July 10, 2020

That one time Sister Souljah schooled Cornel West

Cornel West recently appeared on the Chris Hedges show to talk about how the black elite have became the “lumpen bourgeoisie” and how they have betrayed “the black prophetic tradition.”

He indicts the “black professional class” for becoming self-interested and forgetful of the collectivist civil rights tradition, saying “they have much less fire because they are much more tied to ruthless ambition than they are to moral conviction. They are much less tied to a “we” consciousness as opposed to just an “I” consciousness concerned about upward mobility. ”

Of course, he says, there is a “small slice” of black professionals who remain prophetic, but the majority of them are disconnected from the “energies of the black poor people”

As West talks I finding my head bobbing “yes” in agreement. Especially when he says the black bourgeoisie, of which he is a member, “not only keep a distance [from the black poor], but they can contribute to a callousness and the indifference toward the plight and predicament of the black poor and poor people across the board.”

Yet, at the same time, I find it ironic that West most often shares these deep conversations in white forums for the entertainment of white progressives (like those who lavish him with adoration through outlets like Alternet) rather than for the education of black people, and more specifically, for the black poor.

Yes, he recently was arrested in Ferguson in a great show of latter day activist theater. Undboubtably the take away is supposed to be he has street cred as an activist scholar. Still he has a bit too much vinegar for other black intellectuals, and a little too much love for the white lights for my tastes. The savage and needless way he labeled Te-Nahisi Coates “cowardly” should concern us all. We should expect more of our aging men of letters.

It’s a little sad that he has so much good political analysis to give freely to white progressives, and little charity left when approaching black folks.

I’m reminded of that one time when Sister Souljah said more in plain English about the reality of white supremacy in America than West has done in multiple books. And, ironically, she said it with prophetic black fire to him at a time when he was pushing accommodating programs along with black capitalist Tony Brown.


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