Posted 5 years ago on Oct. 7, 2014, 6:21 a.m. EST by flip
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CORNEL WEST: Yeah, I think that he not only falls outside of the black prophetic tradition, but unfortunately he’s oftentimes been identified with it and confused—and it leads toward confusion, because people think that somehow Barack Obama is the culmination of Frederick Douglass and Martin and Malcolm and Ida and Ella and others, and it’s the exact opposite, that he is as establishmentarian, he is as much pro-status quo, as a Bill Clinton or a Hillary Clinton or any other neoliberal opportunist. And that needs to be said over and over again. It leads toward unbelievable confusion, and in the end it leads toward capitulation.
AMY GOODMAN: Right now, President Obama is bombing Iraq, bombing Syria. Can you compare Dr. Martin Luther King—he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, President Obama also won the Nobel Peace Prize—and what they say about war?
CORNEL WEST: Well, I mean, one, I think most of us agree that it was just a joke that a war president would win the Nobel Peace Prize. But it’s happened before. Theodore Roosevelt won, and of course Henry Kissinger, war criminal par excellence, won. So the Nobel Prize committee has made some real mistakes in that regard. But Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a man of peace. He was a radical pacifist, and so he was against war across the board. And what a stark contrast it is. Now, myself, I’m not a pacifist at all. I believe in just war. I would have joined the spirit of the nation to fight against apartheid. I would have joined armies to fight against a thug named Hitler. I would join various movements, out of a motivation for self-defense, to actually pick up arms in this regard. I’m against genocide. I’m against fascism. I’m willing to fight against them, so that in that sense I think one can still be committed to justice and committed to peace, but recognize the circumstances under which one does have to fight. Martin Luther King Jr. would disagree with that. My dear brother Desmond Tutu would disagree with that. Barack Obama has imperial armies with imperial wars going on simultaneously in various parts of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he has demobilized progressives in the United States, the very people that elected him?
CORNEL WEST: No doubt about it. Absolutely. He’s set back progressive movements. He’s set back prophetic possibilities in black America.............. That’s exactly right. And this is very important in terms of our present moment, because you remember Carl Rowan. Carl Rowan was the most popular black journalist in the 1960s. He demonized Malcolm X. He trivialized Martin Luther King Jr. when he came out against the empire in Vietnam. And we’re living in a moment now where there’s a kind of Carl Rowanization of black journalism. So you see it on TV, in MSNBC and so forth, of people who act as if they’re saying something critical, but in fact it’s milquetoast, and it’s well adjusted to the status quo. And when we look back at the 1960s, very few people talk about Carl Rowan in any positive way. And you see his vicious attacks on Spike Lee when Spike made the movie on Malcolm X, and especially that Reader’s Digest piece that he wrote in ’67 talking about how Martin Luther King Jr. had lost integrity, lost responsibility. You say, "Carl, what are you talking about?" But same is true for so many of the black journalists today on TV and those who are often in mainstream white newspapers. The black independent press is being lost, just like black independent radio is being lost. And this Black Prophetic Fire is simply a way of saying, well, when it comes to our youth, when it comes to our music, when it comes to the culture, when it comes to politics, we need a renaissance of integrity, courage, vision, willingness to serve and, most importantly, willingness to sacrifice.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds, but where does President Obama fit into this picture? Or does he?
CORNEL WEST: President Obama is a neoliberal centrist. He is a pro-imperial president. He is brilliant, he’s charismatic, but he is the head of the American empire and sits at the center of the U.S. status quo. The black prophetic tradition is a profound critique and indictment of the system that he heads, and of course generates profound disappointment in the priorities of Wall Street, of drones, of mass surveillance that we’ve seen in his administration. But we say it in love. People say, "Oh, Brother West, you’re always putting the president down and then talking about love." I love the brother. I pray for his safety and his family. He’s wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: He was a sociologist, a historian, a civil rights activist, born in 1868, dies in 1963. We want to play a clip of W. E. B. Du Bois speaking in 1951 about African Americans’ and workers’ rights in an audio recording preserved by the Pacifica Radio Archives. W. E. B. DU BOIS: Because most American Negroes of education and property have long since oversimplified their problem and tried to separate it from all other social problems, they conceive that their fight is simply to have the same rights and privileges as other American citizens. They do not for a moment stop to question how far the organization of work and distribution of wealth in America is perfect, nor do they for a moment conceive that the economic organization of America may have fundamental injustices and shortcomings which seriously affect not only Negroes, but the whole world. AMY GOODMAN: W. E. B. Du Bois, speaking in 1951— CORNEL WEST: Wow, that’s incredible. AMY GOODMAN: —the Pan-Africanist, the sociologist, the civil rights leader. Talk about how he was represented and how he’s remembered and how you feel he was sanitized? What has been whited out of his history? CORNEL WEST: Well, it’s just amazing to hear his voice. I salute both of you for keeping his voice alive, his presence alive. Keep in mind he’s 83 years old. He’s just emerged from a court case where they’ve had him in handcuffs. He was head of the Peace Information Center, which is simply an organization to ban nuclear weapons. He was viewed as a representative of a foreign government or agent of a foreign government. He was under arrest. He had just married Sister Shirley Graham Du Bois, a towering freedom fighter in her own right, on Valentine’s Day of 1951. And he’s still strong as ever. He’s left-wing. He’s a threat, not just to the system; he’s a threat to the black middle class. They’re attempting to gain access to a mainstream. They’re attempting to become more and more part of a status quo. He is determined to follow through on the love for poor people, oppressed people. But he begins on the chocolate side of town, as so many of us. He starts with black people and loves brown, red, yellow, white, across the board. And when, I think, the history is written of the decline and fall of the American empire, Du Bois’s voice will probably be the major voice, along that of Herman Melville and Toni Morrison and a few others. He was a truth teller.