by Dr. Boyce Watkins
“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.”- Malcolm X
In case we’re not noticing history replaying itself, here it is: Barack Obama is John F. Kennedy and Cornel West is Martin Luther King, the preacher/scholar who is determined to die telling the truth, no matter what the consequence may be. It’s important to remember that it was possible to love both Kennedy and King,even as Dr. King refused to work for even the most benevolent politicians (as Al Sharpton has done with the Obama Administration, making himself a defacto employee). In the same vein, it is possible to love both Cornel West and Barack Obama, and I find myself in that category. I even appreciate the vast intellect of the ever-so-curious Al Sharpton.
When Dr. King died, he was also hated by many people of color. His determination to directly confront even the most inconvenient truths is what gave him a legacy that lies in the tradition of the greatest truth-tellers of all time. History has proven that Dr. King’s fights for justice, peace and equality were ultimately good for our country, even if his words rattled the complacency that existed all around him. He could have gotten rich by “playing the game,” and surely would have been given a broader platform. But the love for his people was so pure and direct that he was willing to give both his life and his livelihood to keep black American interests at the forefront of the national conversation.
Cornel West is, in my opinion, the most dangerous black man in America, and that’s why most self-serving, manipulative politicians hate him. There is nothing the establishment fears more than a highly-intelligent,conscientious, powerful, courageous and determined black man. Among all of the public figures I’ve had the chance to interact with, Cornel West has been the most impressive and the most persuasive: Even those who disagree with him respect him in the end, and his agenda is not tainted by a quest for money, fame or power. In my assessment, Dr. West is simply “burdened” with the intense desire to honor a higher power by relentlessly advocating for those who are less-fortunate, which can be a crime in a capitalist society.
In a recent interview,Tavis Smiley asked if President Obama is ever going to say the words “prison industrial complex” in public. Perhaps there are those who don’t care about this matter, or think that these problems belong to other people. But I’ve seen families up close who’ve been devastated by this issue, and this is simply a fight I cannot ignore. Other concerns, such as black unemployment,urban violence and unequal educational systems are not problems that we created ourselves, and similar to white Americans, we too have the right to demand that our tax dollars be used to help resolve these problems. Anyone who attacks a black person for speaking up for black people might need to check his psyche.
In the same interview as Smiley, Dr. West goes directly at those who should be his allies, Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, and Melissa Harris-Perry, using the term “up for sale” to describe their behavior over the last two years. I consider all of these people to be friends, but the lines in the sand have been drawn by dollar bills being supplied by MSNBC like machine guns being sold to African rebels so they can kill and contain their own people. There are ways that an outside power can use its ability to reward and punish to create factions where none previously existed, making it easier to take resources from the people without compensating them. In Africa, the resource being taken might be oil, and in black America, the resource being extracted is our votes. Divided black leadership and the containment/control of Al Sharpton have made black people easier to conquer for the Democratic Party, who’ve become masters at getting African American votes without compensation.
MSNBC is deeply committed to pursuing the Democratic agenda, while diverting leading black figures away from speaking up about any kind of unique black agenda. The black agenda, in their minds, should only exist as a coincidental benefactor of liberal objectives, and any black face on their network is effectively being rented out the way black professors are drawn away from black problems to work in ivory tower buildings that were built for white kids. Conformity is the rule of the day, for it is far more profitable to be liberal than it is to be unapologetically black.
I won’t pretend to know why Sharpton, Perry and Dyson are so loyal to the Democratic Party (notice that certain black faces are dispatched to the airwaves to keep the field negroes under control whenever we start to think for ourselves – see the gay marriage debate and immigration as perfect cases-in-point). But what I can say is that I openly wonder if the words coming out of their mouths would be the same if there weren’t a massive paycheck behind them.
When I look at Cornel West, I see a man who’s paid a tremendous financial price for sharing his point of view. When I look at Al Sharpton, I see a man who has profited handsomely from his perspective. In fact, I argue that Sharpton might even be marching in front of the White House had Jesse Jackson and not himself been embraced by the Obama Administration (I also remain confused about how my friend Michael Eric Dyson went from saying vicious things about Obama that I would never say to suddenly singing his praises like the pledge of allegiance). Money and power seem to make all the difference in a world where uncomfortable conversations about poverty and the prison industrial complex are met with shrugs from officials who love running into black churches to beg for African American votes.
Rather than attempting to decide if Cornel West is right or wrong, why don’t we try this: Let President Obama open the door for real leadership by letting black leaders propose solutions to piercing problems. Instead of taking care of some people and rejecting others, bring several black public figures to the table and hear what they have to say. That means bringing Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, Tavis Smiley,Michael Eric Dyson and Julianne Malveaux (an Economics PhD who knows a great deal about the black unemployment problem) in one room, allowing everyone to give their opinions on what we can do as a nation to confront the daunting and persistent disease of racial inequality in America. Any black person who doesn’t think that race still matters in America is either living in denial or living under a rock – the president must deal with this issue.
The president can’t fix all of these problems by himself, we know that. But he should not be allowed to ignore them either, since no president has been allowed to do so. When we talk about victories for black America, we can’t presume that wins and losses are determined solely by the condition of the black aristocracy. All of us should be factored into the equation.