Princeton University professor and author Cornel West has many followers who admire his pro-Black progressive ideology. His wit, historical research and insight into Black political and cultural life delight, entertain and intrigue many. But his months of attacks on the policies of President Barack Obama, and his casting of aspersions about the President’s Blackness, have upset some among the Black digerati and other commentators. No surprise. Freedom of speech isn't for the faint of heart.
The lightning strike that ignited observers’ reaction were West’s comments about Obama saying that he is “Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a Black puppet of corporate plutocrats” and “has a certain fear of free Black men.”
West also accused Obama of harboring a "schizophrenia" of race, described by the late Black revolutionary author Franz Fanon. West says Obama has always been afraid of being a white man with Black skin.
The reaction was swift from other Black commentators. Fellow Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Perry wrote in the liberal journal the Nation that West throws verbal stones at the president from the security of his Ivy League position, where lives generally aren’t on line when decisions are made.
Much of the battle boils down to liberal disappointment. Many current critics, like West, hate what they see as a disconnect between the Obama’s progressive background and the compromises he makes to lead the country. It is galling to them that Obama is actually a centrist or moderate, much like Bill Clinton. That position is what outrages West, and when he combines it with criticism of Obama’s blackness, it irritates many.
And as a public intellectual, that makes West happy.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has also criticized Obama administration policies, took a different tack. He told the Washington Post that West should remember that Obama “is not the president of African-Americans.”
So the discussion boils down to one question: Was Barack Obama elected as the president of the United States or the Black liberal president of the United States?
In a divided, partisan capital like Washington, D.C., Obama frames his responses to events in the way he sees fit to get things done. When he makes decisions, the consequences are greater than deciding what to eat in the Princeton faculty dining room.
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