Adam Serwer: Cornel West's Views on Barack Obama Are Petty
Cornel West can be brilliant and maddening simultaneously. He is complex, and some of his statements about race are spot on, while others are problematic. Such is the case when it comes to his comments about President Barack Obama, whom he lambastes for rebuffing his attempts to contact him.
Adam Serwer, who is biracial, calls West on the carpet for his petty comments about biracial men like Obama. These comments include:
"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." Ouch.
Serwer takes West to task for coming to this conclusion after President Obama didn't reach out to West and give him tickets to the inauguration. Serwer writes, "West speaks in the language of common humanity, but his verbal assumptions undermine the charade." West suggests that biracial folks raised around white folks are self-loathing and aspire to whiteness, which they equate with greatness. Serwer goes on to say that "West believes what he is saying is profound. It is petty." What do you think? Check out the excerpt below:
In response to perceived social slights, West severs Obama from any individual claim to blackness while inviting him to accept the terms of an implicit contract by which his lost negritude might be restored. For mixed people, blackness is not accepted as a fact of existence but something negotiable, a question of membership to which those whom are Truly Black may grant you access. This gives the game away of course, the reality of race as an invention, if one we have no choice but to live with.
Growing up mixed you sometimes face a kind of confusion. Those around you press you to make a choice about how much of yourself you're willing to give up, how much you're are willing to pretend in order to claim membership in one club or another. West demands to know why Obama isn't sitting at the black table in the dining hall, while reminding him that he's only welcome there by his graces. What you eventually learn is that peace is not something the "gatekeepers" have to offer and is the last thing they want you to find. Eventually you learn the rules of the game are silly and destructive, and who you are can't be negotiated either way.
To some degree this is just a part of adolescence, but most people have grown out of this kind of racial pageantry by middle age. West has not, but perhaps worse, he assumes the president has not. Perhaps he did not read the president's autobiography, or he would have realized that Obama is not a lost little mulatto child who is willing to give West something in exchange for that which is not West's to trade. Obama's struggle to find peace with himself is essentially the opposite of "deracination," a term that takes on all the force of an epithet here. Obama is lambasted as a Kenyan anti-colonialist by the likes of Newt Gingrich, and as a wide-eyed surrogate of "upper middle class white and Jewish men" by the likes of West. To have one group of morons question your citizenship while others question your blackness. To have one's very being interrogated by those who, because of their own pathologies, see your difference as a kind of terrible mistake, an anomaly to be soothed with toxic balm of archaic social binaries, this is what it means to be black, and also a mutt ...
Read more at the American Prospect.