Dr. Cornel West. With his controversial politics and black church-infused rhetoric, it seems that everyone has an opinion on Dr. West and his political and social agenda. What does one do when face-to-face with the Good Doctor, with upwacrds of 20 minutes to spare?
Video interview? check.
Talk politics and whatnot, shooting the breeze? check.
Pray? double check.
DR. WEST GIVES ME A SHOUTOUT DURING HIS SPEECH?? WHAAAAAAAH???
The video portion of the pre-lecture interview will be up soon. Meeting Dr. West was phenomenal, and I’m so grateful to God that Dr. West has kept his spiritual self close to his political self. He is unapologetic, and his body is on the line.
Now for the article! Photo slideshow at the end!
West offers critique of democracy, power structures
Well-known scholar, activist and advocate for global and domestic civil rights Cornel West, who is a professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, addressed a packed Cohen Auditorium in a lecture last night with a message calling for critical personal and social analysis, emphasizing the significance of the plight of working class individuals in advocating for democratic and social reform.
West’s lecture was part of the Faculty Progressive Caucus’s American Democracy in Crisis Series and was made possible largely through his academic and personal relationship with Tufts Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Jerry Meldon, according to James Glaser, Dean of Undergraduate Education for Arts, Sciences and Engineering.
“He’s very outspoken, he has a great sense of right and wrong and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power,” Meldon told the Daily.
The Tufts Diversity Fund, the Peace and Justice Studies program, the Africana Center, the Office of Intercultural and Social Identities Program, the Office of Student Affairs and the Office for Campus Life co-sponsored the lecture.
West began his lecture with an air of comfortable familiarity and lightheartedness, expressing his desire to unsettle Tufts students in their political and social beliefs in order to incite academic and social change in students.
“I hope I say something that unsettles you, unnerves you,” he said.
During the lecture, West challenged attendees to confront their own location in the democratic process and to learn to “die” — that is, to shrug off preconceived notions of others and themselves in an effort to renew their own expansion capabilities.
“Democracies must be reborn continually,” he said. “It’s a process of critically examining yourself. It’s about learning how to die. When you ‘die,’ you let go of assumption or prejudice or prejudgment, that’s a form of death, and you don’t grow without that kind of death.”
West critiqued and analyzed current political structures, including public political offices, and their involvement, or lack thereof, in assisting and advocating on the behalf of the working class and poor demographic groups in the United States.
“When I talk about democracy, I always begin with those catching hell, the wretched of the earth,” he said, referring to members of historically and socially “marginalized” groups based on class, race and often history.
“What does American democracy look like from the vantage point of indigenous brothers and sisters?” West asked.
“World War I has been going on since 1492,” he continued, prompting applause from the audience.
He acknowledged the high crime, alcohol abuse, substance abuse and incarceration rates among individuals living on Native American reservations in the United States.
“With these 312 [Native American] reservations, there is very little visibility in public discourse,” he said. “And our indigenous brothers and sisters don’t have to be in the room for us to be sensitive to their suffering. They’re as precious or priceless as anyone else.”
West expressed his excitement about the younger generation’s involvement in the Occupy movement. He has personally participated in several Occupations.
“When you have a deep compassion for suffering, you can’t stand there being treated unfairly, unjustly,” he said. “That’s the kind of fire we need among the younger generation. That’s why I get excited by [the] Occupy movement.”
His forthcoming work, “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto,” aims to discuss the different faces of poverty.
“As long as we see only black and brown, it’ll be difficult,” he said.
In closing, West reminded the audience that fights for justice and equality, while often appearing insurmountable, are long-term ventures contingent on lifetime dedication that continues into post-graduate life.
“The question is, how rigorous, how robust and how much courage will students have after they graduate? How courageous will you be?” he said.
“You’ve got to be a long distance runner,” he added. “Many are happy to ‘break the glass ceiling’, but what about those in the basement? That’s the kind of sensibility required to be a person in the long run … It’s about action and an intellectual, moral, and spiritual collective.”
I’m going to post my “full” article up tomorrow or Saturday. How do you cut down thousands of words into a bitesized snapshot, that moves and educates people with the force of those thousands of words? That’s the art of it.