Cornel West

Written by Ellen Gurley

Cornel West
@ Queens University
a review by: Ellen Gurley 3.26.12

cornelwest-articleI was lucky enough to obtain tickets to a Cornel West lecture. I was eating a sandwich in a local venue and reading a PRIDE Magazine and it occurred to me that THIS was the only place that I had seen an advertisement for this lecture. I read every magazine in town, but that’s because I’m a rare breed, second-generation media lover. Had any of my non-Urban magazine reading Charlotte friends seen this event? Now, I do know that the urban culture would be the target market for this show, but I felt left out. Having only the link to the tickets, I purchased two and put a link on my facebook page (social media is king). A few of my friends saw my link and were able to obtain tickets before it sold out. It was also postponed, due to Dr. West’s loss of his grandmother.

I went to the show. (I went alone, sometimes I can concentrate better on a program that way.) Queens had some unforeseen construction which caused me to have to walk several blocks to the auditorium and I found a seat, several rows up, next to a lovely, single, young, black, gay man, just in the knick time. Dr. Cornel West was introduced by Bill Means, of Queens, who mispronounced Bill Maher (“Dr. West has appeared many times on Bill Meyers.”) Dr. West came to the stage, apologized for not making the first date and expressed his pleasure in our graciously accepting the postponement. He then got right into.

There were times when I felt very included, like I was watching Mos Def’s spoken word. And other times when I felt not so included, though it was a nice, black Baptist church feel, reminiscent of a couple I attended in my youth. However, I’m not black, I’m more tan or red blood. At times, I had to turn around in all directions to find “my people”, they were there, just not a-plenty. Or were these all “my people” regardless of race?

He wanted to tell us that when he begins each semester with a new team of eager students, he tells them, “NOW, I’m going to teach you how to die.” He explains that he means this and his students are, as to be expected, shocked. He believes that we come from the “funk”, (“from in between the poo and the pee, unless you were a C-section”) and we will return to “the funk“, with the worms etc. He addressed the red, the brown, the white, the yellow and the tan. He wanted to send out love to the disenfranchised; women, gays, blacks. I was visible in the aisle and felt as though he gestured in my direction a couple of times, in that regard. I suppose we may all feel “pointed at” when the right speaker is speaking “to us“.

He urged us all, many times, to return to the “Socratic” notion of looking within ourselves for betterment before we can “better our families, our communities and then our country”. In his many collaborations with music industry’s great professionals (including KRS-One, Prince, Andre 3000, Gerald Levert), he tells them, upon entering the studio, “I’m old school.” They say, “We know, we know.” And he tells us, like he has the conversation with them every time, “Do you know what that means?” And they say “Yes, sir.” He says, “That means I see no ORIGINALS, just copies and copies and copies” in the music industry today. He sees mainstream music as ignorant (much like I do), carbon copies (amen, brother), and not intellectually stimulating, in the least (right on, sir). He says that the culture is caught up in the “titilation” (s) of the day (“bling”) and, thusly, lacking substance. (Preach.)

He continues to share his thoughts; that Americans don’t “place a lot of value on the black life, not as much as the white life”. And what does Dr. West say is the core reason for this? Unless the black race looks within themselves and sees that they are “perpetuating” this “undervalued life” that they are living, then there will be no success. He sees the black man as more of an enemy to himself than a white man. Black people have come a long way. “Just because we have a black president does not mean that we are done”. We still have a long way to go. His analogy? “It’s like seeing a knife in someone’s back, nine inches, and we come and remove that knife, six inches and celebrate. WAIT! We still have more to go.” I get it. His overall message was love. It really was. The love from his grandmother that made him who he is. The love he has from simply being a good father. The love he has for good music (Sly, Mayfield, the Parliament). I think he just wants us all to love and think deeply. Okay, Doctor, class adjurned, one assignment written in my notepad: “to love”. I hope I get an “A” with you, sir.

I only own two titles “Race Matters” and “Brother West: Living and Loving out Loud” and I frequently see him appear on Bill Maher. But I promise you, in the future, I will be obtaining some of his spoken word works and other titles. Thanks for the inspiration, Brother West. I don’t care what anyone says about your ascot, you rock it.

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