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“The Sad But Self-Inflicted Fall Of Cornel West”: The Self Anointed ‘Prophet’ Is Yesterday’s News

Michael Eric Dyson’s blistering takedown of Cornel West in The Ghost of Cornel West for The New Republic not only closed the door on a decades-long friendship that arguably led the way in black American thought at the end of the 20th century, but also displayed how the roles of black leaders have evolved during Barack Obama’s rise to prominence.

Dyson starts off by describing West’s animus toward the president as a love that has turned into a hatred so severe that it would make the heavens shudder. He mentions the times when West called Obama a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface,” on Democracy Now! and a “brown-faced Clinton” in Salon magazine. He discusses a moment when West told him, Dyson, that he does not “respect the brother at all,” referring to Obama. All this in the first two paragraphs.

As the piece winds its way to the conclusion that solidifies the end of their personal and professional relationship, a narrative of West emerges as a man of supreme intellect who thought that he had reached the pinnacle of African-American thought. West had even gone so far as to start referring to himself as a prophet. He believed that he was the voice that the black community would run to when in need of clarity. Dyson was one of those voices early on, so West’s fall from grace in his eyes is all the more striking. He was a self-anointed prophet, who has publicly lost one of his most significant disciples and a friend.

Apparently, it was the release of Race Matters in the mid-’90s that placed West at the pinnacle, and he intended on staying there for life. He did not need to publish new, thought-provoking works. His lack of output was disappointing, and so were his verbal attacks toward others in the black community, especially at MSNBC contributor and professor Melissa Harris-Perry.

Still, he potentially could have recovered from both of these errors. Yet he decided to rest on his laurels from here to eternity, and as he did so, time, unbeknownst to him, began passing him by. When Obama showed up, and politely challenged West’s idyllic place at the summit, West responded venomously to challenge this young, brash usurper.

West was not the only person to challenge Obama’s place within the black community—Jesse Jackson had very choice words for Obama, too—but he is one of the few whose perspective has not evolved with the passage of time, and nothing could be more damning for an intellectual. Yet the key thing to remember is that Obama did not take West’s position at the summit; he instead built a taller mountain and sat atop it.

This recent evolution of black leadership in American society always makes me think about a conversation I had with my grandfather on the eve of the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

During the conversation, he explained to me that he intended on voting for Hillary Clinton for president because he did not believe that white people would allow Obama to become president of the United States. My grandfather was an educated man, a minister, and a veteran of the Korean War, but mentally it was absolutely impossible for him to believe that Obama could become the next president.

I did not agree with his perspective, but I knew where it came from, and it made me wonder more and more about how one’s environment and experiences can drastically shape what you can believe is possible in the world.

Most times when I tell this story, I need to follow it up with a simplifying analogy to explain how this perspective could have come into being. In this analogy, I condense America to a k-through-12 school.

At the beginning of America, blacks were unpaid laborers at the school. Then we became paid laborers, and then we were able to have our own classes, and through this structure, influential black teachers were able to emerge. These teachers made progress within the school and created lasting changes, but the goal was always to become one of these beloved teachers and to make change through this medium. Many of the most influential black leaders in America were teachers or educated through the church. W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington were both teachers. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X taught from the pulpit. Dyson and West used both media, the classroom and the pulpit.

Obama, on the other hand, specialized in neither, even though he taught at the University of Chicago. Instead he took the administrative route. He wanted to be the principal of the school, and that meant he could not teach full time, and this is where the conflict has largely emerged.

People like my grandfather did not believe that it would be possible to have a black principal. Many within the African-American community wanted to know if Obama would be able to teach class full time, because in their minds teaching was what black Americans had always done; and when he said that he could not, they questioned his motives and integrity.

When Obama won the presidency the opportunities for black thought and leadership expanded. My grandfather was beside himself with joy that night because he had lived to witness the previously thought impossible. What he thought was possible in the world had now expanded. Innumerable black Americans felt the same. A new level of attainment in public life was now possible.

Yet despite this progress, the need remained for great black teachers, and now a new question emerged: How would the teachers themselves handle no longer being arguably the most influential voice in the Obama era?

Dyson and other black leaders have taken a healthy position of comfortably and even vehemently disagreeing with Obama on policy issues, but respecting the man for the position he has earned and what it has done for the black community.

West clearly did not take this change well and instead opted to sternly rebuff this paradigm shift that undermined his influence.

Dyson details West’s anger when Obama did not give him tickets to the inauguration, and he mentions how West “lambasted” Obama when the then-junior senator from Illinois decided to announce his candidacy for the presidency in Illinois instead of at Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union meeting in Virginia.

West wanted Obama to visit his class, and he became incredulous when the candidate chose to speak in front of the people who elected him instead of those within the black community. West either did not see the shift or chose to ignore it.

When West did not receive inauguration tickets his fury was that of someone who did not understand that the party could go on without him.

He wanted everyone to love him for his brilliance, and forgot to use his intellect for the benefit of others. He stopped being a teacher, refused to be a student, and wanted to be a prophet.

The leadership roles that black Americans can obtain has changed in the last decade and this has required an evolution of thought amongst black intellectuals and leaders, and a re-examining of roles within the black community.

West was once both an intellectual and a leader, but as the times changed, he did not. And now progress, thought, and leadership have moved forward without him.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, April 22, 2015

April 26, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Black Americans, Cornel West | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trademark Arrogance”: Ferguson Nightmare Widens: Rudy Giuliani, The NFL And Cops Doubling Down On Their “Right” To Kill

The single worst moment in Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony about the day he shot Michael Brown came when he called the unarmed teenager “it,” saying at one point, “it looks like a demon.” He also compared him to “Hulk Hogan” and described him as “bulking up” as if to magically “run through” his bullets. But somehow the word “it” cut through the delusional, self-aggrandizing dramatics and showed the problem at the heart of their encounter: To Wilson, Mike Brown wasn’t human. “It” was a “demon.”

Yet Wilson’s often incredible testimony about the threat posed by Brown carried the day, and the grand jury declined to indict the cop for killing the unarmed teen. The decision has not only worsened the nation’s racial tension, but provoked despair over the possibility of change. Hundreds of politicians and pundits are criticizing the most disruptive Ferguson protesters, including President Obama, but almost no one is talking to the police about the way they consistently escalate these controversies – in the street, with young black men, but also in their dealings with communities afterward, when they tolerate no criticism.

That trademark arrogance has been taken to an extreme by the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association’s demand that the NFL discipline five St. Louis Rams players who participated in a pre-game “hands up, don’t shoot” protest of Mike Brown’s killing Sunday night. Appropriately, the NFL says no such discipline will be forthcoming; the cops also want an apology.

That a local police association thinks it is somehow bigger than the NFL, and that it has the power to curtail the First Amendment rights of football players, is just another example of the preemptive, aggressive self-defense that keeps police officers unaccountable for their transgressions.

Prosecutor-in-chief Rudy Giuliani set the tone for the Ferguson debate a day before the grand jury’s decision was announced. Giuliani minimized the problem of white police killing young black men on “Meet the Press,” telling Michael Eric Dyson “the white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70-75 percent of the time” and asking “why don’t you cut it down so so many white police officers don’t have to be in black areas?”

A stunned Dyson shot back: “Look at this! This is the defensive mechanism of white supremacy in your mind, sir!”

I missed the Giuliani-Dyson debate when it aired, and when I searched for it online I was shocked to see the way right-wing sites were framing it: Newsbusters, Breitbart and others accused Dyson of “attacking” Giuliani, when the former New York mayor was clearly on the offensive. Dyson became the bad guy by calling Giuliani’s mind-set what it was. And the black guy is always the “attacker” in the right-wing mind, anyway.

As was the case with George Zimmerman’s acquittal, the Ferguson grand jury may have theoretically reached a defensible position given the letter of the law. They only had to believe Wilson had a “reasonable” belief that his life was in danger in order for the shooting to be justified. Thus leaders from President Obama to Mike Brown’s parents themselves have urged calm on angry communities, and counseled protesters to live with the verdict.

Dyson is among many to point out why that response, especially from the president, is so unsatisfying. While Obama strongly denounced “criminal acts” and insisted “I do not have any sympathy” for people destroying “your own communities,” his comments on the events that led to the violence were weirdly “vague, halting and non-committal,” Dyson wrote in the New York Times.

He slipped back into an emotional blandness that underplayed the searing divide, saying there was “an impression that folks have” about unjust policing and “there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion.”

Of course even that relatively mild rebuke got Obama charged with inciting the Ferguson unrest by the right. The loons at Front Page Mag claimed Obama’s remarks stoked a “lynch mob” mentality while others called it “race-baiting as usual.” Milwaukee’s conservative sheriff David Clarke, who is African-American, insisted Obama’s call for calm after the verdict “was done with a wink and a nod,” because the president’s overall “political strategy of divide and conquer fuels this sort of racial animosity between people.”

Predictably, Rudy Giuliani escalated his rhetoric this past Sunday on Fox, telling Chris Wallace that it’s black people who bear responsibility for the outsize, and occasionally excessive, police presence in their communities.

“I think just as much, if not more, responsibility is on the black community to reduce the reason why the police officers are assigned in such large numbers to the black community.” He added: “It’s because blacks commit murder eight times more per capita than any other group in our society. If I’d put all my police on Park Avenue instead of Harlem, thousands more blacks would have died during my time in office.”

When it comes to controlling the public debate over these killings, the police lobby consistently uses excessive force — and gets away with it. Their outsize response to peaceful protest by the St. Louis Rams is only the latest example, and here’s hoping the NFL and the team don’t back down.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 1, 2014

December 3, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Talk About ‘Black On Black’ Crime”: African-Americans Long Oppressed By What Might Be Called “America On Black” Crime

OK, fine. Let’s talk about “black on black” crime.

That, after all, is where the conversation seems to inevitably turn whenever one seeks to engage a conservative on the American habit of shooting unarmed African-American boys and men. So it was exasperating, but nowhere near surprising, to see former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani go there last week on Meet the Press.

Asked by host Chuck Todd, during a discussion of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, about the fact that African-American communities like that one are often served by snow-white police departments, he offered some perfunctory words about the effort to produce more representative cop shops. But then Giuliani took a sharp turn off topic and into the brambles. “I find it very disappointing,” he told Todd, “that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. … I would like to see the attention paid to that that you are paying to this.”

There followed a sharp exchange with another panelist, author and professor Michael Eric Dyson, which produced this parting shot from the mayor: “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.”

Somehow, he managed not to call Dyson “you people.” In nearly every other respect, Giuliani’s words reeked of a paternalistic white supremacy unworthy of a former mayor of America’s largest city — or even a sewer worker in its remotest Podunk. But again, this has become the go-to “reasoning” for those on the right — Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh — when asked to give a d–n about the killings of unarmed black boys and men.

That formulation is false for multiple reasons.

In the first place, being concerned over the shooting of unarmed black men hardly precludes being concerned over violence within the African-American community. Giuliani and others suggest a dichotomy where none exists.

In the second place, they ignore the obvious: When black people commit crimes against black people, they face prosecution, but when police officers (or certain neighborhood watchmen) commit crimes against black people, they face getting off with little if any punishment.

In the third place, what exactly is “black on black” crime?

Do black people kill one another? Sure they do. Ninety percent of black murder victims are killed by black assailants.

But guess what? White people kill one another, too. Eighty-three percent of white victims are killed by white assailants. See, the vast majority of violent crime is committed within — not between — racial groups. Crime is a matter of proximity and opportunity. People victimize their own rather than drive across town to victimize somebody else.

So another term for “black on black” crime is “crime.”

But there is crime and there is crime.

Redlining, loan discrimination and predatory mortgages have stripped generations of wealth from the African-American community. What is that if not robbery?

The Republican Party practices policies of voter suppression. That’s the assault and battery of African-American political rights.

Mass incarceration criminalizes the very existence of black men and boys. That’s the rape of equal justice.

Unarmed people are killed by those who are purportedly there to protect and serve them and the “just us” system looks the other way. That’s the murder of basic human rights.

It is touching that Giuliani and others are so concerned about black-on-black crime. But African-Americans have also been long oppressed by what might be called “America on black” crime.

When do you suppose they’ll be ready to talk about that?

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Black Americans, Criminal Justice System, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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