"The Marxist model privileges the activity of Black intellectuals and promotes their prophetic role. As Harold Cruse has noted, such privileging is highly circumscribed and rarely accents the theoretical dimension of Black intellectual activity. In short, the Marxist privileging of Black intellectuals often reeks of condescension that confines Black prophetic roles to spokespersons and organizers; only rarely are they allowed to function as creative thinkers who warrant serious critical attention. It is no accident that the relatively large numbers of Black intellectuals attracted to Marxism over the past sixty years have yet to produce a major Black Marxist theoretician."
Cornel West (via wretchedoftheearth)
"For Black intellectuals, the bourgeois model of intellectual activity is problematic. On the one hand, the racist heritage-aspects of the exclusionary and repressive effects of white academic institutions and humanistic scholarship-puts Black intellectuals on the defensive: There is always the need to assert and defend the humanity of Black people, including their ability and capacity to reason logically, think coherently and write lucidly. The weight of this inescapable burden for Black students in the white academy has often determined the content and character of Black intellectual activity."
Cornel West (via wretchedoftheearth)
Tavis Smiley, Cornel West, and Bill O’Reilly sit down to have a debate about poverty, racism, and Occupy Wall Street. It goes about as well as you would expect.
***Edit*** Since Tumblr and Fox don’t want to play along, here’s a link: http://video.foxnews.com/v/1213405833001/oreilly-vs-smiley-and-west/
“Knock it off with the ‘black’ business, will ya?” - O’Reilly, The O’Reilly Factor, October 11, 2011
“[Wall Street bankers] didn’t violate any laws.” - Ibid.
Question: Why are we no longer concerned with the working class?
Cornel West: I think one was, there was an idolizing of unfettered markets. And much if not most of the intelligentsia were duped. I recall traveling with my dear brother Michael Harrington and talking with brother Stanley Aronowitz years ago. And you know, here we’re engaged in critiques of unfettered markets, and it looked as if we were medieval thinkers. Everybody was saying, we’re followers of Milton Friedman. Everybody was saying Frederick Hayak got it right. Everybody was saying marketize, commercialize, commodify, and we were still reading Lukasch. And Lukasch was saying commodification is not simply an asymmetric relation of power, of bosses vis-à-vis workers, so workers are being more and more marginalized. Profits are being produced, wealth is being produced, hemorrhaged at the top, no fair distribution of that wealth or profit for workers. Poor are being demonized because they are viewed as those persons who are irresponsible, who will not work, who are always looking for welfare; i.e., failures in the society of success. And we reached a brink, and the chickens came home to roost. And a few years ago the unfettered markets led us off and over the brink.
And all of a sudden, very few intellectuals want to be honest and acknowledge the greed with which they were duped. Don’t want to talk about the inequality that went along with it. Don’t want to talk about the demonization of the poor that went along with it. Don’t want to talk about the politics of fear that produced a Republican Party that was more and more lily-white, using not just race but also demonizing gay brothers and lesbian sisters, you see. Don’t want to talk about the indifference toward the poor, and greed being good and desirable and so forth. Now is a very different moment, and it’s not, you know, just about pointing fingers, but saying somebody’s got to take responsibility. This was a nearly 40-year run. Who paid the cost? As is usually the case, you know, poor working people paid the cost, disproportionately black and brown and red, you see.
Question: Is this changing in the age of Obama?
Cornel West: So in the age of Obama, we say, okay, can we have a different kind of discussion? And that’s what we’re trying to do, but of course you’ve got two wars going on; you’ve got still Wall Street in the driver’s seat in the Obama administration when it comes to the economic team, you see. And you’ve got very — you know, I think in some ways unimaginative thinking when it comes to foreign policy, be it the Middle East or be it European Union or be it Latin America, you know, calling Chavez a dictator; the man’s been elected! If he’s calling into question rights and liberties, criticize him as a democratic president. We did the same thing for Bush. Bush was calling into question rights and liberties; we didn’t call him a dictator. We said he’s a democratically elected president who’s doing the wrong thing. Chavez ought to be criticized. He’s not a dictator; the man’s been elected.
But it’s that kind of demonizing that obscures and obfuscates the kind of issues that are necessary, because Chavez is also talking about poor people. So of course I want libertarian and democratic sides. I want right and liberties and empowerment of poor people. But talking about poor people is not a joke; it’s crucial, it’s part and parcel of the future of any serious democratic project. The fundamental question of any democracy is, what is the relation between public interest and the most vulnerable? That’s the question, you see. That is the question. The test of your rule of law is going to be, how are the most vulnerable being treated? It’s not whether the torturers are getting off; we know the torturers don’t have the rule of law applied to them. The wiretappers, they’re getting off scot-free. What about Jamal with the crack bag? Take him to jail for seven years. Oh — so you’ve got a different rule of law when it comes to Jamal on the corner versus your torturers and your wiretappers? Torture is a crime against humanity; it’s not just illegal. Wiretapping is illegal, you see. Now, it’s not a crime against humanity, because I mean, I’m sure I’ve had my phone tapped for years. I don’t think they committed a crime against humanity; they just ought to quit doing it God dangit.
Question: How can we strengthen the demos?
Cornel West: Well, you — I think you keep in mind — I mean, the demos is always a heterogeneous, diverse — got a lot of xenophobic elements among the demos — a lot of ignorance, a lot of parochialism. You also have a lot of cosmopolitanism, a lot of globalism, a lot of courage, moral courage. So the demos is not one thing. But when it comes to the ability of the demos to organize, mobilize and bring power and pressure to bear, we certainly are in a crisis; our system is broken. We’ve got seventy one percent of the people who want universal health care, and you can barely get through a reform bill with a weak public option. It’s clear lobbyists from the top, pharmaceutical companies, drug companies have tremendous influence, much more than the demos from below, you see. So that those preferences don’t get translated easily because our politicians are beholden to that big money and that big influence. But I mean the demos is still around, thank God. You’ve got your own institution. Dialog — dialog is the lifeblood of a democracy. You’ve got to allow ideas to flow. You have to expose people to different visions, alternative arguments and so on, to try to keep the torch of the progressive demos alive. But it’s very difficult to organize it. Complacency is deep; apathy is deep; people are wondering how can you confront, you know, big finance, big government tied to big finance, when all you’ve got is these little people, who are willing to talk and so forth, but have tremendous power bringing serious pressure to bear. We can march; you know, we marched against the war by the millions. We were ignored by the Bush administration. Some of us went to jail. We were ignored; we couldn’t translate into foreign policy. That happens sometimes. It was different in Vietnam.
- Dr. Cornel West
"I love my brother Barack Obama, but he is the head of a democratic party that I often find to be milquetoast and spineless."
Dr. Cornel West (via lack-of-diplomacy)
Why is the Martin Luther King Memorial White?
It’s funny. It’s ironic. It’s insulting. Yet so predictable. It’s been called terrible for an artistic basis and for economic reasons. And yet it confirms why our culture continues to struggle with the message of Dr. King.
The King memorial was dedicated two months ago, but I’m just getting around to writing about it. Not like anything has changed in two months, because if the memorial shows anything, it is how things stay the same. I just wanted to weigh in with some thoughts on it.
First the facts of this cultural artifact. The memorial took years to build and was made by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin. 120 million dollars were spent on the project, money raised from philanthropist and corporate donors. The four acre park, the 395th national park in the U.S. The rock edifice has a chunk taken out with a carving of Dr. King with a scroll emerging from the rock. Quotes from Dr. King dot the ridge of rock around the park. On the King representation, it reads, “From the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” taken from his most famous speech, the 1963 “I Have Dream” speech.
This is terrible art. King has this aura of authority, dignity, a kind of solemn gravitas that gathers around historical figures, framing them with a lens of tradition and guilt. It starts to become an ancestral guilt totem, looking down on us with shameful solemnity. It’s like the feel of the Lincoln Memorial. I don’t feel uplifted by this, just really small and disappointed about where civil rights is today.
Marcuse wrote in The Aesthetic Dimension that there is a difference between propaganda and art. Propaganda reassures the political narratives of the established power. Art arises from desire, and as such, carries revolutionary consequences against the forces of erotic suppression. Now compare this image of Dr. King with some of the images of Dr. King that emerge from local urban artists. Art on murals and walls in Atlanta, Memphis and Houston and elsewhere from Watts to Harlem. When I lived in Houston, there were public arts projects in the wards like Project Row Houses, that gave voice to the community and showed the cultural heroes of the African American community. This is art. It is encouraging, and located in a place that needs the heart of the gospel and radical loving transformation.
This is yet another attempt by the government to turn Dr. King into Santa Claus. Progressives have been asking the last few years if King would even be invited to MLK day celebrations. That the message is already watered down with ideology, misinformation and dogmatic ossification. The system that King fought against, the banalization by late capitalism, and a government that needs continual war to justify itself is a corrupt society. King is remembered as a fat jolly black man, like the genre typecasting of so-called “magical negroes” a la Bagger Vance. He comes bearing gifts and glad tidings, and we perceive that his dream is that gift, and we think that gift has something to do with racial equality. This is a version of King that even the right in this country, and the Dixiecrats who joined them, ostensibly agree with (if even on a very superficial level).
But King’s message is far deeper than racial equality. Racial equality is much easier to fake than the roots behind racism – the fundamental economic inequality in our society. The message is this; King was not killed for his stance on racial equality. He was killed for calling for a reckoning with the plutocrats, oligarchs, and the military industrial complex that really run this country from Wall Street and the Pentagon. (This is true today - you can say whatever you want to about race - but do not challenge the economic status quo - that is taboo!) King was killed in Memphis one year to the day after his much-neglected “Beyond Vietnam” Riverside Church speech in New York. There he called out the government on Vietnam, calling it “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” King was a social democrat ready to expand the dream to challenging the issues behind racism – the fundamental inequality of power. It was a move that alienated him from his closest supporters. He died quite unpopular in the eyes of the public - a fact conveniently forgotten.
In making the memorial white we have the definitive statement of the establishment – to whitewash difference and banalize opposition. It needs to take all opposition to itself and turn its message into a dogma that will completely cover the original intent. And it hopes no one will notice the changeover. It takes society’s threatening radical elements and claims them for itself. And if we accept this, and do not cry foul, we all lose.
What would the street artists do to the memorial? This is the question that nags at me and provokes my fantasy. To give the memorial as it is a real artistic quality, I would suggest writing an open letter to Banksy to invite him to do what he wants with it. In fact, it would begin to make it real art. Maybe he can paint it black. Really black. Like Onyx. A deep black that you get lost in. One that perplexes us. One that continues to shake us. A black like the blackness of the Vietnam memorial (which is the only real art the government has produced). I don’t think people come away from the King memorial shaken. You have to go to the Memphis Civil Rights Museum to feel that. You feel those dogs barking and the water hoses. (Or, here is an idea, maybe the Occupy movement can try to occupy the MLK memorial and start some collective graffiti.)
The idea is to celebrate the difference, not to boil everything down to the world of white bureaucratic males in grey suits. In its blackness resides the boiling potential for change in this country. I think there is hope in difference, not sameness. And this is the struggle - it is a fundamental struggle about power.
Frantz Fanon wrote in Black Skin, White Masks, “What does a man want? What does a black man want? At the risk of arousing the resentment of my colored brothers, I will say that the black is not a man. There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinary sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born” (8). What does this mean? That blackness needs to have its own power and its own way. And it does not mean being Sammy Sosa.
It is not trying to make everything white and male that is the revolutionary move. It is the celebration of difference, it is the creative, poetic, even mythic sensibility when one is able to discern his or her own identity, culture, and ontology, that is the radical move (Paget Henry, Caliban’s Reason). And it is a move that provides a real opposition. Is there any resistance left? How can we find a new form of upheaval? These are the questions that will stick in your throat and make you sick. But I think it’s a positive kind of sickness. A kind of nausea that King had, that Malcolm had. That Fanon had. Marcus Garvey. The Panthers.
So while President Obama was dedicating the King Memorial, Cornel West was marching on the Supreme Court across the mall to protest the Citizens United bill and other court corruptions, (like Clarence Thomas and Justice Scalia at Koch Brother-sponsored meetings – speaking of “activist judges”),to bring attention to the spirit of King. West, Tavis Smiley, and others are yet reminding us of the real message of Martin Luther King taking on corruption against poor and working people of this county. So there is some hope, some undercurrent of authentic feeling, some sort of prophetic measure that still protests with its every fiber.
Cocoa Butter and Vaseline’s photo of the day is of Cornel West.
"Do not confuse charity with justice."
Dr. Cornel West (via zebrazarbez)