Cornel West and Harry Belefonte; a changing of the guard
By Bailey Alexander on May 21, 2011
I listened to Harry Belafonte on Democracy Now the other day and was struck, always, by the clarity of his language, how concise his words. Like Paul Robeson and Lena Horne; there was an edge to their language; they were deeply aware of the struggle; their mission; their lack of civil rights.
I also love listening to Cornel West and Travis Smiley. Not only their content but their cadence along with all that 'my dear brother' stuff. Luv it, listen to it, relax and learn when they speak of their concerns. I can understand why a 'post racism' world didn't drop on their doorstep the day after Obama's election. A friend, a friend who happens to be black, well off, from Chicago, said the same thing to me 3 years ago on the phone.
It's as if Obama's channeling Sidney Poitier's character in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner; Belafonte tells Amy Goodman about a very frustrated Obama asking Belafonte, "when will you and West get off my back." Poitier's character had moved smoothly into the white world, married a white woman and pleads w/his father, a black 'Cornel West' kind of character to 'get off my back' when trying to explain away his modern mindset.
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I listen when Cornel West says: "I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men," Mr. West told interviewer Chris Hedges. "It's understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he's always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation.
"When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that's true for a white brother. ... Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folks who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable."
I get that rootlessness, I know people that grew up in multiple cultures, continents; they don't tend to project one culture; they've been informed by so many cultures, too many for one to reign above the rest. But Obama's a politician and his mug's game is all about favors and getting re-elected.
I can also get why Melissa Harris Perry reacted to Cornel's latest opinion with a strong take down, others have followed suit. I suppose the world has evolved and moved on. And yet, when listening to them I don't take away the same direct benefit of deep thought. They tend to spend so much time talking around the issues. Maybe that's the PC police, the thought police.
The top bloggers write around ideas, flirting superficially rather than getting down to business and marrying them, changing their mind quickly, especially the prolific bloggers. They're often young ivory tower types that haven't lived in the real world; often groomed by The Atlantic Magazine, once a literary mag, now owned by a 'neocon' guy. They're too similar to the watered down corporate mainstream cable like MSNBC. They're bright and articulate; but they live in a corporate media bubble, they play it safe because they're paid to play it safe, it's comfortable to play it safe.
I can't help but miss and yearn for minds like Harry Belafonte; their concise and consistent language, their authentic attitude, aligning their minds with the times.
Civil rights and civil liberties; I think we should strive for them and protect them in equal dose. On May 16th, the following the Strauss-Kahn arrest, the US Supreme Court threw its weight behind destroying the remains of the Fourth Amendment with an 8-1 ruling that allows police do not need warrants to invade homes and search persons.
And what about Obama's war on whistleblowers, what about this 'you are guilty until proven innocent' trend.
Weren't we once presumed innocent?
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