Monday, October 26, 2009

West on Obama

From David Remnick's interesting Talk of the Town piece about Cornel West:

West campaigned for Obama in Iowa, South Carolina, Illinois, and Ohio, but he was dismayed by his speech on race in Philadelphia. West thought the speech was politically “masterful,” but “intellectually, it was pretty thin.” He kept his thoughts to himself, but he was especially annoyed that Obama had said that the Reverend Wright was full of rage, because he was somehow stuck in time, still wrestling with Jim Crow, and that he equated black anger with white resentment. “Have you seen the young brothers and sisters in prison, on the block?” West said. “I don’t mind being an angry black man in terms of having righteous indignation at injustice, given the situation right now in the country. But as a candidate he had to distance himself. . . . There have been excesses of affirmative action and so forth and so on, but Jim Crow de facto is still in place. . . . Who are the major victims of that? The poor—disproportionately black and brown and red. You got to tell the truth, Barack. Don’t trot out this shit with this coded stuff!” And yet, West said, “I intentionally remained relatively silent. It was a very delicate moment.”

Now, a year after the election, West has kept to his promise: he is a Socratic supporter. “I don’t want to downplay the progress, though, because Obama is a black man. It’s just that: first, you’ve got the parents. It’s more Johnny Mathis than Curtis Mayfield, or more Lena Horne than Sarah Vaughan, in terms of phenotype. And, second, you’ve got someone who really is a master at easing the fears and anxieties of white brothers and sisters. That’s part of the basis of his success. And I don’t put that down. We need different kinds of people in the world.”

So far, West finds himself infinitely more impressed by Obama’s mastery of “spectacle” than by his attention to the poor. “In terms of the impact on young people, I think it’s a beautiful thing,” he said of Obama’s election. “But, in the end, even spectacle has to deal with the darkness. That’s where the bluesman comes in. Guy Lombardo can be nice on a certain night, but you’re going to need Duke Ellington and Count Basie.”

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