Posts tagged Cornel West
Posts tagged Cornel West
… Race Matters [was] written by Cornel West back in 1993. West’s analysis of the state of American politics was so spot-on that it still applies today, go figure. I’m going to disregard how discouraging I find the fact that liberals and conservatives are still making the same arguments twenty years later. West spends his first chapter addressing another issue that also persists today.
West’s first chapter is entitled “Nihilism in Black America,” and it covers precisely that. To put it succinctly, blacks have had to deal with nihilism since first arriving in the New World and are as in danger of succumbing to it now as ever before, if not moreso.
I’m aware of the feeling of black hopelessness; it has persistantly creeped around the periphery of my life. In my immediate family, hope is strong. Hope got my parents a brick home and their son into college. Hope, hopefully, will land me a job straight out of college. But at the same time, my grandparents’ neighborhood has steadily declined since my mother lived there, affecting the young family members still raised there. Politicians still avoid talking about these issues. Enough has remained the same that growing up in the 90s and into the new millenium, I still heard the sentiment that the white man doesn’t want the black man to have anything.
What West does is provide a reason for this hopelessness. Yes, “racism” still exists, but in a more abstract way. When blacks complain about being harassed by cops or overlooked by taxi drivers, whites respond by bringing up all the whites that don’t exhibit such behavior, as if this somehow erases the racism that was still present in the initial experience. Blaming the white man was easier when racism was not only systematic, but explicit; it was written in textbooks, preached in churches, and displayed on street corners. Now, when even conservatives emphasize the adoption of colorblind professional and educational practices, pinpointing the problem is more elusive. Blacks still see it, but it’s much more difficult to articulate it, and even more difficult to organize against it.
The social bonds that have held together black communities are losing strength. When blacks had no where else they could turn, they could rely on the church as an escape from the social hierarchy forced upon their daily lives. Now, blacks have other outlets. With white kids all over the country immitating Jay-Z and idolizing Michael Jordan while their parents elect Barack Obama, blacks have come to expect a cetain degree of racial tolerance in most places that they go. The problem comes in talking about the places that they can’t. They still exist, but now that the places black people can’t go are outnumbered by the places that they can, there lacks a single institution that can reach and organize black people, and there isn’t a clear institution to organize them against. The movement for civil rights has become diluted ever since equal rights became something that most white Americans hold in high esteem. Whites defined what equality meant to them, and the country has been moving towards that ever since.
Yet despite how similar the definition of equality may be, the experience remains different. The problem is, how? And after that, why?
This is where West’s analysis comes in. He describes the way capitalism has altered American values and values within the black community. As social bonds have weakened, they have been replaced by an increasingly relentless wave of marketing. But the values of love, patience, and caring are not values pushed in the marketplace. Conservatives are right in pointing out a deficit of values in parts of the black community. Where they drop the ball is that they refuse to acknowledge why. Liberals are at least right in wanting to provide the economic programs and incentives necessary to begin to alleviate the problem, but they, too, skirt around the root cause.
Black America isn’t suffering solely because it is disproportionately poor or adversely affected by prison, drugs, and discrimination. Black America is losing hope because it exists within a country that thinks its eyes are wide open and refuses to open its eyes wider. Broader America refuses to see that it still makes blacks feel not that they are afflicted by problems, but that they remain the problem. America still has yet to view all Americans as Americans and to help one another as such.
This piece has been edited for timeliness since its original posting. The piece can be read in its entirety by following the link.