Much is missed–and misunderstood here: this post relies on a media dynamic, (both names and ideas!) for weighing values/views/dialogue, and even then that media weigh-in 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 in 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 psychological 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 undermined 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.
It is a profound disservice, albeit unintentional, to be a blind mule, plundering forward without knowing the path ahead, or to borrow from Langston, how to tread the crystal stair. It is abject folly to ignore the silent message transmitted during the Middle Passage, the natural mystic of Bob Marley, the power of a grief that once fed the sharks. Frederick Douglass, the Grimke brothers, Daniel A. Payne, Robert Elliott, Thomas Cardoza, Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Eloise Greenfield, and so many voices are mediums for how grief is turned to strength. They know when strength is tempered by patience.The sharpers are decided internally, not by who stands in the bright lights.
I am tired of it always being suggested that some outside white man is “worth” noting and forms a key relationship which has nothing to do with the historic way the black community formed its unity, and now assesses its issues, creates its divergence, understands its context, and chastises those who substitute their judgement for its own. Too often now, friendship is paternalism.