“I Want to Be Like Jesus.”

Lisa Miller, Reader Supported News, May 6, 2012

In November 2007, Cornel West got onstage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and before a hollering crowd of more than a thousand people, with much arm-­waving and wrist-flapping, along with a certain amount of ass-wagging, introduced his candidate for president of the United States—”my brother, my companion, and my comrade”—Barack Obama. “He’s an eloquent brother,” preached West. “He’s a good brother, he’s a decent brother.” Obama returned the sloppy kiss and pronounced West “an oracle.”

That compliment could not have been more apt, for West regards himself as a prophet more than a professor. He believes that he is called to teach God’s justice to a heedless nation. “There is a price to pay for speaking the truth,” reads the signature on e-mails coming from West’s office. “There is a bigger price for living a lie.” So when his view of the commander-in-chief changed from adoration to disappointment, West was moved to proclaim it out loud. He had already been lobbing rhetorical grenades in the direction of the Oval Office, calling the president “spineless” for his failure to make poor and working people a policy priority and “milquetoast” for kowtowing to corporate interests during the economic crisis. But in an interview with Truthdig, ­published last May, West went nuclear. He called Obama “the black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs.” And then he said he wanted to “slap him,” as the article put it, “on the side of his head.”

In the white world of mainstream media, the interview made a few headlines. But in precincts of the left, and among certain African-American scholars, it unleashed a tide of anguish. West has been an intellectual celebrity for three decades, protected and cherished by his like-minded comrades, but the nasty tone of his Truthdig comments caused many of his closest colleagues to question their devotion, to suspect his motives, and to wonder whether West’s prominence had finally exceeded his merit. Their concerns were in part pragmatic: As the 2012 election approached, some thought West might make his case better if he weren’t quite so mean.

“When you say you want to slap the president upside the head, black people don’t cotton too easily to that,” says Michael Eric Dyson, who is a sociologist at Georgetown University and considers West a mentor (they studied together at Princeton). “Black people hear echoes of the assault on the body. Lynching. Castration.” The word slap, he says, “that’s violence.” Dyson says he has privately tried—and failed—to urge West toward a more moderate discourse.

The first time I traveled to Princeton University to meet with West, I heard him before I saw him; his familiar, gravelly, elongated vowels—”Definite-leeee”—reached me as I waited by his office door. Once inside, I offered the argument I’d heard: that his assault on the president hurts poor and working people more than it helps them. By seeding the left with dissatisfaction, West risks suppressing that vote and jeopardizing the outcome of November’s election. Whatever his failings, this reasoning goes, Obama is bound to represent poor people better than Mitt Romney would.

West considered the objection for the smallest fraction of a second before casting it, witheringly, aside. What, he asked me, leaning across his desk and jabbing his long fingers downward, if the Jews had asked Amos to tone it down a notch? “ ’Well, Amos,’ ” West imagines the residents of the Kingdom of Judah, circa 750 B.C., saying in a sort of whiny white-­person voice, “Don’t talk about justice within the Jewish context, because that’s going to make Jewish people look bad.’

“Amos [would] say, ‘What?’ ” West thundered. “ ’Kiss my Jewish behind. My calling is to say, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ ”

He leaned back, satisfied.

West has said that his Christian beliefs form the most fundamental part of who he is. Earlier, I asked him which of Jesus’ ­disciples he most emulates. “Disciples?” he responded in a soft voice. “None of them, really. Nah. ‘Cause I want to be like Jesus, I don’t want to be like those disciples.”

This summer, West will leave Princeton, where he’s happily worked for a decade, to join the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. By conventional standards, this is a nutty career move. Princeton, with an endowment of $17 billion, trains the future’s titans in the rigors of rational thought. Union, whose financial health is not nearly so robust, trains future ministers to apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world. But in 1977, West, who was then working on his philosophy Ph.D. at ­Princeton, started teaching at Union, and it was there that he first found himself, at 24, surrounded and supported by a cohort of black, Christian intellectuals who hoped, as he did, to change the world. West produced his most important work—Prophesy Deliverance!—at Union. It was a battle cry, an argument for including the literature and art, the joy and the suffering, of American blacks in the Western canon alongside Plato and Dante and Chekhov.

“Oh, it’s time to go home,” said West, explaining his move. “It’s about that time in your life where you begin to assess, what do you want the last stage to be in terms of your work and your witness. I have lived the most blessed of lives in the academy. Eight years at Union, three years when I first tenured at Yale, six years at Princeton, eight years at Harvard, back to Princeton ten years. It’s time to end that last stage where I started. Union is the institutional expression of my own prophetic Christian identity, and that identity is deeper than any identity I have.”

{snip} He nurses a personal beef with Obama, and he still smarts from the bruises inflicted upon his ego in a 2001 fracas with Larry Summers, in which the then-president of Harvard University queried West’s scholarly bona fides in public and West departed Cambridge in a red-hot rage for his second stint at Princeton. (“[Summers] needed to be the president of Harvard the way I need to be the president of the NHL,” he told me.) West is also a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed and treated for late-stage prostate disease just as the Summers debacle was unfolding. He is thrice-divorced and still pays alimony to his last ex-wife.

{snip}

In 1993, with Race Matters, West established himself beyond the academy. Race Matters was a collection of essays directed at a mainstream audience that chided America for having failed to offer anything like a prospect of success or fulfillment to its citizens of African descent. “We have created rootless, dangling people with little link to the supportive networks—family, friends, and school—that sustain some sense of purpose in life,” he wrote. “Postmodern culture is more and more a market culture dominated by gangster mentalities and self-destructive wantonness.” {snip}

Fame begat more fame. After Race Matters, West produced about a dozen books, half of them written with someone else. He appeared in two movies in The Matrix series; he made three hip-hop/spoken-word albums; he gained a reputation as “C-span Man”; and he worked on the political campaigns of Al Sharpton, Bill Bradley, and Ralph Nader. In 2004, he published ­Democracy Matters, which hit No. 11 on the Times’ best-seller list. As his popularity grew, so too did the number of critics calling West shallow and self-serving. Kirkus ­Reviews called the book “a sermon written in a hurry and delivered to the choir.”

{snip}

{snip} During the 2008 primaries, West stumped for Obama, making 65 appearances in half a dozen states, and he was in the room as Obama prepped to debate his Democratic rivals at Howard University. West had the candidate’s personal cell-phone number, and he left messages on it frequently. “I was calling him, not every day, but I did call him often, just prayed for him, prayed for his safety and that he’d do well in the debates and so on.”

But after Election Day, the man whose character and judgment West had so enthusiastically lauded at the Apollo never called to express his gratitude, and West found himself unable to procure tickets to the inauguration—something he desperately wanted to do for his mother. West was infuriated. Even now, when he talks about the break in their relations, West uses the language of a jilted lover. “One of the reasons I was personally upset is that I did not get a phone call, ever, after 65 events. It just struck me that it was not decent,” West says to me. “I don’t roll like that. People would say, ‘Oh, West, you’ve got the biggest ego in the world. He ain’t got time to say nothing to you.’ I say, ‘Weeell, I’m not like that. I’m not like that. If somebody does something for you, you take time to say thank you.’ ”

West speculates that something scared the president-elect off. Perhaps, he says, it was his long friendship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s problematical former pastor. “Jeremiah Wright is my brother,” says West, who was in the audience at the National Press Club, when Wright combusted in May 2008, refusing to repudiate the sermon in which he said “God damn America.” Or it might have been that Obama needed to distance himself from the “socialist” label that was dogging him. West himself suspects he was “too leftist.” He believes someone in Obama’s circle said, “We don’t want to get too close to this brother.” (A senior official from the 2008 campaign insists that no one had any intention of shutting West out of the proceedings. “If something dropped there, that’s unfortunate. But whatever happened, that isn’t President Obama’s fault.”)

Despite his lack of access, West arrived in Washington with his mother and brother on Inauguration Day, wanting to participate in the historic event. As they were checking into their hotel, the Wests were astonished to find that their bellhop was luckier than they. “We drive into the hotel, and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration,” he told Truthdig. “We had to watch the thing in the hotel.” {snip}

West continues to insist that it’s the president’s policies, and not what he perceives as ingratitude, that motivates his critique. He believes that when Obama chose Tim Geithner and especially Summers to design his economic-reform plan, he revealed that his election-year allegiances to the legacy of King were false. “He said, ‘I’m with these two. I’m not with you.’ He’s making it very clear. The working people are not a major priority, they are an afterthought. Now, during campaigns, it’s very different. Here comes the populist rhetoric again, here comes the concern about workers. The middle class is a major issue. Income inequality is now a fundamental issue. Please.”

{snip}

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  • Fame begat more fame. After Race Matters, West produced about a dozen books, half of them written with someone else.

    By that, they probably mean “written BY someone else.”

    • ed91

       yes, that writing stuff seems be quite mystifying to da bro’s.

      an’ sista’s fo dat matter.

  • Hirschibold

     Cornell West was not taking Obama to task for being a puppet of Wall-Street Oligarchs, or anything of that nature. He was using NAACP-style shakedown tactics, with the subtlety of a mafioso shaking down a fruit-stand owner, in order to see what kind of no-show Diversity czar/consultant hustler government position he could get in the administration, as long as the job came with a lofty title, a nice paycheck, and no actual duties (as he would be exposed as incompetent if he ever actually had to work).

    If you read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” you can see West for what he is: a pretentious phony who will always use the word ‘visage’ when ‘face’ would work much better. Still, compared to the embarrassing clownish mockery of a scholar that is Michael Eric Dyson, this guy is practically Aldous Huxley.

    Also, I have not heard whispers from Julian Asange or Wikileaks yet, but it is not entirely impossible that Obama has slipped West some hush money, or made the offer, a la Jessie Jackson or Jeremiah Wright.

    • Oil Can Harry

      Cornhole West hates Obama because he forgot to comp West and his family with free tickets to the inaugaration. As if Barry didn’t have more important things to worry about when being sworn in (Wow, West is such a clown he has me defending Obama!).   

  • Let the Left
    EAT Cornie West

    It’s fun to watch their cannibalism
    Instead of our Derbin’

    They’ll call it
    “Corn-Holing”

  • ed91

    but he settled for being bozo the clown.

  • I was hoping the title meant nailed to a tree….

  • loyalwhitebriton

    I Want to be Like Jesus.

    Yeah, well, you can’t. Jesus was a white guy, and you’re not.

  • All these leftwing, black nutcases from this clown to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton to Farrahkan to Obama have “messiah complexes”. They all think they are the answer to the worlds problems. They have convinced themselves that Jesus was a black man, therefore they are the logical successers to him.

  • sbuffalonative

    Where to begin on this one? There are just too many things to comment on.

    “When you say you want to slap the president upside the head, black people don’t cotton too easily to that,” says Michael Eric Dyson, who is a sociologist at Georgetown University and considers West a mentor (they studied together at Princeton). “Black people hear echoes of the assault on the body. Lynching. Castration.” The word slap, he says, “that’s violence.” Dyson says he has privately tried—and failed—to urge West toward a more moderate discourse.

    I work with blacks. I hear blacks use the word ‘slap’ all the time. Sometimes in anger, sometimes in humor. Mr. Dyson seems to attribute more to this word than do most blacks I have heard use it.

    As for Mr. West wanting to be like Jesus, if we nailed him to anything today, it would be a hate crime. 

  • bluffcreek1967

    That old psuedo-intellectual, Cornel West, thought Obama would continue to consult him and perhaps honor him by inviting him to his Inauguration. But Obama only used him. Once he got what he needed from the nutty professor, it was adios! Both Obama and West are dishonorable men – and West should have realized, as a conniver of others, that Obama’s only interest is himself.

  • radical7

    I can’t say that I am the biggest fan of  Cornel West. That being said, I bet it is safe to say that none of you who are questioning his abilities posess his level of intelligence or would ever debate him in public. This is a man who delivered a fantastic analysis of the Greek tragedy Antigone at the University of Utah in 2008 and received a 20 minute standing ovation.   He is brilliant.

    • Sherman_McCoy

      Yes, awfully light-skinned, too.  Wonder whence his inherited IQ?

    • West has been an academic fraud his entire life. The world of academia used to be about the “disinterested pursuit of knowledge” Education today however, is solely about pushing socialism and political correctness. West would have never survived under the rigorous academic standards of the bygone era. But under the new academic vision of teaching leftist ideology, West is the perfect salesman. West is not an intellectual. He is nothing more than a proselytizer for Marxism and multiculturalism. He is quite good at that, and little else. Don’t be surprised if West’s analysis of Antigone was written by a colleague; just as many of his books have been.

    • ed91

       you are a fool.

      • The__Bobster

        Actually, a fool and a half.

  • Johnny Reb

    QUOTE:  an argument for including the literature and art, the joy and the suffering, of American blacks in the Western canon alongside Plato and Dante and Chekhov.
    ………………………………………………………………………………….
    All these negroes we see regularly on TV are crazy.  (Some of the ones playing feetsball or  some other sports are not all the way there because their white coaches keep them in line . . . but they’ll get there after they retire). 

    I mean the typical negro “academic” or talk show host or entertainer.  They’re all nuts.

    Slavery is the best thing that ever happened to the negro.  That’s a demonstrable fact.  Since 1860s, they’ve had as much opportunity to make it as the mexican or chinese or indian.  And since the 1960s we’ve dumped $15 TRILLION on their burry heads to absolutely no avail.

    Yet they all act like slavery happened to them . . . and it happened last week.

    Every one has an over-blown sense of self-importance.  Every negro seems to think that his opinions (no matter how stupid or ignorant) matter.   Now add to that a streak of petulance a mile wide. They’re spiteful, hateful creatures who can’t wait for the next chance to bite the hand of a white man.

    So on the one hand they want you to pay attention and on the other hand they want to punish you for being white.

    You have to be insane to think that the garbage written by negros has any place in literature . . . and beyond insane (hyper-insane?) to believe it matches the contribution of Plato.

    Why anyone takes a negro seriously or cares what they say is beyond me. 

    • ed91

       I think you have reached the realm where white guilt kicks in.

  • radical7

    Sherman McCoy wrote:”Yes, awfully light-skinned, too.  Wonder whence his inherited IQ?”

    I am not sure what you are implying . There are many brown and darker skined Black people who posess a strong level of intelligence.

  • “Disciples?” he responded in a soft voice. “None of them, really. Nah. ‘Cause I want to be like Jesus, I don’t want to be like those disciples.”

    The arrogance of this ignoramus’ comment is stunning.  Jesus is the eternal God Who became man.  None of us can be like Him.  This West fool demonstrates the god complex of a marxist black.  I would be more than proud to be a tenth the man that Peter, Paul, or John was.

  • radical7

    Armando wrote:”West has been an academic fraud his entire life. The world of academia used to be about the “disinterested pursuit of knowledge” Education today however, is solely about pushing socialism and political correctness. West would have never survived under the rigorous academic standards of the bygone era. But under the new academic vision of teaching leftist ideology, West is the perfect salesman. West is not an intellectual. He is nothing more than a proselytizer for Marxism and multiculturalism. He is quite good at that, and little else. Don’t be surprised if West’s analysis of Antigone was written by a colleague; just as many of his books have been.”How many books have you written?

    • I’ve written just as many books as Cornell West…zero. There is no shame in using a ghost writer. Lot’s of celebrities and politicians use them. It is simply evidence of West’s long time academic fraud. The former head of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton once said “Marxism is my hustle.” For Cornell West, it would be “academia is my hustle.”

  • loyalwhitebriton

    Jesus was Semitic
    I’ve read other theories. Nevertheless, there are some very light skinned semitics in the world, who look more like whites than blacks.

    • The__Bobster

      They were even lighter-skinned 20 centuries ago.

  • ed91

     you shut up —  you have posted more garbage than anyone.

  • ed91

     heck I haven’t seen any of them, mulatto or not, that had much sense. 
    There were some who though they were smart but it ended up being some kind of word play that turned around on itself or fast vocal poo-poo that was actually very stupid………..  then there are a few silent ones that might have enough sense to keep quiet……… 

  • The__Bobster

    Everything you post is a lie, Jamal. Are you a black calling the kettle a pot?

    • radical7

      Look who’s talking?

  • The__Bobster

    The only description of Jesus came from two centurions who said he had a ruddy complexion.

  • TeutonicKnight67

    Fellow AmRenners, please refrain from encouraging the fifth-columnists who post here like the odious “radical7”. It only distracts from the real issues and derails the discussion with childish leftist bickering. The subject at hand  is Cornhole Worst and should not be fueling the infantile insecurity of an Occupy moron who will pat itself on the back for “showing us a thing or two”.

    • radical7

      If anything, they should ignore your ignorant comments.

  • I can’t prove it, but the story goes that a number of his grad students have done considerable work for him over the years. West spends most of his time promoting himself. 

  • Gereng

    How can a man as classless, limited and stupid as West hold on to any position at a major university?  Well, I should amend that assertion..he might made an acceptable janator. But I doubt it, He’s probably too lazy and devious for even that job.

  • radical7

    You probably are a drunk.