ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Obama would be hesitant to step into his own age, because if he makes his own
break he could be accused of bringing in radicals or inexperienced people. He
thinks he needs to make the Establishment feel comfortable. . . . the
Establishments crazy about all the people hes picked so far.
Books by Cornel West
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Kam Williams Interviews Cornel West
“I was with Obama from Iowa,” says Cornel
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 2, 1953, Princeton Professor Cornel Ronald West is one of Americas most gifted and provocative public intellectuals. He is the author of Race Matters, a seminal classic credited with changing the course of the countrys dialogue about justice and equality along the color line. A cultural icon, he is the recipient of the American Book Award as well as more than 20 honorary degrees. Here, Dr. West talks about his new book, Hope on a Tightrope, while weighing in on everything from President-elect Obama to the economy to affirmative action to the controversial notion of a post-racial America.
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KW: Hey, Dr. West, thanks for the time. A mutual friend, Ila Forster, asked me to say hello for her. She was an undergrad when you were a grad student at Princeton. She says that back in the day you would come to parties on campus dressed in a black vest, black slacks, and a white shirt, which is still your uniform. She told me, The brother has not changed…and that is why I respect him. Hes an intellectual but a down brother just the same. That has me wondering why you always wear a three-piece suit.
Cornel West: Wow! Well, first I want to say hello to the dear sister. We go back years, but my memories of her are quite fresh. Send her my best regards. Secondly, as far as my wardrobe, my role models are jazz musicians and black preachers. The suit connotes a kind of elegance and commitment to excellence, as well as a seriousness of purpose in your chosen vocation. It also connects to a sense of having a cheery disposition but a sad soul due to the mourning of catching hell because of the bigotry and oppression operating in this nation. So, its a uniform on the battlefield.
KW: What is your general impression of Princeton students and what do you enjoy about teaching Princeton students, in particular?
Cornel West: Princeton students are, in a way, similar to Harvard students. They work hard. Theyre highly disciplined and very intelligent. They spend a great deal of time trying to read and write well. Its a joy just being in conversation with them. It keeps me young and keeps me humble.
KW: I write an annual 10 Best and 10 Worst Black Books List. Ironically, back in 2006, a book to which you contributed, The Covenant, made my 10 best List, while I named The Audacity of Hope the worst book of the year. This was before Obama had declared himself a candidate. I indicted it as the transparent attempt of a guileful politician to be all things to all people.
Cornel West: Thats what it is. Strategic and tactical, all the way down. Its speaking less to the truth as regards to the election, which is to say white moderates, the folks he was appealing to for most of the campaign, because he figured he had black folks in his back pocket, which he did. And we did push him over the top. But the truth still has got to rise sooner or later.
KW: What troubled me most during the campaign was how he threw Reverend Wright under the bus after that historic speech in Philadelphia about how he couldnt abandon him any more than his white grandmother. Since I agreed with much of what Reverend Wright had to say, that had me wondering whether Obama would even want my endorsement, if I were famous, or that of any celebrity who shared my left of center leanings.
Cornel West: Well, that was the fear of my close partners, including brother Tavis [Smiley]. I was with Obama from Iowa, from the very beginning. I spoke twice on his behalf back then. But in the middle of the campaign I also spoke at Jeremiah Wrights retirement, and defended him in his church. I asked what was wrong with his saying Goddamn a nation that had killed innocent people. Theres nothing controversial about that whatsoever. It was interesting because the Obama surrogates had to be OKd by the national headquarters in Chicago. And they said no to most of the black folks who were suggested. Yet, when my name came up to speak in Ohio, they said yes, according to one black brother who was on staff there. He was surprised, after all the stuff hed heard me saying.
When he asked why Id been approved, they told him, We really believe, that, deep down, brother West really loves Obama. He just speaks his mind. And when he speaks his mind, he actually brings more people. And, of course, theyre interested in votes. He brings more credibility, even though Barack knows hes going to be critiqued when brother Wests there. But hes also going to get his support because he criticizes in such a way that hes not going to be trashing our candidate, because he really loves him. And sho nuff, I was invited to Ohio in October by the campaign, whereas there were a number of other folks they rejected, including some members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
KW: Why were they rejected, because they had supported Hillary in the primaries?
Cornel West: Yes, and because they thought they couldnt bring big enough crowds, and they didnt think they would speak with enough passion. They didnt just want technocrats out there and have only 75 people show up. They wanted somebody who speaks with passion who was going to connect. Thats the only way you get people to the polls.
KW: What do you think of Obamas appointments of Hillary and so many folks from the Clinton administration?
Cornel West: We now live in the Age of Obama. Its such a profoundly overwhelming and in some ways unprecedented moment. I fear that my dear brother Obama might be reluctant to step into his own age. So, hes falling back on them and recycling them to have some sense of connection to what was before and for their savvy and experience. But I think the crisis is so deep that were going to need a much deeper break from the Age of Ronald Reagan. It is understandable that Obama would be hesitant to step into his own age, because if he makes his own break he could be accused of bringing in radicals or inexperienced people. He thinks he needs to make the Establishment feel comfortable. Consequently, the Establishments crazy about all the people hes picked so far.
KW: Even the Republicans. And thats scary to me.
Cornel West: Absolutely! Thats very scary. That would make me have grounds for suspicion. However, I do want to give him time. If he really does aspire to what I believe and hope he aspires to, namely, to be a progressive Lincoln, then we have to be like Frederick Douglass to help push him. If he has his own vision, then he could use these folks to push it through. But he has to be bold enough, strong enough and visionary enough to step into his own Age. When he chose Rahm Emmanuel as his Chief of Staff, I wasnt excited at all. But I do want to give him time, because Emmanuel is such a bulldog maybe he can push progressive legislation through, the way he pushed through NAFTA and the Welfare bill, both of which were disasters for the working people and poor people. So, Im just being honest about our skepticism.
KW: What do you think about Obamas tapping Larry Summers, another former Clintonista? When he was president of Harvard, his racism and sexism led to a mass exodus of professors, including you.
Cornel West: Summers, we know, is just socially challenged. He cannot treat certain people with decency and empathy, and Im one of them. I dont like the fact that he could be so explicitly sexist, and that he could trash the black man, and yet all that baggage can now be brushed aside as if its completely irrelevant. Theres a double-standard here, because when it comes to considering prominent black figures who constitute any kind of threat to the white mainstream, theyre dropped like a hot potato. Politically, my critique of Summers is the same as my critique of Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner and Jason Furman. Theyre all deregulators who helped contribute to the catastrophe. And now, all of a sudden, theyre supposed to come to the rescue.
KW: Why hasnt he tapped some of the brilliant, progressive economists who arent Clintonistas or already part of the corporatocracy?
Cornel West: I was on the radio calling for folks like William Greider, Paul Krugman, James Galbraith, William Julius Wilson, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Joseph Stieglitz. All these are progressive economists. Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, my dear brother and colleague at Princeton, is very important. Of course, the Obama people wont touch him with a ten-foot pole yet. They will eventually. I think Brother Obama is wise enough to be pushed by events, even if hes not going to be pushed by his advisors. Those folks are a little too anemic.
KW: I have a question for you from Reverend Florine Thompson who asks, What are three key ways in which President-elect Obama can, as you say, move from symbol to substance? And how does Black America hold him accountable?
Cornel West: Well, for one, I think hes already made a move towards substance in terms of his stimulus packages. Hes putting a focus on the financial Katrina and the two million distressed homeowners. Hes dispersing funds directly to them. Plus, hes planning public spending on job creation. And those same people need healthcare independent of their employment, because theyre going under. Im glad that hes letting us know that that is the first order of business. This is crucial, because everyday people on the ground level arent benefiting at all from Treasury Secretary Paulsons recapitalization of the banks.
A second key is for him to let the world know that America is not going to be behaving unilaterally like a policeman, but cooperating with other countries and the United Nations to achieve a multilateral vision. Its important that we have a different public face, one that is not consistent with dominating and manipulating, but with listening to the rest of the world. The third key Id like to see Obama focus on is the plight of children, and to say, Were going to wipe out child poverty, because they are our future, 100%.
KW: Reverend Thompson also asks, How should President elect Obama deal with affirmative action in the 21st century? And have you noticed a racial backlash since Barack Obama won the presidential election?
Cornel West: Well, there is definitely a white backlash, and Im sure its escalating. The good thing is that those racists dont speak on behalf of the vast majority of whites. Thats a sign of progress. Of course, the press calls it post-racial. Its not post-racial, just less racist.
KW: Since the election of Barack Obama, it’s been said from the pulpit of many black churches that African-Americans are now without excuse regarding their lack of responsibility, high school drop-outs, high crime, illegal drug usage, and other social ills. Reverend Thompson wonders whether you find any truth to this statement.
Cornel West: Not at all. Its just right-wing jargon which suggests that somehow weve never wanted to be responsible. And those folks who havent been responsible, should have been. They didnt need to wait for Obama to win. The greatest critics in terms of black responsibility has always been the black community itself. So, I think weve always had black responsibility. One election doesnt make a difference in that regard. Besides, a black face in the White House doesnt mean that the fight against racism is over. Theres still white supremacy, police brutality, and discrimination in the workplace, in housing and so forth to deal with.
KW: Some have said that President-elect Obama was “God’s candidate” and that he was divinely appointed. Do you believe that?
Cornel West: I dont think God is in the business of selecting candidates. God is a God of justice. All of us stand under divine judgment. So does Barack. Where Barack is on the side of justice, God is for him. Where Barack is lukewarm towards justice, God is suspicious. And where hes against justice, God is critical. Thats true for all of us.
KW: Anthony Noel, a Muslim brother says, You, as a person of faith, have made it a point to criticize those of us who condemn homosexuality and its behavior, as being homophobic. What is your basis for such a criticism?
Cornel West: As a Christian, Im Christ-centric, and Jesus did talk about the quality of love and the quality of relations, and I think that it is possible for there to be mature love between same-sex brothers and sisters.
KW: Tony also asks, what is your impression, thus far, of Obamas appointing so few blacks to positions in his administration?
Cornel West: Give him time, but their color is not as important as what they stand for.
KW: Yeah, look at Clarence Thomas.
Cornel West: Exactly!
KW: And Tony asks, does Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood, an abortion advocacy group, in your view, put him in contradiction to his claims of being a person of faith.
Cornel West: No.
KW: Marianne Ilaw asks whether you think that Obama is more palatable to whites because he doesn’t carry the legacy of slavery and all its uncomfortable baggage, and whether his election will usher in a new era where whites opt for exotic-looking blacks, African and Caribbean immigrants and biracials, over those folks whose ancestors toiled in the fields?
Cornel West: No, Obama is a gentle brother with a sweet disposition that doesnt constitute a threat to white brothers and sisters. Malcolm X was full of rage and righteous indignation. Im with him, too. I love all different kind of black folks. Malcolm X was a different type of black man from Obama. That doesnt mean Barack is not honorable. We can appreciate them both.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
Cornel West: I do have a joy in my soul for my faith, and friends and family.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
Cornel West: Sure.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
Cornel West: Shadow and Act by Ralph Ellison. I read all 330 pages of it last night.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
Cornel West: No.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: Whats music are you listening to nowadays?
Cornel West: Thelonious Monk.
KW: My mom grew up with Monk and was lifelong friends with his sister. During my brief stint as a jazz musician back in the Seventies, I played on an album with Bob Northern, aka Brother Ahh, who had played with Monk in the Fifties. Also in our group was saxophonist Pat Patrick who is the father of Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts.
Cornel West: I didnt know Devals father played.
KW: Yeah, Pat Patricks a giant. He played baritone with Sun Ra for years. He was the cat with the dark glasses. He also played with Monk, Coltrane and Duke Ellington.
Cornel West: Is that Devals father? Wow!
KW: Yep, well, thanks again for the interview and I hope to chat with you again soon about your memoirs which I understand youll be publishing next year.
Cornel West: Thank you. Youre welcome to come right on in anytime.
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The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic (Chris Hedges)
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By Cornel West
Brother West is like its author: brilliant, unapologetic, full of passion yet cool. This poignant memoir traces Wests transformation from a schoolyard Robin Hood into a progressive cultural icon. From his youthful investigation of the death shudder to why he embraced his calling of teaching over preaching, from his three marriages and his two precious children to his near-fatal bout with prostate cancer, West illuminates what it means to live as an aspiring bluesman in a world of ideas and a jazzman in the life of the mind. Woven together with the fibers of his lifelong commitment to the prophetic Christian tradition that began in Sacramentos Shiloh Baptist Church, Brother West is a tale of a man courageous enough to be fully human, living and loving out loud.
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Frank B. Wilderson III
Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson’s stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who’ve accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela’s rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela’s regime deems Wilderson’s public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. WPublishers Weekly
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By Irshad Manji
In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and lovethe universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.
What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
“Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Michael Grunwald
Time senior correspondent Michael Grunwald tells the secret history of the stimulus bill, the purest distillation of Change We Can Believe In, a microcosm of Obamas policy successes and political failures. Though it is reviled by the right and rejected by the left, it really is a new New Deal, larger than FDRs and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obamas long-term agenda. The stimulus is pouring $90 billion into clean energy, reinventing the way America is powered and fueled; it includes unprecedented investments in renewables, efficiency, electric cars, a smarter grid, cleaner coal, and more. Its carrying health care into the digital era. Its Race to the Top initiative may be the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It produced the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, a broadband initiative reminiscent of rural electrification, and an overhaul of the New Deals unemployment insurance system. Its revamping the way government addresses homelessness, fixes infrastructure, and spends money.
Grunwald reveals how Republicans have obscured these achievements through obstruction and distortion. The stimulus launched a genuine national comeback. It also saved millions of jobs, while creating legacies that could rival the Hoover Dam: the worlds largest wind farm, a new U.S. battery industry, a new high-speed rail network, the worlds highest-speed Internet network. Its main legacy, like the New Deals, will be change.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 15 July 2012