cornel west

Reclaiming the Prophetic Edge

“WE ARE AT the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly.”

Martin Luther King Jr. gave this stinging critique of the apathetic nature of both the U.S. church and the general public more than 40 years ago. While some things have changed for the better, the truth remains that the three evils of society that King named (racism, militarism, materialism) continue to pervade U.S. culture, crippling our moral and ethical foundation.

It is difficult to imagine that someone the FBI once labeled as “the most dangerous man in America” would one day have his own national holiday. Each year we celebrate the life of King with an incomplete and romanticized retelling of the impact he had on society during and after the civil rights movement. He dreamed of a better nation, but what was it about his dream that made him a nightmare to the U.S. government?

That is essentially the question that Cornel West attempts to answer with his latest book, The Radical King. This is the 10th book in the King Legacy series, a partnership between the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. and Beacon Press. West curated 23 selections, ranging from King’s Palm Sunday sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi to his speech titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” which he delivered exactly one year to the day before he was assassinated. West utilizes this wide array of King’s most important writings and orations to illustrate just how radical he was.

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Reviving the Flame

CORNEL WEST and Christa Buschendorf have collaborated to bring forth a powerful look at the visionary legacies of 19th- and 20th-century African-American leaders. Black Prophetic Fire consists of six conversations between West and Buschendorf, each one focusing on a different black prophetic figure: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells. In the book, West displays his wealth of knowledge and understanding of those prominent historical black icons and their movements.

For West, U.S. society has arrived at a pivotal point. He sees the “black embrace of the seductive myth of individualism in American culture” as reason enough to ask tough reflective questions such as, “Are we witnessing the death of black prophetic fire in our time?” and “Have we forgotten how beautiful it is to be on fire for justice?”

West is known as an intellectual and activist who loathes the unfair treatment of people anywhere, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious creed. His message of love, particularly for the younger generations, becomes the undertone of this book. Throughout the years, the black prophetic tradition has seen a decline in exemplars of integrity. West presents the conversations he had with Buschendorf as a history lesson and a call to younger generations to not let this tradition fizzle out.

The black prophetic tradition has improved the conditions of the black community in the U.S. It has also served as a moral compass for an American society that has failed to live up to the promises stated in its founding documents.

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Cornell West and Tavis Smiley on America's New Working Poor

From Salon yesterday:

Last Friday, the U.S. Government announced that 7.2 percent of Americans in the labor force earn so little that they are living in poverty. Reuters noted that the percentage of the working poor is the highest in at least two decades. The rate was 7 percent in 2009, 5 percent in 1999, and 5.5 percent in 1987.

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Christians and Climate Change: What Would MLK Do?

The author visits with children in India, 2010. Image via Facebook.

The author visits with children in India, 2010. Image via Facebook.

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the reality of climate change are both victims of western culture’s remarkable capacity to accommodate and neutralize that which is most critical of it.

Early in the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin said to King, “I have a feeling that the Lord had laid his hand upon you. And that is a dangerous, dangerous thing.” Similarly, the FBI once described Martin King as the “most dangerous man in America” – and yet, as Martin Luther King Jr day rolls around again in the United States, we are often presented with a figure that seems more like a cheerleader for the status quo rather than a prophetic challenge to it. Somehow, it seems we have made this dangerous figure very safe.

For instance, in a speech at the Pentagon commemorating King’s legacy, the Defense Department’s general counsel Jeh C. Johnson remarked, “I believe that if Dr King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

But to claim that Dr King would be pro-war today is as likely as him being pro-segregation. After all, this is the Dr King who said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” And this is the same Dr King who said in his speech on 4 April 1967 (a speech that turned three quarters of American public opinion against him), “To me the relationship of the ministry [of Jesus Christ] to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war.” And this is the same Dr King who said, the night before he was murdered on 4 April 1968, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

The Morning News: Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

Coptics Fear Islamists Will Sweep Egypt Elections; Why Columbus, Ohio, Needs Somali Cops On Its Force; Anti-Mormon Bias Persistent In Presidential Politics; Rampant Levels Of Poverty In Florida Force Families To Live In Cars; Religion: A Growing, Changing God Lobby In D.C.; Poll Numbers Suggest Gingrich’s ‘Humane’ Immigration Stance Could Help Him; How 2008 Radicalized Me; Cornel West: Ultimate Fight For Entitlements Will Be In "The Streets"

Welcome to the Poverty Thunderdome

SMILEY: I'm still going to finish my point. You're right to go after Stanley O'Neal. I know you didn't mean to do this. I don't want to believe you meant to do this, but Stanley O'Neal, there are four or five black CEOs in this country. You choose a guy at Merrill Lynch to make him the poster guy for all the folks on Wall Street.

O'REILLY: Oh Tavis knock it off with the black business, will you? Oh stop.

News: Quick Links

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West on poverty. The Value Voters Summit. U.S. Catholic Bishops remind Catholic voters about church teaching. Perry supporter calls Mormonism a "cult." Ron Paul wins Value Voter straw poll, with Cain in second place. Mitt Romney and religious bigotry. Ghana church says poverty "causes" homosexuality. Fox News attacks Lily the new Sesame Street poverty Muppet as "liberal bull." And Newt Gingrich says candidates are "not running for theologian-in-chief."

Preach it, Father Pfleger!

"OK to all those attacking Tavis and Dr. West and me for hosting the Poverty tour, can you get off your Hating a second to look at todays latest report: POVERTY is at its highest record in American History!!! People are Dying out here! Don't care what you think of Tavis, Cornel or me, but PLEASE PLEASE care about our Brothers and Sisters who have been made to feel invisible and disposable!"

-- Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina, a Roman Catholic parish on Chicago's South Side, in a posting on his Facebook page Wednesday morning.

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West's 'Poverty Tour'

Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.

The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.

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