Words From the Other Mr. (Cornel) West

With a new memoir on shelves (and e-readers), the Princeton scholar talks Obama’s Nobel Prize, the future of black politics and what would Jesus do (if he were president).


Cornel West, distinguished professor in the Princeton Center for African American Studies, and author of best sellers such as Race Matters (Vintage, 1994) Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism (Penguin, 2004) and Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Faith in America (Routledge, 1994),has a new memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud (Smiley Books) in stores now. In it, West describes his journey from “Mama’s child and daddy’s kid” to being one of the preeminent sociologists working today.

The Root sat down with West recently to talk art, politics and the first black president. In Part 2 of this two-part interview, Dr. West dishes on 40 years of African-American studies, Obama's Nobel Prize and offers real talk on Barack, Bill Clinton and what happens when Jesus puts his feet up on Pontius Pilate's desk. Read part 1 here.

The Root: This year marks 40 years of African-American studies. What do you think of African-American studies, in and out of the canon, the idea of black studies?

Dr. Cornel West: For me, the two are inseparable, but not identical. For the very beginning you cannot be knowledgeable about African-American studies without being knowledgeable of American studies, without being knowledgeable about modernity. Which includes enlightenment, romanticism and the very European languages that most Negroes speak anyway. The whole notion of them being separate in any analytical or intellectual way is empty.

In terms of where they’re taught, that’s a different question. That has to do with the disciplinary divisions of knowledge in the academy. You might end up with some of the best work being done on the humanities on what it means to be modern and American in the African-American studies department, if it’s being done right. But you have to cross-fertilize and cross-pollinate…