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In defense of Cornel West’s prophetic voice

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

I first met Cornel West almost thirty years ago when I was invited to share the podium with him at a New York venue on the subject of Israel and the Palestinians. I had just published Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation but more importantly the first Palestinian uprising was in full swing. Looking back those who invited us may have been looking toward a reinvigorated Black-Jewish dialogue by the infusion of the Israel-Palestine issue. I remember thinking that West was a bit soft on the issue; he let me lead while he followed along.

Back then, West was a little known academic and I remember driving around New York in his secondhand beat-up car. Soon after he exploded on the American academic and public intellectual scene in an almost unprecedented way. As an African American Christian, West was upfront about his justice-seeking agenda and, quite unexpectedly, the American media and university scene was ready for such a voice.

That was many years ago and when, just a few days ago, Michael Eric Dyson’s article excoriating West, his former mentor, colleague and friend, went viral, the internal African American debate about Black leadership and the broader public debate about liberal and radical politics heated up. The heat continues unabated.

Dyson’s article is long and personal. It has been hailed by some as analytical. It has been labeled by others as a diatribe. My sense is that Dyson is making a case for himself replacing West as the leading Black public intellectual in America. The title of Dyson’s article makes this clear: the once giant Cornel West has taken a great fall.

What is that fall about? Primarily Dyson calls West out for a self-reference that is epic, including among other things, West’s self-proclaimed prophetic mandate. Carrying that mandate most vociferously in West’s condemnation of President Obama as, among other things, a sell-out and a war criminal, Dyson protests loudly. Such a sweeping condemnation is unmerited, Dyson believes, and in its personal nature, exposes West’s overwhelming ambition. West calls out other Black figures, including Dyson himself, as favoring Obama because he is Black and lacking the moral fortitude to speak truth to power.

Though Israel-Palestine is a side issue in Dyson’s critique of West, it is important to note that both he and West are called to account in Stephen Salaita’s, Israel’s Dead Soul (pdf), in a scathing chapter, “Ethnonationalism as an Object of Multicultural Decorum.” Salaita’s critique of both is formidable and needs further exploration. At the same time though, it is important to note that West was one of the few public intellectuals with access to the national media to call out Israel’s war against Gaza in no uncertain terms. Recently West turned down a prestigious lecture at the University of Illinois in protest over Salaita’s dismissal.

In the continuing debate over American foreign policy and Israeli militarism, West, unlike Dyson, is clear and upfront. Though West sometimes seems out of his depth when the particular history of Israel-Palestine is discussed and has been accused of being overly protective of Jews in their empowered status, his use of the word “annihilation” in relation to Israel’s bombing of Gaza is again by far the strongest public commentary by a nationally known figure on the American scene.

I reconnected with West in 2011 when he gave a moving presentation on my own writing and teaching through the years at the national convention of university religious teachers. As with Salaita, he was there for me as I was being persecuted by the infamous Ken Starr who had become president of my university.

I saw then that West was a marked man, famous now, as he wasn’t when I first met him, with much more money, but clearly exhausted. He had become an icon to many, especially in progressive religious circles. In recent decades the religious community has come alive on many issues, including and especially Israel-Palestine.

Though Dyson’s predicted fall of Cornel West is clearly exaggerated, his penchant for disciplining West’s prophetic voice should be taken seriously. For with whatever deficiency West may have on the Middle East, whatever the personal overreach that marks many of our public figures, including Dyson himself, it is more than countered by the potential growth in his prophetic voice that still has many more miles to travel.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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57 Responses

  1. joemowrey
    joemowrey
    April 23, 2015, 9:46 am

    West was one of many who gave unquestioning and unflagging support to Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign. Any principles and ideals West possessed were set aside because West wanted a black President, no matter what the cost.

    How come there were so many of us out there who could see through Obama’s faux-progressive veneer from the very beginning? That’s because we were color blind, preferring instead to look at what the man said and did rather than at his racial back ground.

    Look where this has gotten us. We are currently engaged in more direct and proxy wars than at any other time in our history. We assassinate people all around the globe with robot drones. The wealth gap (which of course impacts minorities more than any other demographic) is the largest ever.

    West’s current criticisms of this criminal administration are too little to late. An apology for his willful ignorance and lack of moral fortitude in supporting Obama in 2008 would go a lot further in bolstering my opinion of West. The truth was pretty obvious. Like so many alleged Progressives, West chose to ignore it.

    • Kris
      Kris
      April 23, 2015, 10:43 am

      @joemowrey: “How come there were so many of us out there who could see through Obama’s faux-progressive veneer from the very beginning? That’s because we were color blind, preferring instead to look at what the man said and did rather than at his racial back ground. ”

      I confess that I voted for Obama based on his race, and wept when he won because I was so happy I had seen a black man actually voted into the presidency. I just knew that someone who had experienced the pain of racism would work tirelessly to help everyone who is suffering at the bottom of our society.

      I was so wrong. Cornell West was wrong, too. West has been speaking out ever since, criticizing Obama at great personal cost. Yet you can’t have any respect for him unless he issues an “apology” for supporting Obama in the first place. Is it really helpful to keep beating up the people who were fooled by “Hope and Change”?
      Maybe you could forgive us, and welcome us back into your fold.

      • joemowrey
        joemowrey
        April 23, 2015, 7:09 pm

        Kris,

        See my post below for information about West’s Speaking fees. At $40,000 a pop, I’m thinking that’s as good a reason as any for West to apologize for shilling for Obama in 2008. (assuming he got paid for those appearances. I couldn’t verify that.) Our prophet is making more money in one evening than I make in a year. I doubt he has given back any of the money he made “speaking the truth” for Obama during the campaign.

        Maybe he could send some of his extreme wealth to the victims of Obama’s global assassination rampage. That might earn him some forgiveness from me.

        You? You I forgive! :) Unless of course you’re getting paid big bucks to speak truth to power. Myself, I don’t know what to do with all the money I make standing up for what’s right. Maybe lunch at Hardy’s.

    • annie
      annie
      April 23, 2015, 11:32 am

      I strongly disagree joe. I did not just vote for him because of his color.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        April 23, 2015, 1:20 pm

        I voted for Obama the first time as the lesser of two evils re foreign policy; I didn’t vote for either main party candidate second time around. I will be doing write-in or third party this time, again, knowing my vote doesn’t count at all next to the likes of Adelson, Soros, Saban, Koch Bros, etc.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        April 24, 2015, 11:28 am

        Looks like West learned his lesson well and is now catching a lot of flack for lesson learned:
        Truth-teller Cornel West stands up to Israel lobby bullies http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/truth-teller-cornel-west-stands-israel-lobby-bullies

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen
      April 25, 2015, 6:08 am

      Cornell West criticized Obama early on. And has done so consistently.

      Let’s see our choices were between warmongering Hillary Clinton and Obama. So most of us chose Obama. Then the choice was between warmongering McCain and Obama. What else were people supposed to do?

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        April 25, 2015, 6:50 am

        “Criticized” ain’t good enough –to his credit. he woke up, better late than never. Your saying “the choice was between warmongering McCain and Obama. What else were people supposed to do?” makes me wish you’d wake up too: supporting one of the two imperialist parties is not very consistent with Palestinian solidarity.

      • Kathleen
        Kathleen
        April 25, 2015, 11:02 pm

        Obama was not warmongering in the Senate. He was mostly a fence sitter. While he was not in congress in 2002 so did not have to vote for or against the 2002 Iraq war resolution. He had said loud and clear that he was against the invasion. Distinctly different from Clinton and McCain.

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        April 25, 2015, 11:08 pm

        Who cares about the past in the senate? He illegally pardoned the previous administration and started at least 4 wars of aggression and undue intervention on his own, to say nothing of other mayhem. As for what that guys says… I watch his hands.

      • tree
        tree
        April 25, 2015, 11:48 pm

        He had said loud and clear that he was against the invasion.

        No, actually he didn’t. He gave ONE pretty namby-pamby speech at an anti-war rally in Chicago pretty much just saying that we could better spend the money elsewhere when he was a a safe Illinois State Senator and the speech was deemed by his handlers to be advantageous to his then fortunes. He did clearly say that he wasn’t sure what he would have done if he had been a US Senator when the Iraq war authorization vote came up. He defended John Kerry’s (and Joe Biden’s) vote for the war. ( BTW, everyone seems to forget their votes. Why is that?) He wouldn’t have voted any differently than Clinton had he been in the US Senate in 2002. Some of us could see that early on.

        Others bought into his hope-y-change-y shtick. He was also the least socially progressive of the three Democratic candidates in 2008. What a surprise-NOT- that he turned out the way he did as President. I didn’t vote for him specifically because I didn’t think he was very progressive at all, but I really did hope that I was wrong about him. Time has proven I wasn’t.

      • Kathleen
        Kathleen
        April 27, 2015, 9:29 am

        Ech “who cares” Some of us actually look into our officials voting records and public stances. It does matter a great deal.

        Back to one of my original points. So between Obama and Hillary…we chose Obama. Then between McCain and Obama we chose Obama. Wise…best bet

    • Bobster1985
      Bobster1985
      April 26, 2015, 9:40 am

      The wealth gap? Do you really blame Obama for that, given that he’s been relentlessly opposed by Republicans on every policy that might have helped close that gap? He is the president, not a king. Given absolute power, his policies would no doubt be more in line with your politics, but that’s not the way our system works. Even so, he has gone a large way toward a redistributionist tax policy by scaling back the Bush tax cuts, and through Obamacare in which upper-income taxpayers are helping subsidize health insurance for others (one reason he’s so despised by the plutocrats.)

      On foreign policy, how can you doubt that his inclination was to end Bush’s reckless policy of intervention everywhere in the Middle East? He pulled our troops out of Iraq, and has largely done the same in Afghanistan. He has proceeded very cautiously, as in the case of Libya where he let other countries take the lead. The rise of ISIS and the spread of other radical Islamic movements has forced his hand, but still his actions have been restrained. Under a Bush/Cheney (or McCain/Palin) administration, you can bet that large U.S. ground forces would be engaged throughout the Middle East right now.

    • RobertHenryEller
      RobertHenryEller
      April 30, 2015, 10:55 am

      “Look where this has gotten us.”

      I thought people voted for Obama and Biden primarily because they were not McCain and Palin.

      Where would McCain and Palin have gotten us?

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    April 23, 2015, 9:55 am

    West’s fall? Better, but equivalently, West’s defenestration.

    There is a mechanism much used in America (and doubtless elsewhere) for social control. The controlling group “disciplines” people who speak out against the dogmas (or outright myths or lies) which are promoted by the controlling group (establishment).

    We’ve seen a lot of “discipline” done by the self-declared Jewish leadership in its promotion of the (arguably un-Judaic or even anti-Judaic) dogma of Zionism and many of its myths and lies. We’ve seen academics denied tenure (Finkelstein, Salaita), lectures called off, demonstrations called off, etc. We’ve seen an entire MSM so cowed by the prospect of loss of job and loss of employability that they will not touch I/P honestly with a ten-foot pole.

    The very same techniques are reported to have been used against those who challenge the USA’s official dogma (many say: myth/lie) explaining the terrorist events called “9/11”. See the last chapter “When State Crimes Against Democracy Succeed” of “9/11 Ten Years Later” by David Ray Griffin. You do not have to agree with his viewpoint (namely, that the USA’s official story is incorrect and flatly contradicted by oceans of facts) to take note of the types of “discipline” used to silence critics.

    Happily for 9/11 critics and I/P critics (Mondoweiss prominent among them) the USA still has “freedom of the press” even if the MSM has succumbed to what I am calling “discipline”.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      April 23, 2015, 1:31 pm

      The fav tactic is to call critics of official versions of anything “conspiracy theorists.’ I find this laughable since states always classify documentation of what they do and why, and the records are sealed for some time in the future, which time keeps getting extended, Both US and Israel governments are great examples of this, and why Bush jr smugly informed us all he was the doer, and the critics mere scribblers and he implied he’d be dead before the public got info on him and his cronies while in office–by then, he’d be dead,

    • Atlantaiconoclast
      Atlantaiconoclast
      April 23, 2015, 1:54 pm

      Israel is one of the chief beneficiaries of the official myth of 9/11, so it would be helpful if so called progressives stopped marginalizing those of us who do not believe the official myth.

  3. Kris
    Kris
    April 23, 2015, 10:17 am

    Cornell West’s problem is that he is a true prophet, and prophets have always been despised. http://www.proseandphotos.com/used_&_abused_god's_prophets.htm

    Another American prophet who has been “disciplined,” despised, and rejected because of the merciless truth of his words is Jeremiah Wright. His brilliant “America’s chickens coming home to roost” sermon shines way too bright a light on us; we couldn’t bear it:

  4. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    April 23, 2015, 10:35 am

    Dyson’s New Republic article, in its preamble which praises West’s earlier work, tells us that West invited Foucault to sing the “insurrection of subjugated knowledges”. I don’t know how or what Foucault sang, but the invitation is not only couched in beautiful language! but is one that Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, and many others have enthusiastically answered with regard to the subjugated knowledge of the Nakba as it was in 1948 and as it has since become.

    And since Dyson begins with a quote, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned”, one wonders what is going on with Dyson here — I am still reading his very interesting article, but if he sees West as having fallen, perhaps there is some “hate” here (too?).

    And haven’t we seen people rage against some of our own when they seem to contradict a well-loved doctrine (Finkelstein comes to mind as one raged-against because he seems to disparage BDS).

  5. annie
    annie
    April 23, 2015, 11:41 am

    there are 2 highly recommended embedded videos in this text, one ( embedded in “strongest public commentary by a nationally known figure on the American scene”) we just added to the base so you can watch it below the text of the article.

    the other is part one of west’s recent interview with dave letterman (embedded in “Black and lacking the moral fortitude to speak truth to power”)

    for some reason i find it really hard to see these embeds, but i hope people watch both the excellent videos. here’s pt 1 of the letterman interview:

    http://www.cbs.com/shows/late_show/video/53499481-C069-0573-301A-2491120A0A2C/dr-cornel-west-interview-part-1-david-letterman/

  6. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    April 23, 2015, 11:57 am

    I’ve finished the Dyson article. I’ve read his analysis of what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be a prophet. Not sure I agree that having a safe job (university tenure) makes being a prophet (for West, here) impossible — though doing the prophetic without tenure sure is less safe and harder. I see how West’s vicious attacks (as reported) would turn Dyson off from West, his mentor. A central issue in the article is West’s view (and his loud denunciation of Obama for it) that Obama should have supported Black needs more than he did, that Obama was in that respect (as in “faking left but going right” after his first election) a disappointment.

    I doubt that Obama is any worse than Clinton. And Clinton was dragged down into long-continuing subservience to the Establishment in a way that Obama is not — by his need to support his very ambitious wife. Clinton could not — as Obama still can/could — become purely progressive (on Palestine or on any other issue) during his lame duck period. But Obama is still a major disappointment for progressives. As I am not black, perhaps I cannot feel as West feels about Obama’s support for Black America. But it seems a touch racist for West to expect Obama to “act Black”. Obama is less “black” than “politician”. And he does act “politician”. Also, let us not forget — as Obama surely does not — what happened to Jack Kennedy who dared in several ways to oppose the establishment.

    • lysias
      lysias
      April 23, 2015, 12:39 pm

      What happened to JFK should not serve as a disincentive to imitating him, it should instead serve as a spur to imitate him. If presidents aren’t willing to risk their lives in order to do what they think is right, why do they think they have any right to be president in the first place?

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        April 23, 2015, 1:40 pm

        JFK was murdered “coincidentally” just when he was pressuring Israel not to make a bomb. Bobby was murdered & he wanted predecessor of AIPAC to register under FARA as agent of a foreign country. I see no POTUS candidate willing to risk anything to better the lot of average Americans–except Jim Web, who’s track record, unlike any of the other wannabes, suggests leadership in the best interest of the American collective.

  7. PhilthyRex
    PhilthyRex
    April 23, 2015, 12:21 pm

    I don’t follow either of these guy’s careers but all I have to say is that I was moved to tears by Cornell West’s appearance on David Letterman. Who else mentions the 500 dead Palestinian children killed in the last conflict? Respect.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      April 23, 2015, 1:42 pm

      Well, it won’t be Fox News talking heads, nor will it be Wolf (CNN) or Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow or that other guy (MSNBC).

  8. Donald
    Donald
    April 23, 2015, 12:24 pm

    This sounds like a fundamentally trivial and unimportant subject–intellectuals as celebrities.

    To the extent that West or any other intellectual is important, it is for the content of their criticisms. On the drone strike issue, for instance, what matters are who gets killed, how many innocents die, why some forms of killing are called “terrorism” and others are blessed by the state. I could not care less whether Dyson thinks West is too harsh in his rhetoric, or who wants the title of “prophet” or any of that crap.

    • eljay
      eljay
      April 23, 2015, 12:45 pm

      || Donald @ April 23, 2015, 12:24 pm ||

      Well said.

      • Donald
        Donald
        April 23, 2015, 2:27 pm

        “Well said.”

        Thanks. So much of American (I think you’re Canadian, but it might be the same there) political and intellectual life seems to be conducted on the level of high school kids competing to see who gets to be labelled the cool ones. That’s what this sounds like.

      • eljay
        eljay
        April 23, 2015, 2:32 pm

        || Donald: … So much of American (I think you’re Canadian, but it might be the same there) political and intellectual life seems to be conducted on the level of high school kids competing to see who gets to be labelled the cool ones. … ||

        I am and it certainly seems to be.

  9. Philip Munger
    Philip Munger
    April 23, 2015, 1:41 pm

    Dr. West has posted a response of sorts to Dr. Dyson’s article:

    The escalating deaths and sufferings in Black and poor America and the marvelous new militancy in our Ferguson moment should compel us to focus on what really matters: The life and death issues of police murders, poverty, mass incarceration, drones, TPP (unjust trade policies), vast surveillance, decrepit schools, unemployment, Wall Street power, Israeli occupation of Palestinians, Dalit resistance in India, and ecological catastrophe.

    Character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo. I am neither a saint nor prophet, but I am a Jesus-loving free Black man in a Great Tradition who intends to be faithful unto death in telling the truth and bearing witness to justice. I am not beholden to any administration, political party, TV channel or financial sponsor because loving suffering and struggling peoples is my point of reference. Deep integrity must trump cheap popularity. Nothing will stop or distract my work and witness, even as I learn from others and try not to hurt others.

    But to pursue truth and justice is to live dangerously. In the spirit of John Coltrane’s LOVE SUPREME, let us focus on what really matters: the issues, policies, and realities that affect precious everyday people catching hell and how we can resist the lies and crimes of the status quo!

    https://m.facebook.com/drcornelwest/posts/10155468598900111

    http://www.salon.com/2015/04/23/cornel_west_responds_to_character_assassination_by_new_republic_deep_integrity_must_trump_cheap_popularity/

    • annie
      annie
      April 23, 2015, 3:15 pm

      thanks philip!

      • Philip Munger
        Philip Munger
        April 25, 2015, 5:04 am

        West’s listing of “ecological catastrophe” at the bottom of his list bothers me. Planet rape is a serious matter, and might be given more consideration for being put far higher on such lists.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen
      April 23, 2015, 9:57 pm

      West “I am not beholden to any administration, political party, TV CHANNEL, or financial sponsor because loving suffering and struggling peoples is my point of reference.” Every time I have been around West or heard him speak these words pour through his being and actions.

      Dyson sold out long ago…Comcast/MSNBC man. Now the only MSNBCer who really steps out of the box a bitt and focuses on the oppression embedded in the Israeli government and perpetrated on Palestinians has been Melissa Harris Perry. Joy Reid got close a few times. Chris Hayes too. Not Rachel Maddow, not Ed, not Al Sharpton, not Lawrence O’Donnell, not Eric Dyson. He is working his way up the Comcast/ MSNBC ladder or possibly does not give a rats ass about the human rights crimes being committed against Palestinians. Dr. Cornell West actually speaks out about this issue and many others.

  10. Citizen
    Citizen
    April 23, 2015, 1:54 pm

    I saw West’s plea in behalf the innocent Palestinian people–if memory serves, it was on Phil Maher’s show. That alone singled him out as having more moro integrity than any other appearing as a pundit on US mainstream media.

    Blacks have it easier than whites in USA to call Israel to account. But, until Bibi dissed Obama by going behind his back to address Congress against Obama’s Iran Deal, I never heard a peep from the Black Caucus.

  11. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    April 23, 2015, 3:47 pm

    Dyson speaks out loudly when it comes to racism, bigotry when it comes to African Americans. His justice stances stop there.

    Cornell West has been speaking out for justice for blacks, Palestinians, Native Americans, Central Americans, all people stricken with poverty. Cornell West sense of justice encompasses all oppressed peoples and he addresses this widely/

    Dyson sold out long ago to be a MSNBC contributor and some times sit in host. Dyson is going for the money and prestige of selling out. He never criticizes Obama when he deserves to be criticized.

    I’ll stand by Cornell West his fortitude and commitment for human rights and social justice are historic. He is not owned by MSNBC/Comcast as Dyson is.

  12. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    April 23, 2015, 5:39 pm

    It’s a bit hard to identify points at issue. Obama is a bone of contention but over what policies does the contention really arise? Palestine perhaps, but the Palestine problem seems to play only a fleeting part, with too little attention if it is to be the real crux. I suspect that both West and Dyson share humane concern with Palestine but also share, perhaps as their main point of agreement, a very high view of Martin Luther King as the true prophetic voice. But then their own tongues must be weighed down by King’s commitment, at least in his later days, to Zionism in unequivocal form.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      April 24, 2015, 9:47 am

      People become aware of important problems at different times, even though in some sense the information is available. Info on Palestine first got to me in 1980, though I married a Palestinian in June 1967 (she was quiet on this until 1980, out of fear that my Jewish background might make me a Zionist, though I never heard much about Israel either).

      Climate change has been named by scientists way, way back, but is still badly understood in the political “echelon” by people who have deep gut understanding of people and politics but little understanding of “nature” and “science”.

      MLK may have been a Zionist out of a sincere conviction based on the holocaust and without information on Nakba etc. (like many older Jews in America). OTOH it may have been a political “compromise” to win friends at the cost of a dispensable people. How often have we heard that “some of my best friends are Jews” said by people excusing either their own Zionism or their failure to be active anti-Zionists — based on the often correct presumption that their Jewish friends are Zionists. I once attended a Friends Meeting where the joke that “some of my best Friends are Jews” played out, sadly, in the prominence of a Zionist agitator.

    • MHughes976
      MHughes976
      April 25, 2015, 11:11 am

      I think that the vital influence came from Niebuhr, the main thinker in the post-war liberal Protestantism that folded Zionism in a warm embrace. Whatever its reasons King’s Zionism stands on the record, though I think he refrained from adding that anti-Zionism was anti-Semitism. It was becoming a very important issue to him, threatening to split his movement and to bring him to a parting of the ways with the increasingly pro-Palestine and increasingly Marxist Stokely Carmichael. King’s reaction was much more pragmatic than prophetic. It’s important also that the overwhelmingly accepted view of the civil rights movement says ‘King good, Carmichael bad’ and I think that this consensus has left a deep mark on Black politics and on academic figures like West and Dyson.

  13. hophmi
    hophmi
    April 23, 2015, 6:25 pm

    Rarely has much ink been spilled over so little a debate.

    • Cliff
      Cliff
      April 24, 2015, 11:43 am

      Like antisemitism in the West.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      April 25, 2015, 10:45 am

      “Rarely has much ink been spilled over so little a debate.”

      Very true. So true.

  14. joemowrey
    joemowrey
    April 23, 2015, 6:28 pm

    Here is a link to a site that quotes West’s speaking fees as ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 per speech.

    http://www.speakers.com/Speaker/Cornel-West-speaker-biography

    He made dozens of appearances in support of Obama during the 2008 campaign. I can’t find any reference as to what he charged for those gigs. But one can imagine he didn’t do it for free. Or if he did, I doubt he was taking the Greyhound and staying in a Motel 6 during his travels. We all need to make a living. But $40,000 for a one night stand? Really?

    If this is what it means to be “disciplined” for speaking the truth, I want in on some of that discipline.

    We need to be careful we don’t idolize people beyond what they deserve. Sure, West has some wonderful things to say. But he rakes in an extraordinary income for the effort. Often times, our modern day prophets turn out to be profiteers as well. That’s the world we live in.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen
      April 23, 2015, 9:50 pm

      Prophets and profiteers yes that can be a problem. However Dr. Cornell West has stuck his head on the chopping block many times for many groups of oppressed people. Dyson cannot hold a candle to West history. Have only ONLY heard Dyson be concerned about the social justice and human rights that African Americans deserve…. have never heard him ever speak out for other oppressed people the way West has consistently done for decades.

      Have been around Dr. West numerous times feels like you are in no bullshit territory. Of course I am sure he has his personal failures as most do. However the man has a deep sense of justice that pours out of him unabated. No bullshit zone

      Dyson is an MSNBC/Comcast man. Stands up for one group of oppressed people that Comcast says yes on.

    • Keith
      Keith
      April 24, 2015, 7:45 pm

      JOEMOWREY- “Sure, West has some wonderful things to say. But he rakes in an extraordinary income for the effort.”

      I wouldn’t be so quick to judge, Joe. First of all, his speaking fees are in line with his stature. Oliver North gets $20K-$50K, Newt Gingrich gets $60K-$70K, Sean Hannity gets over $100K, etc. I don’t know how much in total speaking fees Cornell West gets, nor what he does with the money. Is he a major contributor to progressive organizations? I have no idea. Neither do I believe that “progressives” should take a vow of poverty to prove themselves. I don’t think that zeroing in on his speaking fees exclusively to imply hypocrisy is helpful, particularly when he is being attacked for speaking out against Obama’s abysmal record. He may have supported Obama initially, but when Obama failed to deliver, West spoke out. And that, in essence, is what he is being attacked for. Had he not been attacked, Marc Ellis would not have provided his personal perspective. Below is a quote and a link to Glen Ford at the “Black Agenda Report,” a radical black website.

      “The true purpose of his elongated smear of Dr. West is to demonstrate to Hillary Clinton’s camp that Dyson remains a loyal Democratic Party operative who is available for service to the new regime.” (Glen Ford)
      http://www.blackagendareport.com/dyson-attacks-west-4-hillary

  15. kma
    kma
    April 24, 2015, 3:56 pm

    the Dyson piece is just the media propagating Democrat narrative which is almost as bad as AIPAC tactics.
    all it says is that Cornell West should love Obama, stay “aloft” by producing “new” academic works instead of the same “old” issues of racism and war, and it literally says that West’s passion for the issues is marring his political relationships….

    West has no intention of being a “house negro” or a “bootlicker”, and Dyson is more concerned with style than substance to the point where he doesn’t get it. Dyson actually argues in favor of “bootlicking” while mocking the use of the term. I hope someone asks him someday how Hillary’s tasted.

  16. PilgrimSoul
    PilgrimSoul
    April 24, 2015, 8:11 pm

    Will always vote for the lesser evil in presidential races because the Republican Party is racist and insane. That, and the fact that the corporate upper class has very successfully used the Federalist Society to pack our courts, and would like to take democracy away from us using the Supreme Court. But electing a Democratic president doesn’t change the real juxtaposition of social forces in the society at large, outside of the courts–that kind of change must almost always come from below. Electing a Democrat president simply makes it slightly easier for those who are involved in real movements for change.

    Hate and love of individual leaders has nothing to do with anything, except in the feverish imaginations of various activists. The reality is, regarding the issue that we care most about, electoral politics are not the focus…public opinion is the focus. Israel/Palestine and the religious nationalism that has taken over the political class in Israel, as well as most of the US Jewish leadership, will tear apart the Democratic Party, it will tear apart Judaism, and it will tear apart America, and all the love and hate of presidential candidates won’t make a damn bit of difference one way or the other. Deal with it.

  17. kma
    kma
    April 24, 2015, 9:05 pm

    p.s. just looked at Steven Salaita’s Israel’s Dead Soul https://bamdadi.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/steven-salaita-israels-dead-soul-temple-university-press-2011.pdf
    and wow, U of Illinois really f-ed up by rejecting Steven Salaita. He rocks.

    not much more can be said about that, but Cornel West is coming out of his zionism, while M Dyson is not, and neither is Amy Goodman.

  18. Philip Munger
    Philip Munger
    April 25, 2015, 3:38 am

    Prof. Dyson has entrapped himself in a labyrinth of his own making.

    Pure bullshit:
    https://youtu.be/qlo7-Mp_LCo

  19. eGuard
    eGuard
    April 25, 2015, 5:49 am

    Dyson having to invoke Lawrence Summers to make a point in scolarship: says it all about both Dyson and Summers.

    Of course, timing and reason of this character assassination are following Wests outspokenness re Gaza last year.

    • traintosiberia
      traintosiberia
      April 29, 2015, 9:29 pm

      Laurence Summer sees antisemitism in divestment movement. He engineered financial crisis in Russia and in US by supplying his 2 cents . His 2 cents from Harvard carried a lot of weight . It is expected that person like Tom Friedman would find the remarks made by Summer very relevant to understanding Arab Stret problem

  20. Betsy
    Betsy
    April 26, 2015, 2:51 pm

    Max Blumenthal on AlterNet has a fantastic article on Dyson’s attach on Cornel West which I highly recommend. It’s a splendid & substantive piece:

    http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/cornell-wests-radical-critique-race-and-us-brutality-middle-east-driver-michael

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen
      April 27, 2015, 10:50 am

      Just read Max’s piece. Incredible. Nails it down once again. However just tried to share on fb from Alternet. When the article pops up to share with his piece up pops a photo of a woman in a black bra lying down looking as if she is about to have sex or something.

      Betsy would you try to share on fb from the alternet piece and see if you are getting the same image. I posted on alternet what was happening. So odd

      Incredible piece

      Ok if you share from the link at the top of the alternet piece Cornell’s photo comes up. If you try to share from the comment section of the article an image of the lady comes up when you share the piece. Odd

  21. traintosiberia
    traintosiberia
    April 29, 2015, 8:54 pm

    When ” Nightline ” producer was asked why Chomsky was never featured on this show he replied ” He lacks conncision” (http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/06/how-ahistorical-journalism-serves-power/)

    Cornell West has faced same problem . He has endured posibly more for the skin color .

  22. niass2
    niass2
    April 30, 2015, 2:27 pm

    West’s voice is clear. Got book from progressive parents when 16. Read with slight difficulty due to density of thought process. Dyson is a talking head on Tee Vee, who I like to see talk but not much as he is contriorlating or triangulating or disconfusionating. Cornel West can come over to debate me on Palestine But, can’t have a debate with someone you agree with.

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