All Articles Tagged "black intellectuals"
(Washington Post) — 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.
The other day I was reading a piece by Chris Hedges called “The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic.” In it, Hedges discusses Dr. West—long-time black intellectual, professor of African American Studies and Religion at Princeton University and Councilor of the Matrix—and his overall dissatisfaction, disappointment and disaffection with President Obama.
According to Hedges, West believes that Obama has morphed into a right-leaning centrist, who is “a puppet of big business” at home and promotes “liberal neo-conservatism” overseas. After being misled by what he calls “populist language,” which Obama’s campaigned utilized, West accuses Obama of “betraying the poor, the black and the progressives alike ” and having close alliances with Jewish and white folks.
In the piece, West is quoted as saying, “I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It’s understandable. As a young brother who [grew] 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.”
West continues, “He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want.”
But of course, that’s not how West always felt. During Obama’s historic presidential campaign, West was probably one of Obama’s biggest cheerleaders. But according to Hedges, “no one grasps this tragic descent better than West, who did 65 campaign events for Obama and who believed in the potential for change and was encouraged by the populist rhetoric of the Obama campaign. He now nurses, like many others who placed their faith in Obama, the anguish of the deceived, manipulated and betrayed.”
So how does West go from standing in the middle of a parking lot, singing the praises of Obama over a megaphone at a voter registration drive in Columbus, OH, to labeling Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street Oligarchs” and “a black puppet of corporate plutocrats?” From what I gathered from the article, it’s personal.
West does not offer much regarding specific policies of the Obama administration that he takes issue with. Instead, West speaks intently about his persona beef with Obama, which has been derived from being snubbed one too many times by the Commander-in-Chief. First, West suggests that the president discarded him without even so much as a return phone call while out on the campaign trail. Then he says that the president neglected to provide tickets for him, his mother and his brother to the inauguration, even though the bag man, who carried their luggage, got tickets.
Finally, West recounts a confrontation in which President Obama allegedly brought out his inner-Tupac and “cussed [West] out” after he made some comments that challenged Obama’s progressiveness. “What it said to me on a personal level,” West said, “was that brother Barack Obama had no sense of gratitude, no sense of loyalty, no sense of even courtesy, [no] sense of decency, just to say thank you. Is this the kind of manipulative, Machiavellian orientation we ought to get used to? ”
While I do acknowledge Obama’s duplicity (if true) to govern on the same principles on which he ran, I don’t think he is the one in this situation who is acting out of bad faith.
Like West, I too have made many criticisms of the Obama administration. However, unlike West, my critiques of the president are based on his policy issues—such as the FISA bill that legalizes warrantless wiretapping and granting immunity to telecom firms that engage in criminal activity; the continued retention of the Pentagon’s budget while decreasing spending for social programs; and the new policy that allows investigators to waive Miranda warnings for domestic-terror suspects, even when there is not an “immediate threat, so the FBI has more leeway to question terrorist suspects—and not about whether or not I got a ticket to the big inauguration.
Despite his best efforts to sound objective, West’s thinly veiled criticism of President Obama makes it less about the poor, the black or the progressives, and more about him and his hurt feelings. Not only did he play himself, but it exposes just how dishonest –if not obstructive – his motives are to those of us who are really concerned and have legitimate critiques of the president and his policies.
I don’t say this to take away from anything that West has and will contribute to the discussion in the future. However, my take away from Hedges’ piece was that it was a honest portrayal of how delicate the male ego really is. Hopefully, one day, the two brothers—as we say on the streets—will hug-it-out. But it makes one wonder if Obama had given West that call back or given him front row seats to the inauguration, would West still feel the need to challenge Obama or would he fall in line with the rest of the Obama supporters?
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(The Nation) — Professor Cornel West is President Obama’s silenced, disregarded, disrespected moral conscience, according to Chris Hedges’s recent column, “The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West went Ballistic.” In a self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness, Professor West offers thin criticism of President Obama and stunning insight into the delicate ego of the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted in recent years. West begins with a bit of historical revision. West suggests that the President discarded him without provocation after he offered the Obama for America campaign his loyal service and prayers. But anyone with a casual knowledge of this rift knows it began during the Democratic primary not after the election. It began, not with a puffed up President, but when Cornel West’s “dear brother” Tavis Smiley threw a public tantrum because Senator Obama refused to attend Smiley’s annual State of Black America. Smiley repeatedly suggested that his forum was the necessary black vetting space for the Democratic nominees. He needed to ask Obama and Clinton tough questions so that black America could get the answers it needed. But black America was doing a fine job making up its own mind in the primaries and didn’t need Smiley’s blessing to determine their own electoral preferences.
by Andrea Williams
Viking Press, the publisher of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, predicts that Dr. Manning Marable’s epic account of the life and death of one of America’s most celebrated and vilified activists “will stand as the definitive work on the man and his legacy.” Though only time can prove the validity of that claim, the book’s April 4th release sparked a media firestorm almost immediately. Despite receiving praise from notable African-American intellectuals, including Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson and Henry Louis Gates, the book has also garnered its fair share of critics and others who have eagerly sensationalized parts of the content. We’ve read all 487 pages of the book that took Marable two decades to write, and here shed light on some of the most controversial topics concerning his personal life.
(Boston Globe) — When we think of Latin America, we think of a sprawling quilt of Hispanic cultures sewn in Spain. What we know much less about is the huge African-American population that has been in the region since the Spanish first brought African slaves there. “Upward of 120 million people of African descent live in Latin America today,’’ says Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who, even though he is a scholar of African-American history, says he was staggered by the number when he first learned of it. Gates is the ubiquitous face and voice on PBS of the African-American experience whose previous documentaries have focused on the lives of blacks in Africa and this country. In his new four-part series called “Black in Latin America,’’ which first airs Tuesday on WGBH 2 at 8 p.m., he opens our eyes to the huge, complicated profile of blacks in that region and also provides us the proper context in which we should view American slavery.
It has been said that at the end of the Civil War, Black Americans were a race of people all learning to read. From that very encouraging moment in American history, people of African descent — slaves and descendents of slaves– have been in search of a space to cultivate an intellectual community. Excluded from traditional academia, divergent black thought has always trickled into the mainstream as evidenced by the debates of Washington and Du Bois and the explosive creativity of the Harlem Renaissance. With the advent of social media technology African-Americans have once again taken mainstream culture and flipped it. In 140 characters, liked, tagged, and streamed, black thought leaders are taking to the net for challenge and change in the 21st century.
It is an understatement to say that this nation has not always encouraged black intellect. Slavery, Jim Crow, and modern institutionalized inequality have all placed a wedge between blacks and books — sometimes by law and other times by intimidation. Yet, black Americans have entered academia in sharply increasing numbers since Alexander Lucius Twilight became the first Black college graduate in 1823. Despite common notions of black antiintellectualism and academic failure, the meme is still alive. According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the number of associate’s degrees conferred to blacks rose from 55,314 to 95,702 between 1998 and 2008. In the same period, bachelor’s degrees rose from 98,251 to 152,457, master’s degrees from 30,155 to 65,062, first-professional degrees from 78,598 to 91,309, and doctorates from 46,010 to 63,712.
As blacks gather knowledge they are increasingly looking for ways to share it with a larger audience. There are countless Black educators, artists, activists and professionals on Twitter and Facebook engaging in important political and social conversations. They join an already vibrant community of African-Americans online. An article published in Slate last August, “How Black People Use Twitter”, indicates just how vibrant. Among black users (an estimated 25% of all people who have registered on the site) there’s a tendency for “reciprocal” online connections, with users following each other and engaging in conversations in lieu of broadcasting a message. What they tweet enters the ether and becomes accessible and relevant to people who may not otherwise encounter their voice. In a sense, intellectual discourse is opening up and becoming more concise and immediate.
Take for example, the Twitter account of Princeton Center for African American Studies Professor Imani Perry. From @imaniperry, the professor has messaged everything from her weekend breakfast to a celebration of Esperanza Spalding’s Grammy win. She recently shared,
“The cross burning case was Virginia v. Black (2003) Article [Clarence] Thomas cited: “Crimes w/o Punishment” is on my website www.imaniperry.com,” in reference to work of hers cited in a Supreme Court opinion. Although I have never met Dr. Perry, she and I follow 15 of the same Twitter profiles, people from feminist heroine bell hooks to singer Janelle Monáe. What those individuals tweet goes directly to Perry; what she tweets goes out to 2,818 followers.
Beyond providing a space for black thought, social media serves as an important vehicle for black action. Environmental justice leader and pioneer of green collar job training Majora Carter, maintains a Facebook page where she promotes advocacy on everything from clean water to tougher hate crime legislation.
Institutions are just as eager as individuals to get in on the online conversation. Gerren Gaynor, senior at Morehouse College and managing editor of the student newspaper said, “Twitter and Facebook have become the primary forms of communication for The Maroon Tiger. I think it is more effective for our audience because students are always on the go. It’s the best and most effective way to get information to the masses.” Accordingly, Morehouse’s 86-year-old paper was recently given a wider audience when its site was added to a Huffington Post page for college news and opinions.
The need to connect with like minds and new ideas has always been with us. Online platforms make it easier to achieve this as they make room for scholarship and advocacy too often marginalized and ignored. It’s good news for those who have a stake in analyzing and communicating topics relevant to African-Americans: the community is watching and ready to retweet.
Donovan X. Ramsey is the associate researcher at the Identity Orchestration Research Lab at Morehouse College where he is currently engaged in research regarding the expression of Black male identity in contemporary politics. He has served as a writer for elected officials throughout Georgia and is contributor to several publications. For more of his work, please visit www.dynamicstasis.com or his personal blog, The Perfect Square.