Coming At #BernieSanders From The #CornelWest Angle | #MSM bias on Blog#42

Professor Cornel West is back in the news this week, this time as a bludgeon against the Sanders campaign. What has Dr. West done now, you might ask? Let’s take a tour of social media.

The morning headline in the Boston Globe informs us that “Beyoncé is no Aretha Franklin, says Cornel West” but when one clicks on what, surely is an article, the item turns out to be one paragraph long and contains no actual quote, but a paraphrase taken from a linked speech that leads to the pay-walled Hampshire Gazette. Assuming the writer of this paragraph scanned West’s speech and correctly paraphrased the Beyoncé quote, it’s really difficult to find fault with Dr. West for stating the obvious: Beyoncé isn’t the Queen of Soul. Really. Next?

New York Times columnist Charles Blow chimes in:

Well, as pointed out in the Boston Globe blurb, Dr. West isn’t known for emotionlessness, a propensity for platitudes, and definitely not mildly stated opinion, which I will get to in just a moment. Next, The New Republic’s Eric Boehlert retweets the NYT’s new reporter, Yamiche Alcindor, with a comment added:

So far, we’ve been nibbling around the edges of what probably rankles people the most:

This particular aspect of West’s public speaking has rankled a lot of Clinton supporters in and out of the media, as one can suss from the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart’s retweet of his own January piece:

So, why all this? Why now? Well, you wouldn’t know it from post-Nevada op-eds and articles in the press, but Sanders is making inroads among minorities. While many wrote columns declaring Clinton the decisive victor in Nevada, many omitted that she won by five points, down from 25 just two weeks ago and that the Hispanic vote went to Sanders, overwhelmingly.  But I digress…

In a February 18 an op-ed entitled “Clinton vs. Sanders, statecraft vs. soulcraft” West wrote:

“The genius of Sanders is to exemplify a profound integrity and genuine conviction in the midst of pervasive mendacity and raw ambition. There is little doubt our statecraft has been wrecked by a crass opportunism and greed that debases our public life and demeans our common good. The widely attractive soulcraft of Sanders provides an authenticity of moral depth and spiritual substance. Sanders’ righteous indignation is not mere narcissistic anger (like that of Donald Trump); rather it flows from profound sensitivity to the suffering of the weak and vulnerable. Sanders’ big vision and big heart — in contrast to Clinton’s big name and intimate link to big money — yields a real hope grounded in community. Unlike Clinton’s sense of entitlement and prerogative, Sanders is the quintessential American underdog who suffers, strives, and triumphs.”

There is very little to argue with here. There certainly were no digs at our president in this message. In fact, any direct or indirect mention of our president is completely absent here. West’s characterization of Sanders corresponds to many a poll that’s been taken over this past year. Voters find him trustworthy and devoid of self-interest in ways that Hillary Clinton just hasn’t been able to elicit.

As for West being a strange choice of surrogates for the Sanders campaign? Dr. West’s prophetic style and erudition are legendary in the Black community. While in the last seven years, West’s break with President Obama has been criticized by many including myself, it doesn’t mean West no longer has a constituency or that his advocacy and organizing should be spurned. West very much continues to have a constituency and the respect due a learned elder. That some among the intelligentsia have deemed West, their own mentor, a pariah does not follow that Sanders should, as well. Sanders’ energetic posse of surrogates include some of this nation’s most recognizable civil rights leaders, including Cornel West.

I have to point out that it’s mighty strange to see media figures openly come out against West now, after years of mostly silent treatment. It seems that all it took for people to speak out is Bernie Sanders… What is strange, is that West is now being singled out as Sanders’ surrogate when so many beloved African American cultural and civil rights icons have stepped forward with their endorsements and active surrogacy. Few are the mentions of those figures and we are now obsessing over Cornel West.

Yes, West has been a very harsh critic of our president; at times overly harsh and, on a some occasions, very inappropriately so with racially-tinged remarks that infuriated me.  His accusations that, essentially, President Obama isn’t “Black enough” have been very painful to hear. To be fair to West, such accusations are not without some basis, and neither have they been uncommon among some portion of the African American community all throughout both of President Obama’s terms in office. It is a common occurrence to read young, up and coming Black intellectuals and millennials muse on the topic in quite resentful ways, years after President Obama uttered the words: “‘I’m not the president of black America.’

In an America in which even poverty and inequality have their own Black standard, who can blame them for feeling as they do? In an America where there are many cities whose rank poverty and desolation can only be compared to third-world counterparts, is it any wonder there is some resentment? In an America where police violence against Black bodies has been splashed on our TV screens day after day and justice is a rarity, to the point where new civil rights movements have risen in response, is it so surprising that such sentiments exist? What I blamed West for, and still do, was the way he expressed these feelings, and not that he felt or expressed them.

For better or for worse, West was there, speaking up for those who would be forsaken during the worst of the recession through the present day, advocating, agitating, and confronting, to the displeasure of many in the inner circles in the media, academia, and the White House, who, instead of steering the administration toward attempts to resolve deep problems, erected a wall of insulation. For some to go as far as comparing him to Black politicians on the right is nothing more than misplaced shade. No, Cornel West is no Ben Carson. The point of view he expresses and Carson’s insults have no common ground.

When one looks at West from a neoliberal perspective, he may well seem like an odd choice. But when one looks at West from the progressive point of view, the perspective of those who haven’t had a voice and are still taking the brunt of some of the most brutal economic headwinds, West, the prophetic cleric, academic and politician, becomes a welcome and comforting figure.

Like most giants in our culture, West is as complex and colorful a leader as any, neither blameworthy nor blameless, neither angel or the devil, worthy of our thanks and respect for a lifetime and body of work that will serve generations to come.


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Related:

Jonathan Capehart:  ‘Ben Carson and Cornel West actually agree: Obama’s ‘not black enough

 

  • scottsiegling

    It would be worth noting the relationship that both men share with Lawrence Summers. I mean, that explains the otherwise inexplicably harsh judgment of Obama by Dr. Cornel West.

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  • walterrhett

    Much is missed–and misunderstood here: it relies on a media dynamic (both names and ideas!) for weighing values/views/dialogue, and even then that media weigh-on doesn’t include the most important part of the Cornel West attempt to engage the black community as a thought leader–the radio show he hosted with Tavis Smiley for several years on Saturday mornings, with listener call-ins from across the country, representing widely divergent but authentic points of view. The Smiley-West weekly Saturday morning radio show is a more accurate telling of West’s relationship with the mass community and their acceptance, amendment, agreement, and rejection of his ideas–and their reasons why.

    That community, the black community–is one of the last in America with a collective, forward outlook that has open arms–is also one of the last that has an accurate sense of the profound dangers of change–along with the existing dangers of the status quo. That community knows its margins. It does not mistake those on its margins as leaders, unless they are located within the leadership traditions that have evolved over four centuries in America. That history is deep in the bones of the community’s institutions. Its life force is more profound than party politics.

    West–or Sanders or Clinton–or Obama can not be accurately discussed without knowing the stable yet dynamic philosophy this community has created and tested in the dual consciousness of its experiences of American life.

    That includes 200 centuries of enslavement in small, scattered communities over a wide region that at its end remarkably exhibited more in common than was the case when they were first enslaved from diverse African regions and communities! How did this unity come about? What was its discipline, even as the chained captives were shipped through death and disturbed with no common language or customs, sold off in a global moral collapse that attacked the family, the institution of collective trust needed for survival, the affirmations needed for mental and emotional health against the onslaught of violence, the hope that empowers love underminded by repeated incidents of unbearable pain.

    Twitter posts don’t tell that story–and it is still being written! What then, are the three institutions that the community constructed, shared and sustained? How does this community assess danger and risk? Not only within the status quo but in the models of change brought for its examination and inspection?

    How does this community extend acceptance and forgiveness?

    Most importantly: what is its inner development–most whites never knew that many blacks who opposed Obama did so because they were literally afraid he would be killed–an important conversation held widely within the community never reported or written about, or expressed in a tweet!

    Observing the edges of an eco-system does not provide accurate insights into its inner workings! My suggestion: visit an African-American beauty parlor every week, listen closely, clarify the views that have real, daily impact on community and individual decisions. Or attend an African-American church! Met the parishioners, use the food bank, network for small jobs, become a part of the community and ask them directly what they think of West, Bernie, Hillary, Barack, Trump.

    Ask them directly! All else is inauthentic–and intellectual navel gazing. The community celebrates the success of its scholars and reporters but know they are the sharers not the shapers of its progress. The sharpers are decided internally, not by who stands in the bright lights.