HOUSTON – Speaking to students at the University of Houston, outspoken activist Dr. Cornel West addressed a wide array of topics, ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement, peace in the Middle East, the value of a quality education and his longstanding criticism of President Barack Obama.
West, a professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary and professor emeritus at Princeton University, also urged students to “be a long-distance runner in your education as you learn how to Socratically engage in critical reflection.”
“What kind of courage did you exemplify in the short time you were here?” West asked the students of their commitment to education. “Did you have the courage to think critically for yourself?
“That’s the difference between high-quality education and cheap schooling,” he said. “You want what the Greeks call paideia, that deep education, that turning of the soul.”
An important figure in black intellectualism, West has written more than 20 books and has been a frequent contributor to “Real Time With Bill Maher,” CNN, C-Span and “Democracy Now.”
West joined Los Angeles-based broadcaster Tavis Smiley for a Poverty Tour in 2012, where they visited various American cities to bring attention to economic injustice. The pair has been roundly denounced in many black circles for their unvarnished criticism of President Obama, with West calling him a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface.”
In a one-on-one interview, West shared more of his thoughts about conditions facing black America:
Question: How do you think the Black Lives Matter Movement should prioritize its agenda? How would you advise organizers to move forward?
Cornel West: The Black Lives Matter movement must stay in the streets as well as put pressure on the powers that be on the inside. We need an inside-outside strategy. We can just be solely outside and have no impact inside. We need both fronts.
Secondly, we have to recognize that when we talk about police brutality, and the accountability of police, we’re talking about being able to send police to jail when they kill innocent people. We’re not talking about just training, we’re not just talking about diversity exposure, but we’re talking about legal accountability.
Of course, we agree with a fair trial but that’s the kind of pressure we’re talking about because we have to change the culture of police departments. They think that some how they can get away with it. No they need to go to jail the same way as if we kill anybody, we need to go to jail.
Q: What should be done to strengthen police relations in the African-American community?
CW: It would be nice if we had just control of the police in black communities. And that does not necessarily mean just add more black police, because we all know that some black police officers don’t always do the right thing and some white police do, do the right thing. But what we need is more just control in our communities.
Q: How do you respond to African-Americans who say you and Tavis Smiley have unfairly criticized President Obama?
CW: I say you have to keep me and brother Tavis accountable. But Obama’s relation to Wall Street, the drones, dropping bombs on innocent people and massive surveillance of each and every one of us is wrong, and I don’t care what color the president is, he just happens to be black at the moment.
Q: How would you grade the Obama Administration in terms of what it has done for African-Americans on a scale of A to F?
CW: He wouldn’t be on the dean’s list. I’d give him maybe a B-minus or C-plus. Yeah, C-plus.