Touré: What's Behind Cornel West's Attacks on Obama

Cornel West (Karen Bleier/AFP)
Cornel West (Karen Bleier/AFP)

Theology professor and noted scholar Cornel West's repeated and unrepentant attacks on President Barack Obama cloud his central critique that the president hasn't done enough to impact poverty, Touré writes in a piece at Time magazine.

It's becoming less and less fashionable to say it, but I still love Cornel West. We've been friends for over 15 years and during most of that time he has been a crucial American voice. But it's sad how he's damaged his image as an important thinker because of a series of attacks on President Obama and on other black intellectuals who have not been as critical of Obama such as Michael Eric Dyson and Melissa Harris-Perry and Reverend Sharpton. West's critique is draped in rhetoric so inflammatory that it almost disqualifies itself from being taken seriously and risks him sounding like a rapper enmeshed in a battle. In his latest salvo earlier this week, he called the President a "Rockefeller Republican in blackface."

There's nothing wrong with critiquing the President, but the reference to blackface is a verbal Molotov cocktail. And it doesn't even make sense: if Obama's in blackface then he's performing a grotesque caricature of blackness that is a white fantasy of a harmless, docile black person. Is that what he's doing? Is Obama not the opposite of that as a calm, dignified, intellectual alpha male? I'm not really sure why blackface was mentioned or what it's supposed to mean unless it's a way of calling Obama an Oreo—black on the outside and white on the inside. But that's just a guess. Earlier this year, West told TruthDig that Obama is "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats." I'm not sure why race is even injected into that critique …

West's central critique is that Obama is not doing enough to impact poverty, that Obama doesn't even say the word poverty. This is true though it's hard during a Presidential campaign to inject a discussion of poverty when your opponents are wrongly tarring you as "the food stamp president" and someone who's removing the work requirement from welfare. Within that framework, discussing poverty would have been electorally dangerous. Still, it's true Obama as president has failed to combat poverty and now we are in a world where 28% of black Americans are poor, compared to 10% of whites, over 13% of blacks are unemployed, and black household wealth is at its lowest point in decades. But these are not Obama's fault: these are all structural problems that are bigger than Obama and existed before he was in office.


Read more at Time.