targets with precision and authority.
It is curious how he deals with those he doesn't agree with. For example, his critique of Thomas Sowell is oblique. One gets the feeling often that Cornel is sometimes detached as he describes the works of current heads on the scene. He is like a gentle giant, scooting them aside to speak, but never in direct confrontation unless to dis somebody who obviously need dissin. I beleive that he seeks to engage all of the minds possible and clarify their shortcomings. It is truly unique to see how he does so without the stridency of those who claim authority in such matters as he is involved. After reading Cornel West, I always take comfort that we needn't worry about folks like Dinesh D'Souza or Professor Bloom, William Bennett, John Silber and George Will, who always seem to take a 'high minded' bias against the progressive thought which seeks to liberate. West is so damned civilized. He thoroughly believes in the public forum, as I do, and sees always the loving possibilities of intellectual work. When I consider the brazen work ethics of Americans desparate for meritocracy in their critiques of Affirmative Action and liberal praxis, I always wonder what kind of world they would have us live in. Someplace the gods of merits and standards march us to Teutonic madness? West's concepts of excellence are life affirming without being sappy or wishful. The discipline he exerts in his thinking is exemplary and even though he is not being extraordinarily provocative in Race Matters, one can clearly see his determination and skill. So when West speaks about 'the politics of conversion' one can actually feel the strong force of hope with confidence that real progress is possible and that work towards progressive ends is a joyful experience. How could we possibly expect that from the others, as intelligent as they may be?
West is wise and being warm he works his wisdom well.
The other guys despise our eyes and cast us into hell.
If we but heed our hearts not greed we'll find in time the words
That West has penned will be our friend while others sound absurd.
Progressive ends my fellow men and women should we all
Pursue with with rigor and with vigor like West and have a ball.
Just so y'all know how to take Cornel, I will reproduce the liner... ---
Despite the increasing climate of racial hatred and violence in America, discussions of race seem to be mired in tradional liberal and conservative rhetoric. Finally Cornel West provides a transformative voice willing to go to the heart of issues and help begin the healing of our nation. Race Matters addresses some of today's most urgent issues for black Americans -- from discrimiation to despair, from leadership to the legacy of Malcolm X. West has the courage to break the taboos of silence in the black community, while always acknowledging the realities of race in America. West, the grandson of a Baptist minister, has fused the love ethic of the African American religious tradition wit the political insights of the Black Panthers. From his fresh perspective on race in America, West is able to untalge even the issues that have been too painful or controversial for others: the new black conservatism, black - Jewish relations and myths about black sexuality.
Philosopher, theologian, and activist, West was described by the New York Times as "a cosmopolitan public intellectual among academic specialists... [West] makes the life of the mind exciting."
Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., called West "our Black Jeremiah," and Harvard Divinity School's Dean Ronald F. Thiemann said West is "the only person on the intellectual scene capable of inheriting the mantle of Reinhold Niebuhr." Racial hierarchy, Cornel West warns, dooms us as a nation to collective paranoia and hysteria -- the unmaking of any democratic order. With love and insight, West's Race Matters will help guide Americans toward a genuine multiracial democracy.
Cornel West is professor of religion and director of Afro-American Studies at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including Prophetic Fragements, and with bell hooks, Breaking Bread.
- Praise for Race Matters
"Few Americans speak about race with Cornel West's clarity, humanity and intellectual rigor. His presence on the scene, plus the knowledge that his best years lie ahead of him, should give hope to all of us who believe that America's racial diversity is our strength."
-- US Senator Bill Bradley
"Cornel West is one of the most authentic, brilliant, prophetic, and healing voices in America today. We ignore his truth in Race Matters at our personal and national peril"
-- Marian Wright Edelman, Childrens' Defense Fund
"RaceMatters confirms Cornel West's stature as the preeminent African-American intellectual of our generation. Yet this book -- easily his most accessible -- is as readable as it is incisive. It's also a brillian reminder that West is one fo the few cultural critics in this country equally engaged with matters spiritual and material. For anyonce concerned about the crisis of contemporary America, Cornel West matters."
-- Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Harvard University
"Unfortunately, race continues ot matter in our nation. For that reason, we are deeply indebted to Cornel West for the piercing analysis he offers in what is destined to be a path breaking work."
-- Johnnetta B. Cole, Spelman College ---