Good evening folks. I’ve been posting about it all day, and now I want to address it here.By now, I am sure you have heard of the essay about Cornel West written by former intellectual brother in struggle Michael Eric Dyson.
Titled “The Ghost of Cornel West”, the title of the piece implies that professor is a shell of himself. Upon reading the piece for myself, I found it to be well researched, but highly personal. While this piece is making the rounds, and causing much chatter, it falls short in one major area. Dyson plays up some of the most boisterous remarks of Cornel West about President Obama, but papers over some of his more detailed criticisms of the president.
I hear that some out there say that Black intellectuals should not snipe at each other in this fashion. Ideally, I understand the point, but realistically these political schisms must play themselves out. What is really in play here, is the division between Black leaders who have critical things to say about the president, and the public ostracism of them. Much like Al Sharpton attacked Tavis Smiley, Dyson comes after West. The fact that they knew each other so long makes it just that more ugly.
As to some of the finer points of the article. A few things that occured to me in this piece. Dyson calls Henry Louis Gates a more powerful scholar than West. In light of the recent revelation of Gates willingly obscuring the genealogical record of Ben Affleck, that claim is dubious at best. Also, Dyson in the tome, accuses West of “playing it safe” Criticizing a sitting president for a scholar is anything but.
Aside from the personal venom, the major sticking point of this piece is Dyson’s assertion that West has ceased to produce worthy scholarship. Which, unfortunately is true. However, having said that, every book doesn’t have to be scholarly to be useful.
The co-authored book between Smiley and West “The Rich and The Rest of Us” had some insightful things to say about the dearth of anti poverty policy. On Dyson’s side, his book “Is Bill Cosby Right, or has the Black Middle Class Lost its mind?” wasn’t necessarily “scholarly” but it still had some good points about respectability politics.
What is missing in the piece, is the political underpinnings of all of this. Lets look at the timing. President Obama has a little more than a year and a half in office. Apparently, there is no post-Obama Black political agenda in the works, so Black intellectual guns for hire are sniping at people who have been critical of the current administration.
This “beef” which apparently was long brewing, coincidentally gets aired out a few weeks after Hillary Clinton announces her intentions to run in 2016. Just as the Republicans are cultivating their right wing base, it appears as though the Democrats are coming out with guns blazing against figures who represent the left factions in their party. Its almost as if people forgot that West voted for Obama twice. The way must be clear, for the right turn for both parties.
Another point.. in the piece, Dyson admits that Obama turned right in office. But, he also says that “Obama veers left in public policy” Um. Okay. I have yet to see this. Did I miss it? Its also pretty telling that when Dyson praises President Obama’s policies, it seems that he limits it to 2009-2010 initiatives. There is no mention of the president’s digs at Historically Black Colleges, or the Black community in general. Why is that?
As a person who respects the contributions of both of these writers, I’d like to see if any of these more substantial points of contention will be addressed. I, among many others await Cornel West’s response. What are your thoughts?