Cornel West: Out of Touch With Reality of Racism



President Obama lives with the reality of racism on a daily basis and must contend with Republican obstructionism that blocks his presidential efforts to make any real economic progress. Does Obama need black enemies when he has the GOP? When I read West’s article titled “Dr. King Weeps From His Grave,” I was quite surprised by his statement when he said:

The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.

“Tragically”? This kind of elminationist rhetoric sounds a bit Republican. Perhaps West could physically continue the work that Dr. King could not finish. Is West critical of Obama because he feels ignored by him? West is not actually talking about poor people; he’s talking about impoverished African Americans. I do not recall Obama running on a platform to help African Americans only. Majority of the African American community is under no illusion that Obama can improve their economic circumstances overnight. African Americans have been faced with poor economic conditions for over two hundred years since their so-called emancipation from slavery. And West has ignored that black poverty is the result of whites turning them out of slavery into a hostile racist society with no material assistance to help them build their own lives. Brooks offers the most plausible answer to African Americans’ inability to achieve racial and economic justice and equality in U.S. society, even today. This allegory helps clarify the long-term economic problems facing African Americans today:

Two persons—one white, the other black—are playing a game of poker. The game has been in progress for almost four hundred years. One player—the white one—has been cheating during much of this time, but now announces: ‘From this day forward, there will be a new game with new players and no more cheating.’ Hopeful but somewhat suspicious, the black player responds, ‘That’s great. I’ve been waiting to hear you say that for some four hundred years. Let me ask you, what are you going to do with all those poker chips that you have stacked up on your side of the table all these years?’ ‘Well,’ says the white player, somewhat bewildered by the question, ‘I’m going to keep them for the next generation of white players, of course.’

This allegory suggests that if whites wanted to create a society where racial justice and equality prevailed, they would have shared a portion of the wealth with newly freed slaves, giving them the necessary resources to provide for themselves, their families, and their posterity. By doing so, government social programs on which many impoverished African Americans rely today would not be an issue and stir the hatred of whites who are deliberately ignorant of black history and believe African Americans want the government to take care of them.

Even though African Americans have seen some improvement since the death of Dr. King, they still have a long economic way to go. When West claims that Obama has failed to articulate “a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief and jobs and investment in education,” he is being political and his rhetoric sounds much like that of the Republicans, eliminationist rhetoric. How can poor African Americans afford mortgage relief when intergenerational poverty has prevented the masses of them from becoming homeowners? The unemployment rate among African Americans (15.9%) is greater than the national average, 9.1% and generally has been the highest among all racial groups for many decades. Moreover, I do not recall any African American males touting that West has visited them in prison, have helped them get a college education, have created any organizations to help them achieve basic math or reading skills, or have visited depressed urban areas to plead their case before Congress.

West, like the GOP, has failed to acknowledge Obama’s many accomplishments, and they focus too much on what Obama is not doing rather than how they can join him in a national effort to help ease the problems of African Americans and American citizens in general, as West suggests in his statement. Carter G. Woodson, considered the father of black history, informs us that elite African Americans who have been so long inconvenienced and denied opportunities for development are naturally afraid of devoting themselves to uplifting the black race.