Sunday night, social media was ablaze after a scathing editorial piece from Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson critiquing his former mentor and friend, Cornel West, went public. The aftermath of the sharp words Dyson aimed towards West is still unfolding, as supporters of both men have spoken up in droves.
Dyson’s piece, titled “The Ghost Of Cornel West,” appeared on The New Republic‘s website Sunday (April 19). The lengthy story details much of how Dyson admired West as an intellectual and how he was mentored by the man in his own ascension in the scholarly ranks. However, the tone of Dyson’s piece turned pointed when the professor began to dress down West’s lacking academic production and his bid to tear down President Barack Obama. Further, Dyson focused on West’s wars with other public intellectuals and figures such as Melissa Harris-Perry, Al Sharpton, and others.
What makes West a prophet? Is it his willingness to call out corporate elites and assail the purveyors of injustice and inequality? The actor Russell Brand does that in his book Revolution. Is he a prophet? Is it West’s self-identification with the poor? Tupac Shakur had that on lock. Should we deem him a prophet? Is it West’s self-styled resistance to police brutality, evidenced by his occasional willingness to get arrested in highly staged and camera-ready gestures of civil disobedience, such as in Ferguson last fall? West sees King as a prophet, but Jackson and Sharpton, who have also courted arrest in public fashion, are “ontologically addicted to the camera,” according to West. King used cameras to gain attention for the movement, a fact West fails to mention in his attacks on Jackson, “the head house Negro on the Clinton plantation,” and Sharpton, “the head house Negro on the Obama plantation.”
The hypocrisy in such claims is acute: West likewise hungers for the studio, and conspicuously so. There he is on CNN, extolling his prophetic pedigree. There he is on MSNBC, discussing his arrest in Ferguson while footage of the event rolls. There he is in the recording booth making not spoken word or hip-hop, but a grimly earnest sonic hybrid of speech and music, and saying, “If I can reach one young person with a message embedded in a sound that stirs his or her soul, then I have not labored in vain.” There he is in The Matrix sequels, doing something he’s become tragicomically good at—playing an unintentional caricature of his identity.
Michael Eric Dyson’s critique of Cornel West can be read by following this link.
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