Really, Cornel West?

Cornel West could teach a class … in how not to gain credibility as a civic activist.

Professor West and his buddy Tavis Smiley have launched a poverty tour (because President Obama is not getting it done to their satisfaction, so they’re going to fix that intractable problem that Lyndon Johnson couldn’t solve either.)

But when the New York Times Magazine interviewed West about his intellectual, rather than civil rights, activism, he went and said this (hat tip to The American Prospect’s Tapped blog):

Q:You lament in your book “Race Matters” that there’s a lack of black leadership. You’re smart, very charismatic — why did you never become what we would consider a black leader in the mold of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X?West: Well, one, it’s because we live in an age where there are no movements. But second, and most important, I have to be true to my calling. Martin King’s calling was to be a Christian preacher. Mine is much more linked to the life of the mind and being able to move back and forth. This weekend I was with Bootsy Collins at B.B. King’s. We wrote two songs together on his new album — that’s just one context where I try to play a very important role outside the academy. But my calling is still one of being an intellectual warrior and spiritual soldier.

Really, professor? You couldn’t march or organize because you were chilling with B.B. King and Bootsy, making music? Really really???

UPDATE: Here comes the rebuttal, “Really, Reid Report?

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23 Responses to Really, Cornel West?

  1. I'm staring to think Obama saw something disingenuous with Dr West that's why they aren't bffs anymore. And who's sponsoring the Poverty Tour? McDonald's? WalMart? Delta? Wells Fargo?

  2. LOL@Jeffrey. I will now be looking at sponsors and major donors.

  3. ABL says:

    I’m surprised he didn’t start reminiscing about his days with the Wachowskis filming Matrix Revolutions.


    i can’t stop laughing.

  4. Alli says:

    Maya Angelou said ‘when people show you who they are, believe them.’ Cornel is showing his ass in that statement and his defenders need to open their eyes. They should have dumped his butt when he was complaining about them inauguration tickets and how the bell hop got one and he didn’t.

  5. FoxyOldBroad says:

    West hasn’t been actively involved in any protest or any movement in the 35 years I known about him. Of course, he gets paid be bucks for speaking, but I don’t think that really counts – except for increasing his bank account.

  6. Essence says:

    I do not think that Cornell West’s words should be so misinterpreted. I see West as an important intellectual icon our times. Just because he doesn’t fit the “mold” of a Martin or Malcolm does not make him any less significant in the scope of CURRENT black history. (please keep in mind the word: CURRENT)

    No, he is not/ has not been marching or organizing. However, those are absolutely not the only ways to be a leader. I can agree that maybe he didn’t answer the question posed to him in the best way that he could have. But he did not say that he was with Bootsy Collins instead of organizing or marching.

    The Collins meeting and organizing were two separate ideas.

    The main sentence in the interview to address the question is: “mine is much more liked to the life of the mind and being able to move back and forth”. In this he’s saying he doesn’t want to fit into your box (of marching and organizing) that you define a “civil activism”. Instead he enjoys dabbling into a variety of activities spanning from writing books to making music.

    If anything, I applaud Cornell West for his efforts to taylor his means of communication to reach out to a broad based audience. His website is indicative of one who embraces new technology and internet connectivity in a way that past leaders of the civil rights movement could never fathom.

    He targets the youth (aka the future leaders) through social media. He has both Facebook and Twitter accounts. There is no denying that these social networking sites are the platforms for reach hundreds of millions of men and women. He is often involved not only with other intellectuals but film makers, hip-hop and R&B artist. This results in reaching much larger demographics (worldwide), whereas marching and organizing would undoubtedly fall short.

    I learned not too long ago to stop wishing and waiting for a Martin or Malcolm lookalike (or in this case “act alike”). It is 2011, and we should accept the change in the times that warrant a variety of leaders with different tactics, talents, and techniques that represent a new age of “civil activism”.

    (This response is also posted on my blog

  7. The POTUS is no fool. I respect Dr. West, and believe his best intentions are sincere. But there may be either something wrong with our brother DrW, or there is more to all of this that may surface at some point. Black on black crime is wrong on any level and no matter how many letters of the alphabet one has behind their name or position they hold. Wrong is still wrong even regardless of ethnicity. Come on my dear DrW and Smiley…, we're better than this.

  8. Chip Uni says:

    Hey — I’d love to hang with Bootsy. Maybe Dr. West’s writing will awaken some people’s minds?

    Naaah. Dr. West wanted to hang with Bootsy, too.

  9. What a feckless post. Cornel answered the question honestly, and, in passing, mentioned that he tries to break through with some people through popular music. You use that aside to indict his entire life as an intellectual and activist, a life in which he has never stopped raising his voice against injustice, writing books toward the same end, and generally pushing a message — a *compelling* message — of love and brotherhood in a cynical world. Lousy stuff, Reid.

  10. Precious says:

    I think, despite detrimental comments on West to the contrary, that he has it right … it seems he is not blinded by passion for a man who does not deserve it. Thank God for those who can see.

  11. I love both these brothers, but I'm starting to question their motives. With all this intelligence, you would think that by now they would have realized that going directly to an individual with a concern is much better than attacking them through the media. Again we're eating our own.

  12. Sepia says:


    Having a Twitter account and a Facebook account does not an activist make.

    Jordan Melnick,

    You’re right. West does raise his voice —- to the tune of $50,000 per speaking engagement. I can only imagine the grip he’s made from the books he’s written. No doubt enough to afford his home in Martha’s Vineyard.


  13. Hsquared says:

    Essence wrote: ” I can agree that maybe he didn’t answer the question posed to him in the best way that he could have”. Considering his education, I have to assume it’s because he really didn’t have an answer to the question. West isn’t a marcher or an organizer, but he can go on a tour to reeducate us ignant black folk that Obama is our enemy. West has allow himself to become a black puppet and mascot for bitter sore loser PUMAs who still can’t get over Obama beating Hillary in the ’08 Dem primary.

  14. freder421 says:

    Dr. West, should stop throwing stones in his glass house. No amount of spin or word salad is going to change that fact.

    So the question is, how much are Dr. West and Tavis, being paid for their latest tour? And if they are being paid, who are they donating the money too?

  15. LifeLibertyHappiness says:

    Smiley and West fall far short of leading any campaign to empower African Americans or poor people. Imagine how little would have been accomplished if Dr. King had spent his time making the weekly rounds on talk shows and selling books instead of organizing poor people and African Americans. Can someone please list the number of Black voters that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have personally registered? How many doors have they knocked on in Black neighborhoods? I’m looking for hard numbers here. Please be specific. Name the city, time, and place. Please do not list any TV shows, magazine interviews, or other self-promoting events that required cameras and make-up artists. Though I am far from being a kid, I am younger than both Smiley and West. I would put my own personal voter registration and doorknocking record up against either of them any day. I began volunteering to engage voters when I was nine years old (following my parents lead). I have gone alone to some of the roughest neighborhoods in Miami trying to register voters. It’s not uncommon for me to see some of the places that I have canvassed featured in the news as murder scenes or sites of other violent crimes. I have helped convicted felons get back into the electorate and become voters again (If someone has record of Smiley and West doing these, please post the events). With their influence and connections, these two guys should have some powerful numbers to present. I assure you that Obama has organized more people, registered more voters, and knocked on more doors than Smiley and West have collectively. I have seen Obama, Smiley, and West in person. I have seen Obama at least 4 times, and each time he was either organizing voters, participating in community service, or speaking to young African Americans about their future. On the occasions that I have seen Smiley and West, they were at book fairs or at some other event where they ended up behind a table signing and selling their books, DVD’s, or other wares. Also, I was somewhat amused to see that Cornel West has a specific angry grin that he projects when a camera is on him. He flips it on and off like a light switch. Years ago, I attended one of Smiley’s State of Black America events here in Miami (where people sell books and DVD’s of the broadcasts of previous years). I watched West go between light-hearted joking to making that serious face whenever someone approached with a camera. Smiley and West are doing more for themselves and than they are for the Black community or poor people.

  16. Ronbo says:

    Petty? Yes. More importantly, I could ask President why he could not use the 14th Amendment to have avoided all this kubuki. Oh, the President needs to amp up the country so that he can work to cut Social Security. Oh, now it makes sense.

    The Presidential agenda is compromise (losing to the Republicans once again). Instead of pushing the 14th amendment option, the President would rather have millions work further into our old age.

    Trimming trees at age 67 is a breeze! I can’t wait to be 90! Maybe President Obama will have me patching highways in the blazing Arizona sun. That would be ideal.

    This president is a Republican trojan-horse.

  17. mereswin says:


    I totally agree with you on that Obama saw nothing but a false leader in Cornel.

  18. Alli says:

    @ronbo: do you realize what a puppet YOU are? invoking the 14th amendment is the last option and should be avoided if possible. Its not something you pull out from the jump and it is not something to be used lightly, but you have sure fallen for the latest goal post set up by the professional left.

  19. Mark Waugh says:

    I think Obama take the right decision. West is nothing but a fake person. Anyway thanks for allocation.

  20. hilda banks says:

    Cornell talks too much. Just complaining and criticizing doesn’t make him an activist. Please don’t hitch your star to his and Tavis’ wagons. Every year Tavis does that stupid The State of Black America program and they have goals to be reached each year. I never hear if any of those goals have ever been reached. I watch the program but I am tired of listening to blacks complain when there is so much more they can do in their own communities and with the money in the black community there is no reason we should be in the situation we are in. I love Rev Al’s new gig. A shout out to him because he comes with facts and will go toe to toe with his guests exposing the Republican party’s hypocrisy. I hope he will be a permanent fixture. Take a lesson Dr West.

  21. Dee says:

    First of all, we all know that the minute President Obama says anything about a program “specifically” geared for African-Americans, he would be crucified because everyone (especially in the media) would then say that he is being biased towards Blacks. He can’t win.

    This is nothing but personal pettiness. I’m hearing more about Obama on this tour than any of our Americans in poverty. Smiley is still mad that Obama didn’t kiss his ring and come to his little Black Union town hall back in 2008 and West is still angry that he couldn’t bully he and his Mom’s way into the Inauguration. They both need to grow up. Period. Their overheated rhetoric is serving no purpose but to try to divide the African-American community at a time when our unity means everything.

    Now, I have not been on board with quite a few things President Obama has done while in office and have written my own share of disappointed e-mails and letters about some of his policies, but I also know that he is our best bet for the future and pettiness like this only serves to weaken his base of support. President Obama is going to need record Black support to combat the Tea Party come 2012 and we do not need people like Smiley and West trying to undermine that support!

    Bottom line…I am just sick and tired of publicity seeking Blacks who seem to have just found their angry voice now that we have an African-American President in office. Where was this bus tour for the 8 years of the Bush Administration when we were being driven into this poverty ditch?

    And by the way, who exactly is funding this little cross-country adventure?!?! Just asking…

  22. Dee says:

    BTW, if you haven’t heard this yet, check out Steve Harvey’s take on the whole situation…hilarious!!!

    (audio link)

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