Cornel West’s policy critiques of this President should not be ignored. While his phrasing and word-smithing may need some work, the issues he discusses mirror my own…and I’m certainly happy he is lending his voice to it. Professor West is not lessening Obama’s blackness. But he is calling into question what a president who is supposed to be more attuned to Black issues is doing (or not doing) for that community. As Wilmer Leon, so eloquently says in this video clip, if AIPAC is a constituency that the President must address (peace with Palestine), and Latino’s are a constituency that must be addressed (immigration & Judge Sotomayor), and Gay issues must be addressed (DADT & DOMA), and if Labor issues can be addressed, and of course the corporations and the financial systems have to be spoken too (TARP under Bush & the bailouts of the banks)….why is it so taboo to critique the President for not dealing with a constituency that voted in the upper 90 percentile for this President?? Are our issues not important enough… This is POLITICS people…
Let me know what you think of this clip:
An enlightened discussion on race. One that doesn’t get enough discussion in the dominant culture. Racism is more implicit than explicit nowadays…but it still has detrimental affects and it needs to be called out.
SN: I don’t believe that Cornel West’s recent critique of the President caled into effect the authenticity of Obama’s Blackness. That part of the critique has been greatly over blown…
To the extent that racism remains a problem in America, it isn’t because, as in the 1960s, there was a segment of the American polity that openly embraced the doctrine of white supremacy. Quite the opposite really, Americans are fully capable of both indulging in blanket generalizations in matters of race while forming relationships with members of the group they hold broad negative beliefs about. There’s nothing particularly new about this sort of cognitive dissonance–Thomas Jefferson may have loved Sally Hemmings but it didn’t stop him from owning slaves.
What this means though, is that it’s really not useful to talk about people being “racist,” in the sense of people being committed to white supremacy, but rather the the lingering cognitive dissonance that allows people to reject racism as an idea while still succumbing to prejudice, particularly in anger. No, the Tea Party is not, and never has been the KKK. But that’s really irrelevant to the question of how racism factors into if not opposition to Obama (since, as Somerby points out, any Dem president would be getting the business), but more importantly, how that opposition manifests.
The extent to which Cain and other black conservatives hold appeal to the GOP remains sadly linked to the degree to which they can exonerate Republicans from charges of racism, particularly when it comes to racially charged attacks on Democrats. Take for example, Cain’s declaration that he’s disliked because Democrats are “are doubly scared that a real black man might run against Barack Obama.” The implication here is that Obama is “not a real black man,” because, well, I have no idea, Cain’s dumb critique wasn’t as well fleshed out as that of Cornel West. But conservatives really like the idea of challenging Obama on matters of racial authenticity. As Matt Lewis wrote, “Cain — unlike President Obama (a point sure to come up if Cain gains traction) — knows what it’s like to drink from a “colored” water fountain.” Of course this really just means Cain is older than Obama but you get the point, you don’t have to be a celebrity professor at Princeton to question whether Obama is “really black.” Does Somerby believe this isn’t racist? – Adam Serwer
I found this interview between Sam Seder and Professor Eddie Glaude so fascinating. If you don’t do anything else please listen to this interview and note the points that Glaude makes about the difference in Cornel West’s personal feelings of deception and his very valid policy critiques of the Obama administration. I also found it worth noting that Sedar makes the case that West’s critiques mirror those of former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich but Reich doesnt get the label of “hater” and how on the right The Tea Party has the room, politically, to hold Republicans accountable to what I would consider harmful policies, but they are allowed to hold their politicians accountable and it seems that type of room is not permitted on the Left by progressives and the poor. Please hear this interview… Click the link below:
This is a very touchy area, one I’ve discussed recently as a guest of Mark Thompson on “Make It Plain,” a progressive radio show on Sirius XM. African-American callers responded by talking about their personal pain over Obama’s economic policies and wanting to push him, yet feeling compelled to defend him as America’s first black president — and not quite knowing how to do both. Every caller made clear that this is a real, visceral problem.
It’s also notable that, as always, class is still the dividing line. The most heated defense of Obama in the black online community seems to come from high-status professionals (or students studying for high-status jobs), people who see him as a peer. The people who called into Mark’s show? They’re living from paycheck to paycheck. That perspective makes a difference.
Sam Seder discussed this today with Eddie Glaude, chair of the the Center for African-American Studies and the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University, and they address West’s statements. (Seder points out several times that West’s remarks sound identical to those made by Robert Reich.)
But see, white people don’t have the same type of emotional connection with a black president as black folks, and on this issue, I come from a place of privilege. I’m disgusted by the right wing racism and call it when I see it, but as a white progressive, I also feel perfectly entitled (key word “entitled”) to criticize Obama’s policies. Obviously, many black Americans don’t, and Professor Glaude pointed out that they should do the same thing we did under George Bush: Organize and push the policy to the left.
Scholar Cornel West’s scathing critique of President Obama’s liberal bona fides in a series of recent interviews has ignited a furious debate among African American bloggers and commentators.
The well-known Princeton professor and author, who has released rap albums and starred in Hollywood films, supported Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign but now calls the president a “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.”
“I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator,” West told Chris Hedges in an interview for the liberal political blog Truthdig.
Focusing on Obama and race, West said: “I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men . . . It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation.”
White House officials declined to respond to West’s remarks, which have sparked a hot conversation this week. And Obama aides have have been content to allow others to take up the president’s defense.
Several commentaries from African American scholars and bloggers have particularly disputed West’s take on Obama and race.
Melissa Harris-Perry, a Princeton professor of African American studies and politics, wrote a column for the Nation calling West’s comment “utter hilarity coming from Cornel West who has spent the bulk of his adulthood living in those deeply rooted, culturally rich, historically important black communities of Cambridge, MA and Princeton, NJ. . . . Harvard and Princeton are not places that are particularly noted for their liberating history for black men.”
Imani Perry (no relation), also a professor at the Princeton Center for African American Studies and a former professor of law at Rutgers, defended West on Twitter this week:
Cornel West opened the space. Period. And in my tradition we respect elders, period. Disagreement can be consistent w/that. And I can’t stand “piling on” attacks. Debate, dialogue, don’t mob!
As a student, Cornel West modeled 4 me, commitments 2 the poor and marginal AND scholarly excellence. Amazing footsteps. Required courage.
West has an impressive body of rigorous brilliant scholarly work that even many academics aren’t aware of. But he always has kept connections with regular folks outside of camera view. That’s really rare.
So…It saddens me that many ppl who attack him (or silently cosign) are the explicit beneficiaries of his advocacy and kindness. He has done so much for so many that folks don’t know about. And never asks anything in return. so, agree, disagree, whatever, but respect. – Susie Madrak
- Attacks on Cornel West Highlight Class Divide Among African Americans (crooksandliars.com)
I’m sorry but I have to say it. Again, from my perspective, the elephant in the room is race. O’Reilly has no outrage with Dylan, Bono, Springsteen, or Cash getting invites to the White House when they have made similar stances, in song, as Common. Which begs the question: Why the (feigned) outrage on Fox? What is it about Common or the current White House that causes this angst when none has existed before? Is the difference based on rap music (a predominately Black art form)? Is it the notion that Blacks with guns are considered menacing in this culture? Is it that police are considered beyond reproach when it comes to the Black community (despite copious evidence of generational police brutality in our community)? Is it that Blacks are not allowed to question the authority of white or American institutions? Is it that Blacks cannot portend to anything that is not relatable to white culture? Is it simply the Black man in the White House occupying that space that is not relatable to some in the white culture? Do we as Blacks have to assimilate into white culture and strip away our culture before we can be accepted fully? I’ll even go as far as to say had Michael Eric Dyson or Jeff Johnson or you or I been allowed on O’Reilly’s show and made the same argument as Stewart, would the argument be taken seriously or would it have been dismissed out of hand? Is our commentary not worthy of consideration? Are we not Americans too? Is our story of continued oppression not American enough?
As Joe Madison (Sirius/XM 128) says atleast 3 times a day, “In America, we are culturally conditioned to believe that (anything) Black is inferior and white is superior. And the manifestation of that cultural conditioning is that blacks are underestimated, undervalued and marginalized.” In every aspect of life. At it’s core, I think this is the essence of racism today. As evidenced by the Common firestorm. And I never even heard the N-word once…
The portion of this piece that really struck me was the notion that the injustice alone is not enough for change. Only in the presence of “white interests” is there room for policy changes. This quote said it all:
“Given this political reality (the political reality being White middle class tax hikes that would be necessary to continue state funded mass incarceration), it is hardly a surprise to read a headline that says, “N.A.A.C.P. Joins With Gingrich in Urging Prison Reform,” rather than the other way around. If there were ever an illustration of Professor Bell’s theory that whites will support racial justice only to the extent that it is in their interests, this would seem to be it.”
Even with my political leanings and racial consciousness, this article focused and expanded the extent of white supremacy, for me ,in this country and, I hate to admit, left me a bit nonplussed, frankly. I always say, “race and racism is everywhere” but this really proves the point. Martin Luther King Jr’s quotes below continue to make the point…
In 1963, in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he chastised white ministers for their indifference to black suffering: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.’ ”
He continued: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Such language would not have tested well in a focus group. Yet it helped to change the course of history.
Those who believe that righteous indignation and protest politics were appropriate in the struggle to end Jim Crow, but that something less will do as we seek to dismantle mass incarceration, fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge. If our nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, we would have to release 4 out of 5 people behind bars. A million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs. Private prison companies would see their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our social, political and economic structures that it is not going to fade away without a major shift in public consciousness. – Michelle Alexander
It’s not enough to be against racism. Without actively pursuing it’s end and offering shared power and responsibility, you are only propagating the negativity that is racism…
- Harlem Riverside Church hosts discussion on “The New Jim Crow” (unprison.com)
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Method to the Madness in Ron Paul’s War Against Civil Rights (huffingtonpost.com)
At the signing of the historic Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965 striking down the discriminatory practices many states had put in place to prohibit Blacks from exercising their right to vote, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield.” Many Americans think of the fight for voting rights as a struggle that was settled once and for all during the Civil Rights Movement in that celebrated “triumph for freedom,” and is now a piece of history. But that’s a dangerous assumption. While the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, language, ethnicity, religion and age, there is still no law that affirmatively guarantees citizens the right to vote. Just as we are experiencing a quiet but systematic rise in school segregation across the country, many people don’t realize that there is once again a quiet but systematic movement that would deny many African Americans and other American citizens the ability to vote with 21st century versions of old exclusionary practices. – Marian Wright Edelman
From my perspective, these are some of the truest words I’ve ever heard. I, for one, will not apologize for conscious, truthful, hard-hitting, soulful Black art…and those that produce it.
This manufactured controversy surrounding Common is just another iteration of right-wing racism where the mirror is positioned in front of the collective face of the majority culture and they refuse to see themselves. They refuse to hear any critique of this country from people of color. The same people that built this country and have been and continue to be oppressed by systems, institutions and people that continue to undervalue, underestimate and marginalize us. They continue to talk about “personal responsibility”, all the while dismissing their own as it relates to race and its continued effects. And they have the power to do so. Racism at its finest.