Commentary: Wake Up, Dr. Cornel West, and Stop the Name-Calling

Commentary: Wake Up, Dr. Cornel West, and Stop the Name-Calling

Despite Dr. Cornel West's accomplishments, he has gone too far with name-calling.

Published February 8, 2012

For years, Dr. Cornel West has been recognized as a professor, scholar and activist. He has brought attention to some of the most vulnerable populations and he has fought for the silenced and weak. Despite his accomplishments, many are saying he has gone too far with name-calling and that his platform does not give him a “pass” to insult other Black politicians.


Recently in an interview with Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine, West’s statements about Tulane Professor and MSNBC host Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry were jaw-dropping.


“I have love for the sister, but she is a liar, and I hate lying,” he said in the interview. In reference to her book Sister Citizen, where she tries to dispel negative stereotypes of Black women, he calls the work, “wild and out of control.”


I have respect for the work of Dr. West, but calling someone a liar, let alone someone who wishes to help the Black community progress just as he does, is extreme and tasteless. Unfortunately, the name-calling didn’t stop there. In the interview he went on to say that Harris-Perry is afraid to confront the Obama administration on their wrongs and that she has “become the momentary darling of liberals,” and that she’s a “fake and a fraud.”


West says he was responsible for bringing Harris-Perry to Princeton from the University of Chicago after meeting at a conference. And, for that reason, it’s surprising that he would make such strong remarks, publicly.


Harris-Perry isn’t the only person at the end of West’s barking stick, however. Although he supported him in his 2004 presidential campaign, West has also, recently and publicly, insulted Rev. Al Sharpton. Similar to his critique of Harris-Perry, West says that Sharpton, who hosts a daily show on MSNBC, has also not been a fierce critic of the Obama administration. On a cable network just last year, West questioned whether Sharpton had traded in his fiery activism for access to the White House.


“You watch his show on MSNBC and you want to say, ‘Brother Al, you come out of the Black prophetic tradition like me. Tell the truth about the White House,’ but he won’t say a mumbling word,” he said in the interview.


In response, Sharpton disagreed with West’s analysis, saying that he differed with the Obama administration on a range of issues, including Afghanistan. He also thinks that West went too far when he called Barack Obama a “Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a Black puppet of corporate plutocrats” in an interview last year.


“What has hurt his cause is that he got into name-calling,” Sharpton said, adding that West attacked him, forcing him to respond.


The acts of West remind me of the lessons I’d teach my 5-year old brother: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it. While this may not be an applicable lesson in a political arena, it does apply to insults. Whether you're Don Imus calling girls “nappy headed h**s,” or  Doug Lamborn calling the president a “tar baby,” at the end of the day I think we’ve learned that name-calling doesn’t get us anywhere.


As Kanye would say, “Wake up, Mr. West.”


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(Photo: Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup)

Written by Danielle Wright


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