Thursday, May 19, 2011

Professor Cornell West And President Obama

Professor Cornell West has made some comments about President Obama that have struck a nerve with many people for a variety of reasons.  Some people believe that President Obama can do no wrong, others see him as a centrist and are disappointed he is not the liberal progressive they dreamed he was.  

Others can't wait to tear him down because he is not white enough or black enough.  
Others can't give him credit for anything he has accomplished, while others keep putting as many hurdles as they can in front of him so he will fail.  It is personal, it is political and it is a game that has more losers than winners, but it is what it is and it will continue to evolve because that is the nature of the beast.

Cornell West has made me jump out of the sidelines and stand and protect, not President Obama, but an entire segment of the population that has remained silent for far too long.

Professor Cornell West

Professor Cornell West has struck a nerve with me.  He has done what Jeremiah Wright did and frankly, he blindsided me.  I was not expecting this, not from him.  This is a man I have respected for a long time and to a large extent, I still do, but just as he decided to make public a personal relationship he had with President Obama and mix in his political views into a crowded and gnarled ball of yarn, I too, feel the need to get personal because Professor West, has hit me at a very personal level and like me, there are hundreds of thousands if not millions whose stomachs have been tied into a very familiar knot throughout their entire lives.
The following excerpts come form and the text in quotation marks comes straight from the site.  If these are in fact, the accurate words uttered by Professor West, then in fact, we have a problem that needs to be aired out on behalf of those of us who are sick and tired of the double standard.
“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “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 just 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. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk 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."
Has a fear of free-black men: This is what white people were afraid of when slavery was abolished.  The fear that free-black men would take to arms and slaughter white people.  Their fears are only more heighten now that a "person of color" has attained the highest office in the land.  This type of rhetoric is fuel to a fire that must be extinguished, not flamed. 

Free-black men is code 

Why would President Obama be "afraid of free-black men"? this is code for he is not black-enough and leans towards the white heritage that is so rightly his.  It is code for selling out to white people's vision of society. Please do not call him your "dear brother" when you don't see him as one of your brothers even though he lived as a community organizer helping people you would call your brothers and sisters without question.

Brilliant African Father:  Yes, he was brilliant.  So was his mother. No mention of her here, except to insinuate that his white upbringing and white mother make him less of a black person and he must fear both whites and blacks because he is a "white man with black skin"
"He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable." : Right, he does have a certain rootlessness because black and white people have an issue they never talk about in public, let alone admit to.

Those of us with multi-cultural roots have been subjected to not being 'enough' of this or 'enough' of the other by all sides while both sides wanting us to reflect them in words and deeds and rejecting us because we do not resemble either one.  It is a love-hate relationship that puts children of mixed heritage in "no-man's land".  

By rejecting us you all made us free.  Freer than you'll ever be.  Through rejection and questioning we disassociate from both and become US. We become Cosmopolitan and world citizens in a quest to understand where we fit in.  As a result, we appreciate and move freely within cultures because we have taken the time to understand and listen.  To appreciate and embrace. To not judge, but to accept.  In short, we are the United Nations and proud of it.

Our president is not unique in his racial background, as a matter of fact, his "mixed-blood" only goes back one generation.  Some of us, go back to days of Haitian revolution and Conquistadors, to Muslims who married Jews and southern whites who fought hard to free slaves because they too, understood the meaning of humanity.  
“He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” he says. “He’s got two homes. He has got his family and whatever challenges go on there, and this other home. Larry Summers blows his mind because he’s so smart. He’s got Establishment connections. He’s embracing me. It is this smartness, this truncated brilliance, that titillates and stimulates brother Barack and makes him feel at home. That is very sad for me.
"He's got two homes": He could have twenty, but you are not referring to real estate, you are referring to him not being black enough and your perception that he is more white than black.  You are in fact, calling him "Other".
“This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,” West laments. “We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone."
"He lacks backbone": The man who hunted down Osama Bin Laden and took on Somali pirates has no backbone?  The man who fought to reform Health care and give people with pre-existing conditions a better quality of life has no backbone?

"More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other.": Yes, we are world-weary and turning against each other because ideologues have driven a wedge into the American psyche that fosters fear and hatred, but that has nothing to do with our president's actions, but the corporatist running every branch of government. 

Dr. West, did you think for a minute that ONE person could clean up the government with one hand and send lobbyist and bankers scurrying out of D.C. in the first couple of months?.  Did you think they would not put up a fight to destroy every aspect of government that protects the working poor and middle class?.

You too are weary Dr. West, but not from the previous administration but from generations of watching the poor being forgotten and "people of color" being imprisoned and disenfranchised in society since the beginning.  You too are tired of the crumbs and you are not alone.  We just have to understand that change would have only happened over night if we were all willing to make it happen.
 “Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?” West asks. “If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk. The tea party folk are right when they say the government is corrupt. It is corrupt. Big business and banks have taken over government and corrupted it in deep ways."
Dr. West, can you imagine if one man alone could do all that? This type of hero or savior only exist in Hollywood movies.  President Obama stated clearly throughout his campaign: "I can't do it alone" and that was meant for us.
We were supposed to elect people he could govern with, we were meant to help him govern and we failed him.  We gave up and blamed him for an economy that was created long before President Obama came into office.  We allowed the fringes of society to put in place ideologues with no real moral compass or a clue of what it is to be a minority of any stripe.  The tea party folks are right about government corruption, but unable or unwilling to see they are the tools of those they want to oust. These folks will  continue to work for them and vote against their own best interests.
“We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful,” he says. “It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire. I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties."
"We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful,” : Yes, it is.  Racism and fear are not the domain of white people and that is the painful truth.  It has been used by both sides to demean and humiliate children of mixed ethnic backgrounds and never, not once, have I ever heard anyone defending their right to occupy their space or to ask "what is it like NOT to be like me, us, people of only ONE affiliation?" "How can you be so comfortable in your own skin? - - it frightens me, you too, are 'Other'."

"I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama." Is it conscience or resentment that causes you to utter these words?.  It is obvious from the entire interview that political ideology, racial identity and a personal relationship gone bad have influenced much of the content and context of this barrage. 

Frankly, Dr. West I could careless if you and President Obama are no longer friends.  We have only heard one side of the story and it has nothing to do with the rest of us.  What I have a problem with is that sick knot in my stomach that is only too familiar to those of mixed parentage, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

We are not black enough, white enough, Hispanic enough, Asian enough, Christian enough, Catholic enough, Democratic enough or American enough.
When you question whether we are enough or not, we are confused in our youth and offended in our old age.  We respect people of other cultures that defied conventions and risked their lives to love who they loved and raise a family that was strong and questioned authority and social mores.  We come from people with an undeniably strong backbone and broad shoulders.

YES, WE ARE ENOUGH. We are more than enough because we are FREE and no one will ever make us wonder where we fit in anymore, and just like President Obama, we are very comfortable in our own skin because our skin was born out of love.

In my humble opinion, this makes us more free than you ever dreamed of or you can imagine based on personal experience.  While I can't speak for everyone, I am convinced that my words will resonate clearly and loudly with my brothers and sisters who have been marginalized throughout history.

While I agree with Dr. West about the state of our political system and see how the middle class, the poor and the unions are being decimated by greed and power grabs, I can't sit idly by and allow another person to hurl racial slurs against those of us who don't feel the need to choose one side over another, because good, bad, or indifferent, we have accepted all sides as our own. 

Yes, WE ARE ENOUGH and have had ENOUGH. Some of us have ties to several cultures and our heritage expands across continents. We come from people who bucked convention and had the backbone to tell the rest of the world to shove it because it was their life and they were not invited to pass judgment.  That, Dr. West, is what free-people looks like.

Our ancestors did not ask for permission, nor did they ask for forgiveness.  They were white men and women who married "people of color" and created the life they wanted for themselves in spite of what free-blacks or free-whites thought.  President Obama's white mother and African father were such people and they owe no one an explanation, neither does their son. 

Full disclosure:  I like President Obama but I never, even during his campaign fantasized that once elected he would turn out to be the flaming liberal we hoped would inhabit the Oval Office.  He has always been a middle-of-the-road centrist.  He is personable, likeable and yes, funny.  He also has a penchant for attempting to negotiate with those who oppose him, find a middle ground, compromise and reach an amicable solution.  

Even though he is the reasonable adult in the room, for those of us who barely survived the emotional train wreck that was the Bush administration, it has been an infuriating failed attempt after failed attempt at compromise at a time that we wanted decisive results to stop the hemorrhaging of the middle class and the economy.

Also, I have been as guilty as everyone else of wanting immediate relief and results.  We all like immediate gratification, we want the guilty to go to prison and we want laws that work equally for all.  Pipe dreams, I think, because the wealthy don't go to prison and the privatized prisons are filled with minorities that are poor and uneducated.

  • I don't agree with President Obama that we should drill in our country.  I agree with him that we should invest heavily in alternative forms of energy.  
  • I don't agree with him that 'clean coal' is a viable alternative because I know first-hand that there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny or clean coal. 
  • I do not agree with him on nuclear energy either.  Russia, U.S. and Japan accidents have proven that we don't have enough regulations to keep the industry from cutting corners or keeping them honest.  Nor do we have the ability to render the waste to a neutral state.  It is my opinion that nuclear plants are dangerous. It is President Obama's that they are safe. 
I do not agree with President Obama in other areas, but my different opinions do not make him less presidential, less right, or less of anything. 

Different views are expected in a society with more than two people and while I don't agree with a few things, I have great respect for a man who was handed a country that was on the verge of collapse and managed to keep it afloat by putting out wildfires that had been fanned and grown out of control by the parties involved in the previous administration and the thugs in the banking industry as well as the Koch Brothers, The Heritage Foundation, Rupert Murdock, Halliburton, and all the others that have had a free reign in pitting Americans against each other to keep us busy and rob us blindly of our assets and our rights.

Well, that's my story. Leave a comment and if you have a friend of mixed heritage background, forward this to them.  They are not alone and they need to know that their thoughts and feelings are shared by millions who remain silent.  No more, we are ENOUGH.


SouthernGirl2 said...


Thank you! And you stated it so well!

Good Post! I tip my hat to you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being real and knowledgeable enough to express your opinions .. some just rant and when ask a question they have no come backs as if they are just repeating what they heard ..No original ideas ..your outlook is fresh and insightful...

Anonymous said...

Amen! how can I find u on twitter?

COOKIE said...

Olivia, i first must say thank you, I have never been so interested in politics before President Barack Obama, ans yes i am Black. I don't know a whole lot , but i am listening and learning. I also respect Dr. West a great deal, have seen him maybe 3-4 x in the last two months. I was not happy with his criticism of the President, Cause i think some of it is personal. I dont know the whole story, but i still think he is doing what he thinks is the right thing to do. He can't save the black culture, we need to do a little something , or maybe a lot of something ourselves. He is the POTUS not just for us brown folks. So i will wish him God's speed, in all he do.

Thurman Williams said...

I ran into Cornel West 20 years ago - and he made similar statements about my heritage - Claiming all mixed people were products of rape and hatred. He also claimed that the Native Peoples were the descendants of Black Jews and Sephardic Jews - etc.

I could bareluy contain myself then - and I have been too angry to write. Thanks for being cool headed enough to do this

Olivia Emisar said...

Thank you all. My heart is full. PEACE

Anonymous said...

The saddest part about Mr. West is that he has just as most who hold such narrow views conveniently "forgotten" his own MIXED heritage. As ALL natural born american blacks, the family tree is so sorted and varied with multi cultural origins. How can any man of color so easily forget he is EXACTLY what he claims to be so far removed from. Thank you again for your thoughts with which I totally agree with. I have 2 daughters of mixed ethnic background,although my dominant trait shows my African background, my father's grandmother was a lilly white Irish immigrant go figure since my mother is a far skinned black woman go figure the skin hue from generation to generation. Pay attention Mr. West. I chose to call him Mister vs. Doctor because a Doctor of any background deals in true or educated facts and "should"be trained to not let personal feelings or politics dictate his opinions. Unless it is a personal matter which this is and if so then he is no longer speaking as a Doctor of anything but a "Mr" John Q Public.

MYoung said...

Excellent read. I am mixed race like Obama from a multicultural household. I don't see myself as a black or white or mixed race woman. I see myself as a WOMAN, which frees me from disabling labels. I think we all should remove those labels given to us by a capitalistic system. Thank you for pushing back on West. I too see this as a personal issue and so unprofessional and divisive of him. Your views on Obama are right on and I can't agree more.

My suggestion to Mr. West: I'm sure you have an attractive retirement plan from your tenure at Princeton. Take it. And write another book, maybe titled "Diary of a Mad, Black Man."

spirit_55 said...

Hi Olivia. Indeed my heart is full. You've articulated so succinctly what is in the minds and hearts of a people who are spiritually self-confident and therefore KNOW who they BE!
So happy you decided to "jump off the sidelines." Keep up the thoughtful writing. You are an inspiration. Thank you!

Col-co Chanel said...

You Go Girl !!

I could not say it any better myself ..

Thank you !!!


Olivia Emisar said...

Thank you all. You are so supportive it is overwhelmingly good. PEACE

gloria said...

Excellent, intellect and very well written post.

Anonymous said...

Olivia, thank you...Wow you opened my eyes...
OMG Mr. West a professor at Princeton?
Stop hating...Grow up

Renee said...

Excellent and well written. Definitely resonates as I am a "hybrid." Mescalero Apache/Polish, and English/Scottish and probably more. I have been told to my face that I am not enough of one or the other. I have witnessed the same criticism of our President. I just don't understand how it is relevant, for anyone. We are not one or the other but all...

Anonymous said...

The GOP use bills they work on as a vehicle to promote social division. It dovetails into their campaign strategy of Divide & Conquer. Major bills moving their way through Congress are loaded with amendments that attack social measures against Public Media, Planned Parenthood, Public Education, National Endowment for the Arts, the EPA, Social Security, Medicare, Climate Science, Labor Unions, Public Service Workers or the IRS. The list is long and designed to rip apart the social fabric of common purpose that binds us together as a united Nation.

This tactic appears to have worked on Professor West.

bardgal said...

HOLYFUCKINGSHITE I can't believe I've come so late to your party, but HELLYES!!

Thank you x INFINITY for this. I've wanted to verbally slap Professor West for some time now, and this does it quite nicely.

Olivia Emisar said...

bardgal, you crack me up. Glad I found your blog & follow you on Twitter. Yes, professor West needed a 'talking to' in my opinion.