Is Cornel West Right Or Has He Lost His Mind?
Perhaps the single most influential and most celebrated member of the black intelligentsia, Dr. Cornel West, is under fire for some highly controversial remarks he made concerning President Barack Obama. Here’s what he 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. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother.”
First of all, what so many of us, as well as our African-American leaders forget is that President Obama is the president of the entire country. He was NOT elected President of Black America only. In fact, he didn’t even really begin to gain the support of African-American voters until he had begun to prove himself as a viable candidate due to his popularity among White voters in the early primaries. Name a POTUS (even Bill Clinton, who we claimed as the first Black president based mainly on stereotypical behavior such as smoking marijuana, playing the sax, and sleeping around—a post for another day) who was able to really focus on the types of issues we’re asking our current president to deal with, including a grossly race-biased justice system, the strength of the Black dollar, lack of jobs and education.
We’re asking for preferential treatment amidst some of the worst problems and issues a president has had to face in quite some time. We have an economic recession that is the worst since the Great Depression, many out of jobs, rising gas/oil prices, an ongoing debate over health care, and a struggle to revamp a largely failing education system. If he does what’s best for the country concerning these and other issues, won’t he in turn be doing what’s best for Black America?
Dr. West hasn’t just accused the President of refusing to speak to the issues of African-Americans, he’s accused him of being afraid of us. Of course, to most, this sounds like a personal dig because he hasn’t gotten something he wants—a seat at the table. Most of us realize this type of criticism began to come from Dr. West many years ago because then-candidate Obama did not show up to Tavis Smiley‘s (a close friend of West’s) State of The Black Union conference three or so years ago. This cheapens West’s work and makes him seem extremely immature. West seems to be saying “If he doesn’t consult me, he has not consulted Black America.” Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. No matter how well-educated, well-spoken, or charismatic he is—no one person can speak to the many issues and perspectives which make up our community. To even suggest so sorely undermines Dr. West’s own (perceived) brilliance.
Years ago, I read a book that cited many Black leaders, including West, as having the “Head Negro In Charge” syndrome. I thought the author wrote these things just to create shock value. However, in light of West’s attitude and comments, this may be the proper diagnosis. To answer the question posed in the title, Cornel West hasn’t lost his mind nor is he right. He is simply a black intellectual who sees his influence and importance waning in the wake of Barack Obama’s ascent to the highest office in the land.