Cornel West: The Modern day Griot (Part 3)

So what symbolic event could ever take place to start averting Cornel West’s notion that the US is an institutionally racist nation? Surely the one that took place early this year with the presidency of Barack Obama; America’s first African-American president.

West’s opinion on Obama has been critically supportive over the period of time in 2007 and early 2008 that he joined his campaign trail. West’s socialist tendencies have meant that he has taken a step back on promoting Obama for his economic policies due to his appointment of advisers such as Robert Rubin, the economist who was behind the financial deregulation of the Clinton years. But West considers the presidency to be symbolic on the psyche of black people and their struggles against what he considers to be America’s “white supremacy”.

Another public issue that West has recently immersed himself in is the debate over the term “post-racial America”. For West, the term’s recent importance designates a change in attitude that the white voter has of black candidates, what West calls “crossing the colour line”. Which, in his opinion, is obviously no bad thing, but it needn’t cross the line into “colour-blindness”. He goes on to say that the “black body” should be associated with “black humanity” and that the term “post-racial” is just an expression of “less racism”.

For justification, West notes that black voters have been voting on white candidates for years and, for them, it was not an expression of the post-racial, but looking for the best policies in a candidate, or, as West himself put it, apropos of the vote for a white mayor over the black candidate in Gary, Indiana, a vote based on “qualification as opposed to pigmentation”. And here, of course, he does have a major point; why should the issue of post-racial America emerge only now that there is a black president when black voters have always been looking beyond racial issues in their candidacy choice?

Whatever the outcome on the post-racial debate, West has told his supporters, and supporters of Obama in general, that the most important thing they can do is make their voices heard during his presidency years, and revitalise American democracy from its slumber. West has said that he aims to put pressure on Obama himself. In the interview with Democracy Now he stated clearly that he hoped Obama will be a “progressive Lincoln” so that West can be the “Frederick Douglass [abolitionist who held talks with Lincoln in 1863 on the treatment of black soldiers] to put pressure on him.” And my suspicions are that in the next few years he will do just that. Cornel West’s highly enthused, energetic and celebrated voice will be heard many more times to come in this new American era, and I also predict that his voice will soon start to be heard more widely in this country as well.

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