Brother Cornell West Published in the Smithsonian Magazine: Formidable!

(pronounce it in French; it’s much more kewl: ‘Oiu; c’est Formidable!’)

by any means necessary

Brother Cornell West has come under attack again recently, this time in a veritable full-court press, most notably by Michael Eric Dyson, writing at the New Republic.  In his 10,000 word screed ‘The Ghost of Cornel West’, Dyson unloads a concern-trolling hatchet job, pre-eulogy of West.  Even the subtitle of the piece demonstrates his faux concern: ‘President Obama betrayed him. He’s stopped publishing new work; He’s alienated his closest friends and allies. What happened to America’s most exciting black scholar?’  Pfffft.  In the end, all the hits claim his disaffection for Obama is based on sour grapes that began with West’s not getting a ticket to the Epic Inauguration of the First Black President, then leading to his characterizing mainstream Obama supporters in some yes, fairly unflattering terms.   Well, tough; the truth hurts.

With able assists by sportswriter for the Nation Dave Zirin (while in needless defense of MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as well), Salon’s Joan Walsh (earlier here, as well: ‘Meltdown!), and others, including Ta-Nehisi Coates on Twitter…, well, let’s just say the fix is in: Brother Cornell had to be neutralized/assassinated, and mocked to the high heavens, hoping the establishment Dems could effectively put him in a straight-jacket as they’d done to truth-telling war correspondent Sy Hersh a few years ago.  When one is forced to quote the idiotic Jonathan Capehart for opinion, one has lost the battle already, and should just sit down and STFU, in my opinion.

Different opinions among the radical left iconoclasts have been offered as to the ‘why’ of it, from Dyson wanting to get a gig in Hillary’s White House, to trashing any residual moral criticism of Obama’s (and perhaps the next possible (ahem) Dem Prez’s new unitary executive Wars and further austerity, corporate privatization schemes, etc., to West’s being one of the key celebrity blacks who’s closely aligned himself with the #BlackLivesMatter movement (my take, fwiw).  Clearly, at Centrist Democrat sites, Al Sharpton is still the man, and why not?  His name is on the WH visitor list a lot, he’s everywhere, whether invited or specifically ‘disinvited’ or not.

But holy crow, Brother West is still on fire, and speaks truth to power in the tradition of the Black Prophetic Tradition, as did Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend Jeremiah Wright (Goddaaaam Amerika!), Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and others.

By the way, Cornel West did respond to Dyson’s ‘character assassination’ by New Republic: “Deep integrity must trump cheap popularity” on April 24; how ironic that lent him their lofty venue by clipping his response from his Facebook page.  This is the Brother’s Twitter page; you can see him interviewed on Letterman (during this fray, I’d add), the BBC, his favorite music and issues he cares about deeply: loving kindness, radical MLK, the Black Freedom movement, and er…this administration’s evil deeds.

Zo; pardon the lengthy digression, but I wanted to set the table to show just how surprised and pleased I was to discover by way of Mr. wendydavis  this week that the February, 2015 edition of Smithsonian magazine contains the following excerpt from Brother West’s book, Black Prophetic Fire.  Good on the magazine, good on the good Brother!

‘Why Malcolm X Still Speaks Truth to Power: Fifty years after his death, Malcolm X remains a towering figure whose passionate writings have enduring resonance’, by Cornel West, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015

Malcolm X was music in motion. He was jazz in motion, and, of course, jazz is improvisation, swing and the blues. Malcolm had all three of those things. He could be lyrical and funny and, in the next moment, he’d shift and be serious and push you against the wall. The way he spoke had a swing to it, had a rhythm to it. It was a call and response with the audience that you get with jazz musicians. And he was the blues. Blues is associated with catastrophe. From the very beginning, from slavery to Jim Crow, that sense of catastrophe, of urgency, of needing to get it out, to cry out, to shout, somehow allowed that fire inside of his bones to be pressed with power and with vision. He never lost that.

 The button bearing an image of Malcolm X—created after his death as an act of commemoration—is in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, a talisman of his loss. 

Let me talk about that loss. Just before he was shot in New York on February 21, 1965, Malcolm was setting up his own mosque. He was a Sunni Muslim leader. When we think what it means to be a revolutionary Muslim in this day, when people are looking for ways Islam can be compatible with democracy, his assassination robbed us of that. He could have been a model of what it means to be a revolutionary Muslim, in the way in which Martin Luther King Jr. became a revolutionary Christian. 

It’s a fascinating development that could have taken place, and both perspectives could have begun to overlap.  In fact, Malcolm was a Muslim but he invoked Hebrew prophets, Isaiah, Amos. He invoked Jesus, emphasizing that perspective of looking at the world from below, echoing the 25th chapter of Matthew: What you do for the least of these—the prisoner, the poor, the stranger, the widow, the fatherless, the motherless, the weak, the vulnerable—has lasting value. ​

You can’t talk about one without the other—Malcolm X without Martin Luther King. For me, Malcolm had a revolutionary fire that Martin didn’t have initially; Martin had a moral fire from the very beginning that Malcolm didn’t get until later. Malcolm’s love for black people was so strong and so intense that early on it led him to call white folk devils and give up on them, and I think he was wrong about that. Martin never did that. But Martin didn’t have the revolutionary fire that Malcolm had until the very end of his life. 

Malcolm would say over and over again, “What do you think you would do after 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow and lynching? Do you think you would respond nonviolently? What’s your history like? Let’s look at how you have responded when you were oppressed. George Washington—revolutionary guerrilla fighter!” So Malcolm was saying explicitly, “Be honest, y’all!”

Malcolm X is the great example of parrhesia in the black prophetic tradition. The term goes back to line 24A of Plato’s Apology, where Socrates says, the cause of my unpopularity was my parrhesia, my fearless speech, my frank speech, my plain speech, my unintimidated speech. The hip hop generation talks about “keeping it real.” Malcolm was as real as it gets. James Brown talked about “make it funky.” Malcolm was always, “Bring in the funk, bring in the truth, bring in the reality.”

Now Martin would come back and say, “You’re scaring them, brother. Oh, you got them upset. They get so scared, they’re going to be harder on us than ever.” And Malcolm would say, “I’m not talking about strategy. I’m talking about the truth at this point.” So you can imagine the juxtaposition.

If there were an imaginary meeting between Malcolm and Martin, it would go as follows: Malcolm would say: “Brother Martin, Marcus Garvey and others have told us that the vast majority of black people will never be treated with dignity. They will always live lives of ruin and disaster tied to the prison system, in the ’hoods and the projects. There might be spaces for the middle classes, but there will never be for the masses.” And Martin would say: “No, I can’t believe that. We’ve got to redeem the soul of America.” Malcolm would say: “There is no soul, Martin.” Martin would reply: “That can’t be true, Malcolm.” And Malcolm would come back and say, “The chance of your integration full-scale is a snowball in hell. It’s a truncated integration, an assimilation. Some may go all the way to the White House, but even then there’s still going to be crack houses, the prison-industrial complex, unemployment getting worse and worse.” 

And then Martin and Malcolm would look at each other, tears flowing down their faces, and they’d say, “Let’s sing a song.” They’d sing a little George Clinton, maybe a little Stevie Wonder. Some Aretha Franklin, some Billie Holiday, some Curtis Mayfield. They’d say, “We’re just going to keep on pushing.” It’s a matter of what has integrity, of what is true, what is right, and what is worthy of those who struggled and died for us. That’s what brings Martin and Malcolm together.

And how they are remembered is important. The issue of memory in a commodified society is always difficult. Malcolm has become commodified. In a country obsessed with patriotism, they designate a stamp for him. That’s the last thing he wanted. “I want a free people. I don’t want a stamp.” 

When Malcolm looked at black life in America, he saw wasted potential; he saw unrealized aims. This kind of prophetic witness can never be crushed. There was no one like him in terms of having the courage to risk life and limb to speak such painful truths about America. It is impossible to think about the black prophetic tradition without Malcolm X, regardless of what the mainstream thought then, thinks now or will think in the future.

It is a beautiful thing to be on fire for justice.    

 Amen, Brother.

In a similar vein, Glen Ford takes no prisoners when debating.  Here he is with Michael Eric Dyson on Democracy Now! at the Democratic Convention.  Oh, I wish there had been time for Ford to answer Dyson’s contorted, panicked blather at the end of the second part.  Remember: Dyson is often called ‘a stellar scholar’ or some such; perhaps it’s just his mouth that needs an editor.  Though he doesn’t have a particularly expressive face, the looks Ford gives Dyson are priceless micro-expressions; I’ve written any number of them.

To honor the good Brother’s musical tastes, and as one is Curtis Mayfield:

25 responses to “Brother Cornell West Published in the Smithsonian Magazine: Formidable!

  1. Dyson is a formidable debater. I had a difficult time following him but he certainly embellished his argument with rhetorical flair. He wins on style but I have to call foul on his running out the clock with a nebulous wall of words with virtually no substance. Ford wins on substance. Ironic. I had never thought about where this broadcast was taking place. When you say Charlotte, SC in 2015 what comes to mind is the Walter Scott case. Maybe DemocracyNow will return and broadcast a postScott show.

    • hmmm; i suppose in terms of force, he may be formidable, but aside from the fact that he was full of the usual nonsense about obama’s powerlessness hemmed in by too many R’s, and as being (‘c’mon, admit it, glen ford, the most progressive…yada, yada’), no you’re right. he spoke utter gibberish in that second video. he *does* appear to know the buzzwords, memes, and polish them up a bit, but when he got to R2P libya, and *advocating for it*, he started pullin’ rubbish out of his tuchas, imo.

      his one slip by well of telling the truth was the part about “when our interests collide with theirs”, as in the ‘democracy seeking folks on the ground, begging for the empire’s help. god’s blood, if folks who fought in favor of that debacle would only admit to themselves what hell is going on in libya now: total civil war, with dozens of competing militias battling for supremacy…and the oil. who got gadaffi’s gold, anyway?

      hillary’s first move there was to set up a central bank for the us-approved provisional government. ack!

      oh, and i just heard this on rebelutionary_Z’s twitter thread; wouldn’t reverend jeremiah wright love it? maybe even brother cornell… ;-)

      two different charlottes, it seems: the DNC 2012 was in north carolina, walter scott (RIP) was murdered in charlotte, south carolina, i think.

      • destroyed that country just as sure as bush destroyed Iraq. probably the most developed country in Africa. giving birth to isis and creating a refugee crisis. war crime.

        • ‘uncle sam goddam’. seems just about right, no? i saw a blurb about nick turse’s new book chronicling the CIA and u.s. troops in every african nation now (or close to that). when nato created the africa desk (AFRICOM), we knew the continent was in for a world of hurt. their mission statement is something like: “keeping african nations safe from instability and chaos”, the irony being that the empire foments the chaos.

          so many resources to plunder, so many tyrants to befriend….

          • Oh, yeah. I was just perusing. Have you seen this?
            Courtesy of the Peace Prize President.

            • how terribly strange; your comments lately have come in via email (often the site is slow to send them), but when i come over, yours aren’t on the recent comments list. just now, i went to the rss comments thingie (whatever that is) and found them. my bet is that as soon as i respond, we’ll see your avatar on the list.

              well, that is a rather narrow definition he uses, but still an extraordinary list for the winner of the nobel neocon cheney task force president, isn’t it? i’ll look at george washington’s blog i a moment.

              meanwhile, i forgot that i said i’d hunt up nick turse’s new book ‘Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa’ facts on AFRICOM, and lo and behold, bless his heart: dave swanson has covered it. fuck, look at the map. somehow the rape and ruin of that continent, both militarily and gen-modified agriculture, has given me nightmares, srsly.

              wish i could get my africom diaries from the google cache again. some of crossed crocodile’s (an expat in ghana) were juuuuuust so right.


              and no, of course, black lives don’t matter on the continent, nor in israel (ethiopians) nor did they when the US-approved provisional government junta in libya was exterminating them while being held in prison cells.

          • And talk about Obama outBushing Bush (as I often do) here is a telling snippet:

            ‘Since President Barack Obama has been willing to give the go ahead to operations that President George W. Bush would not have approved, [war]operations have been much more aggressive and, presumably, JSOC has been able to fan out and work in ***way more*** countries than ever expected.’


            • well, ahem. yes, that was 2013, and i didn’t click the link that would have noted the *publicly admitted* numbers, but of course jsoc is paired with Xe and the other mercenary war contractors. few ever ask for instance, “how many mercenaries will be left in afghanistan, for instance, after the troop ‘draw- downs’? the hidden budget costs of the shadow military are a whole ‘nother subject (nick turse used to cover), but:

              it pisses me purple that scahill has been captured by ‘pierre’ and friends, and is writing shit that anyone could. i know that ‘dirty wars’ was a bit contrived and all, but for fook’s sake, he knows yemen like nobody’s business, and is pissing away his time doing…not much, imo. oopsie; do i sound a bit cranky? well, guess i am. ;-)

              • Not at all. Your grasp of the situation is very sharp, and very thorough.

              • Your comments come thru my WordPress notifications. I haven’t been able yet to come over and view the other comments.

                • ah; so you comment via email? that may be what the odd-bodkins glitch is. would it be too much to ask for you to come to the site to comment? it shouldn’t matter, save for my oft-cluelessness in how to proceed/navigate between emailed comments and the site. for that, i am sorry, but that’s about my limitations, not yours. and i’d rather have you here, than…not, nomad. by the by, you never answered about your ‘relationship’ to bosch, if it’s not prying overmuch. ;-)

                  • I didn’t see that one! I’ve got to come over. Just been kind of overextended (for me) lately. Bosch! I’m an art historian. And an artist. I have many favorite artists but Bosch is one of my favorites. What an imagination! And what a name. Who the heck would name their kid Hieronymus?

                    • and i cannot reply or see your comments when i click the Reply button in the emails. star-crossed, we are. it seems.

                      how nice to hear of both your education and your vocation. what an acid dreamed ouevre, i’d say; whoosh. as for who named him, daddy bosch, i’d guess. but wiki says: “Hieronymus Bosch was born Jheronimus (or Joen,[5] respectively the Latin and Middle Dutch form of the name “Jerome”) van Aken (meaning “from Aachen”). ” ‘jerome’, well then. ;-)

                      wiki also says that breugel the elder was a student/follower, and i do love so many of his paintings. but yah, one can get lost in his images, even in the bing cache. sleep well, dream well, amigo.

                      this morning. no more nests available. correction: *I* get your comments via email, as i do for all comments, at least most of the time. usually, i can click in via the emailed comments, see them, even respond; but not some of yours lately. i admit to not even knowing what a wordpress editor is. ;-)

                    • So I been using email huh? I didn’t realize that. II was posting from my WP editor. I will remember to click thru from now on.
                      Bruegel. Yep. He was the greatest.

  2. ha; right on cue: this just came in on the venuzelanalysis newsletter:

    ‘Follow the Minerals: Why the US is Threatened by Venezuela’s ‘Blue Gold’

    The author argues that Venezuela’s abundance of the highly strategic mineral cotane could be behind Obama’s labeling of the South American nation an “unusual and extraordinary threat”.

    blue gold = coltan, used to manufacture tantalum, a high-grade metal.

  3. OT, but welcome none the less:

    Sister Megan Rice’s sabotage conviction was overturned by the Appeals Court. Court ruled that protest is not sabotage.

    Now to read what Cornell West has to say.

  4. Yahoooo! welcome news indeed, thd! oh, i hope they decide to amend to ‘time served’. remember, too, that sister megan said she’d be content to live out her life in prison? i reckon even she’ll like being free better! lemme see if i can embed that great pic.her smile lights up the page, and likely a room…

  5. You can’t talk about one without the other—Malcolm X without Martin Luther King. For me, Malcolm had a revolutionary fire that Martin didn’t have initially; Martin had a moral fire from the very beginning that Malcolm didn’t get until later. Malcolm’s love for black people was so strong and so intense that early on it led him to call white folk devils and give up on them, and I think he was wrong about that. Martin never did that. But Martin didn’t have the revolutionary fire that Malcolm had until the very end of his life.

    That was a very interesting cross-journey that likely was the cause that did in both of them. Malcolm for touching base with the Islam in Mecca and Martin for evolving along with the antiwar movement to understanding the revolutionary imperative at that time. When Martin turned to labor and the military-industrial complex, and the North, he was no longer a convenient and comfortable moral salve.

    Point of clarification. Walter Scott was murdered in North Charleston, South Carolina. To my knowledge and I am an SC native, there is no Charlotte, South Carolina — not even a little crossroads. But I could be wrong on this. The Carolinas and Charleston-Charlotte are constantly getting confused.

    Glad to see Cornell West raising the profile of Malcolm again. Another profile being raised is that of James Baldwin, who is allowed by the pundits to be gay this time around.

    Probably one of the documents that shook me loose from the Southern frame in 1964-1965 was Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.

    There was this mystical couplet.
    God gave Noah the rainbow sign.
    No more water; the fire next time.

    In relation to which, John Michael Greer has a barnburner this week concerning Detroit and Baltimore.

  6. now i’m thoroughly confused on the carolinas, but will gladly bow to your knowledge. (i even looked it up, lol: oh, da swiss cheese brain factor)

    i liked brother west’s imaginary meeting, too, although of course the two had met, and discussed their accords. but it would have been interesting to have seen malcolm’s evolution…had he not become too inconvenient.
    it’s been fascinating watching the blackLives militancy ramp up and up, hasn’t it? seeing assata quotes on t-shirts, old black panthers posting and getting gigs (like at TRRN).

    the couplet is perfect, and this may well be ‘the fire next time’, eh? funny, we have a paperback copy downstairs, but i can’t swear i ever read it. but you’ve reminded me of a pp&m tune i love.

    damn, the archdruid is a bit much for me to grasp, sorry. but i’m pleased you loved it. reads like homework for me. but: given the general subject, i have an e-friend in toronto who’s spent twenty years of energy issues, especially sustainable, and recently at a site i was (ahem) banned from, he wrote an insanely long and wonderful comment (including multiple charts) that he said is proof that fossil fuels are all over but for the last gasps. i keep meaning to write him to ask if there would be anyway he could reproduce it here without inordinate amounts of hassle.

  7. Well, well, well, indeed.

    The short version of the Archdruid: What resource scarcity is going to look like in the future is not a sudden catastrophic shortage. What it’s going to look like is like the water shutoffs in Detroit and Baltimore because the government can no longer subsidize the delivery of services to everyone and, social systems not changing, the least powerful will be shut off first and so on until even the most powerful can no longer survive. He’s not talking about just water but all resources that are experiencing externalization of costs, like irrigation subsidies and lax restrictions on pollution. And the scenario is based on his fundamental pessimism that the our societies are capable of using the last remaining fossil fuels to create the energy and resource environment for sustainability nor able to cut back consumptionism sufficient that conservation makes that future possible. He sees the current mood as one last party before it’s all gone. Except for those who can no longer party like its 1955.

    It’s a what to do if the worst happens and what does the worst look like sort of site. The utility shutoff model of resource depletion was one of his better recent ones. cmaukonen would love his advice on technology; step back a couple of technological generations (like to vacuum tubes) and begin innovation from a more common (the metals in a vacuum tube and glass) and less costly materials even if they require more labor to more tightly integrate production into nature over time. Drop off the grid with a traditional windmill to pump water into a cistern and I suppose a tallow or vegetable oil wick lamp. And he is clear that these are the survival technologies in crisis; no one uses them from long voluntarily. Modern convenience is just to pervasive.

    Back to the topic at hand: Ramapo NY police held four New York State parole officers in bulletproof badges and official shields at gunpoint because of a 911 call and the fact that they were black. The parole officers are suing.

  8. ta for the short version. ;-) now i’ll say that we lived in many houses with no running water, no electricity or indoor bathrooms, of course. i’m too old for all that any longer, mr. wd as well. we still have quite a few kerosene lamps from the old days, but now one can get kerosene in the fancy scented bottles at waldo world, not at the gas stations, as far as i know. even with globes, it is not light to read by.

    as for windmills pumping water, well: one has to have ground water within a feasible distance down, we went with rural water (a local coop) once our neighbors drilled 300 feet and found nothing. and this was after having had a water watcher come and say: yep, it’s down there!

    in many parts of the nation, the groundwater is now poisoned by fracking chemicals, and in california, the central valley has lost several feet in elevation (iirc) due to the mega-depletion of wells. believe it or not, that state has had any permitting system on groundwater, although now with this drought, there is a ‘pilot program’ for same underway, and from what i read, none of it will take full effect (if ever) for five more years.

    can’t say i know anything about the vacuum tubes and all, but greer may be correct. one thing about the utilities is the impact on the poor and middle class of privatization of water systems, as well as the big corporations like nestle siphoning off federal and state water to bottle. i kept thinking of writing up a bit of that, but other things get in the way. mr. wd sits on some water boards here, and is alert to the coming water wars that really are…beginning already, at least in the southwest and west.

    added: oops; what an odd story; if i can remember to, i’ll look for it. here it is. good on them for bring a lawsuit.

    added: the dashcam video and more:

  9. All of the openers are well worth watching, especially Lady Brion. The third intro by Rev Osagyefo Sekou from Ferguson hinges on a fiery takedown of Brother Michael Eric. It also contains the news from the street:

    “I was born again in the streets of Ferguson and I saw the very face of God. God is angry. God is queer. God is a woman. God is a single mother.”

    Found on the Real News as Cornel West In Baltimore
    The embed is from TRNN’s YouTube channel …

    • with your superior recommendation, lemoyne, i swear i’ll try to watch it. i’d clicked into it once before, saw the length, and backed on out with an ‘arrrgh!’
      but bless your ♥ for causing me to want to spend the time, and for bringing that pithy comment from the street. srsly.

      this weekend has had more chores than usual, and i yam so behind the curve (in every way).

    • i missed some of what rev. sekou said, sadly, even with rewinding, and seem to have missed his takedown of dyson. alas, they never provided a transcript. but oh, my: talk about the black prophetic tradition! the man was on fire.

      yes to his ““what we need from you is not allies…we need Freedom Fighters!”

      but whoa, am i elated over lady brion’s poem. when i covered the #million moms march, i er…had mouthed off a bit about the slow rate at which the black brother were twigging to how they were missing half the population, and the #blackwomenslivematter movement. so i was glad that women made some noise about that issue.

      Brother cornell’s “the milquetoast msnbc is the dem side of the conversation” is fun.

      i reckon that the “Cornel West, Eddie Conway and Rev. Sekou on Building a Mass Movement” talk will be inspirational; hope i can make time to watch that one.

      (heh; too bad that the ‘noly….noly’ altar cloth was such a distraction for me.)

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