Cornel West is Professor of Religion and African American studies at Princeton University.
West left Harvard University in 2002 amid controversy, with accusations of racism and inadequate scholarship flying around. The who's who and what's what of that tempest are not of much interest to me.
What is of interest to me is that West recently appeared on the Democracy Now program, and leveled a charge of "racism in effect" against Barack Obama (emphasis mine):
CORNEL WEST: Well, first I just want to say hello to my dear sister Amy, and I hope you’re staying strong, I hope you’re staying strong. No, I think Kanye West was actually right [that George W. Bush did not care about Black people], but we have to make a distinction between being racist in motivation and intention versus racist in effect and consequence. All you need to do is look at the history of the Bush administration and you will see policies that, in effect and consequence, generated levels of social misery among poor people, brown people, red people, but especially among working-class and poor people. So this is an important point. Now, if Kanye West had said he doesn’t care about the black poor, the evidence is overwhelming. But I think what happened was that President Bush understood this and individualistic way, which is the way most fellow Americans understand racism: "Do I actually hate black people individually?" No, I don’t think President Bush individually hates black people. His policies were racist in effect and consequence and especially classist in terms of generating misery among poor and working people, disproportionately black and brown.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well-
CORNEL WEST: And I would say that even about the Obama administration. The Obama administration seems to have very little concern about poor people and their social misery. Look at the policies vis-à-vis Wall Street downplaying Main Street. Look at the policies of black farmers, a settlement already in place but they don’t want to executed because they don’t want to be associated with black folk too explicitly. Look at the dilapidated housing. We can go across the board. Look at the New Jim Crow system: the Prison Industrial Complex. We’re not talking just about individual presidents. We’re talking about a system that is tilted against poor people, against working people, disproportionately black and brown and red.
The statement that Obama's policies are "racist in effect" caused a stir in a segment of the blogosphere, but received no mainstream media and little mainstream left-wing blogosphere attention (the sole exception being Firedoglake).
One author at The Hinterland Gazette, who describes himself as a "black centrist," noted the political problem of Obama's policies being equated to Bush's policies:
So, on one hand we have Republicans like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Mike Savage, Laura Ingraham and many others, feel President Obama is prejudiced against white people. Now we have Cornel West accusing him of being prejudiced against blacks. Er, Houston, we have a problem.Another author, at Rolling Out.com, called it a "bombshell":
The small trickle of blacks speaking out against the policies of President Barack Obama is beginning to resemble something more along the lines of a steady stream. The latest “supporter” to speak out against the president is author and noted speaker Dr. Cornel West.... One can only wonder if the president will respond to the assertions put forth by Dr. West and how this will affect his support among blacks in 2012. This story is far from over …Wayne Hodges writing in the Topeka Democrat Examiner, took exception to the accuracy of West's charges but noted the impact:
Keep in mind: West and Obama were supposed to be good friends. So, I’m totally shocked by the outburst.
That said, West’s opinion shouldn’t be discounted. The animated rascal sits on the executive boards of several prestigious organizations such as the National Parenting Association, the Fund for Community Leadership Development, Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble and International Bridges to Justice.West did not always go so far as to call Obama's policies racist. In an February 2010 interview, West refused to go there:
West certainly has clout, no doubt.
Kathleen Wells: You're saying this is a concerted effort, an explicit decision on the part of his administration, to exclude the interests of black Americans?Something has changed.
Dr. Cornel West: No, not to exclude, to downplay and to marginalize. We're not talking about exclusion. He's not a racist. You know what I mean? No, it's not exclusion; it's to downplay and marginalize.
The person whose supporters so effectively played the race card against the Clintons and all subsequent opponents real and imagined, now is having the race card played on him. By his own supporters.
The fall of an American Caesar, or left-wing race politics feeding on its own, or both?
Race Card Cockroach Survived Democrats' Nuclear Winter
"Race" As Political Weapon
An Alergic Reaction To The Race Card
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