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2015 Ware Lecture by Cornel West (Video and Transcript)

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General Assembly 2015 Event 446

Program Description

Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and obtained his MA and PhD in philosophy at Princeton. He has taught at Union Theological Seminary (where he has recently returned to teach), Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Paris. He has written nineteen books and edited thirteen books. He is best known for his classic Race Matters, published by Beacon Press in 1993. His latest books are Black Prophetic Fire, which offers a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders (Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells) and The Radical King, a collection of MLK’s writings curated and introduced by Prof. West to reclaim Dr. King’s prophetic and radical vision as both a civil rights leader and—more broadly—as a human right activist. Both books were published by Beacon Press.

Cornel West appears frequently on Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report, CNN and C-SPAN, and he makes numerous appearances speaking to audiences large and small on subjects ranging from racial justice and queer rights to climate justice. Prof. West has appeared in over twenty-five documentaries and films, including Examined Life, Call & Response, Sidewalk, and Stand. He has also made three spoken-word albums, including Never Forget, collaborating with Prince, Jill Scott, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, KRS-One, and the late Gerald Levert. His recent spoken-word interludes were featured on Terence Blanchard’s Choices (which won the Grand Prix in France for the best jazz album of the year for 2009).

He has recently been deeply involved in the Black Lives Matter protests and was among those arrested in Ferguson in 2015. Cornell West has a passion to communicate in writings and orations, through music and film, and in solidarity with groups and faith communities committed to justice in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.—a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.

Transcript

PETER MORALES: Woo, good evening and welcome to the Ware Lecture.

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The Ware lecture is our most distinguished lecture of General Assembly. Since 1922, we have welcomed notable people to share their insights and to challenge us, people such as Howard Thurman, Linus Pauling, Shirley Chisholm, and Sister Simone Campbell.

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Tonight we continue this tradition with our Ware lecturer the Reverend Dr. Cornel West.

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Cornel West is a prominent and provocative Democratic intellectual. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in three years and obtained is MA and PhD in Philosophy at Princeton. He has taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Paris. He appears frequently on the Bill Maher show, CNN, C-SPAN, and the Tavis Smiley PBS TV show.

He has written 19 books. He's best known for his classic Race Matters. His new book Black Prophetic Fire offers a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders. These books are published by our own Beacon Press.

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And I recently learned that he's, as far as we know, the only Beacon author ever to interrupt a book tour to get arrested.

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At a demonstration demanding justice for the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, he was handcuffed and jailed. Cornel West has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of audiences in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice. Few people have the reach that Cornel West has to bring the issues of racial justice to the consciousness of people across the globe.

What a privilege it is to have him with us this evening. Please join me in welcoming the Reverend Dr. Cornel West.

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CORNEL WEST: What a blessing for me to be here at the UUA. My god, there is a sweet spirit in this place. Yes, it is. I want to salute to musicians. I come from a tradition that says the Spirit will not descend without song. Give it up for the musicians.

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I want to salute the captain of the ship, my dear brother, my new friend President Peter Morales—Peter Morales.

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He's not just visionary and courageous, but I was just with my Latino students in Atlanta for a gathering of all the Latino students from the seminary that we were saying, it's a beautiful thing when you have high quality people, especially from the chocolate side of town, including our Latino brothers and sisters—Peter Morales, the first Latino leader of the Unitarian Universalists Association.

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And I salute his wonderful, wonderful companion and wife Sister Phyllis. Sly Stone says it's a family affair, and anytime you talk about leadership, you are talking about family. I was blessed to just meet your visionary leader from just a few years ago, my dear brother Bill Sinkford. Bill Sinkford's in the house.

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Thank you so much for your witness. Thank you so much for your work. God bless your family. God bless your loved ones, absolutely. And I just heard my dear brother William Schulz engaged in such a high quality conversation with a spiritual giant, a moral titan, namely John Lewis. Let's give it up for all of them.

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What a magnificent gathering you Unitarian Universalists have brought to Portland, Oregon.

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And then to invite a free, Holy Ghost, black Baptist to speak to my UU brothers and sisters of all colors, I want to thank you. I want to thank you. I want to thank Sister Delia for being so magnificent when first greeting me when I arrived, and then I met the Black Lives Matters of young people. I met the whole host of young people for a good 45 minutes, and I left with so much so joy, and my heart transmitting and bequeathing the best of a tradition of struggle to the younger generation—oh, yes, oh yes.

And I want to come to you in all of the sincerity that I can muster and say to you unequivocally that I am who I am because somebody loved me, somebody cared for me, somebody attended to me, and anywhere I go and any stand I take, I will never forget those who came before, who gave so much, who sacrificed so much that a young, black brother could kind of stay on the straight and narrow in America. That's my kind of piety, not uncritical deference to dogma, not blind obedience to the doctrine, but remembering those who came before. That's what piety actually is.

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The highest honor I shall ever receive in life, beyond all that Harvard and Yale and Princeton could offer of me, is to be the second son of the late Clifton and the present Irene B. West, and to be the brother of Clifton and Cynthia and Cheryl, and to be of cracked vessel produced by a Shiloh Baptist Church on the chocolate side of Sacramento, California. oh, yes. And as we were reminded with such eloquence just a few minutes ago from our dear brother John Lewis, product of his own parents, Willie Mae Lewis and Eddie Lewis, and product of that black church in gut-bucket Jim Crow Alabama in Pike County, right outside of Troy, Alabama, that, in fact, any serious talk about struggle for freedom and struggle for justice has to radically call into question any conception of ourselves being self-made.

We didn't give our birth to ourselves. We didn't learn the language on our own. Somebody had to inject some love inside of us. Somebody had to try to make sure that we were open enough that we could grow and develop and mature. Yes, it is true.

By the time I was able and blessed to go to Harvard and Yale and Princeton, they were magnificent supplements with wonderful teacher—the Richard Rortys and the Stanley Cavells and the Israel Schefflers and Sheldon Wolins and Walter Kaufmanns and Martha Nussbaums John Rawls and Hillary Putnams and on and on and on—indeed, yes. But, oh, let us be clear that we begin with a critical self inventory. Who are we and what kind of human beings will we choose to be in our short move from our mama's womb to tomb. That's the fundamental question.

And what I love about the Ware Lecture is that a Henry Ware, Sr. and Henry Ware, Jr. is wrestling with that fundamental question of what does it mean to be human. We know Henry Ware, Jr. was a mentor to the greatest man of letters ever produced in the history of this country. His name is Ralph Waldo Emerson. Give it up for brother Ralph. Give it up for brother Ralph.

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He may have left the tradition of Unitarianism in the 19th century, but it never left him. It's like being a Catholic. Even when you're a lapsed Catholic like James Joyce, you're still a Catholic [INAUDIBLE]. It leaves that UU mark on you.

I want to begin with an epigram from the greatest of all public intellectuals in the history of the United States, and I'm not talking about the great John Dewey, though he's a grand candidate. I'm not talking about Edmond Wilson, though he is also another candidate. I'm not talking about Susan Sontag—oh, how magnificent she was in her essays. But I'm talking WEB DuBois.

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WEB DuBois—and in 1957 at the age of 89 years old, he decides to write love letters to the younger generation. It's almost as if he knew that there would be another wave of marvelous, new, moral and spiritual militancy among a younger generation, who are hungry and thirsty—something beyond the superficial culture of spectacle.

WEB DuBois—six years, he's emerged from a court, handcuffs, working with the Peace Information Center, charged by the US government of working for the Soviet Union. They found no evidence, but at 83 years, he is already living roughly on the house of rest at 31 Grace Court in Brooklyn Heights in the greatest borough in the world, Brooklyn. And he has one major visitor once a week. He's living on the house arrest in Philadelphia. In 1939 he was the most popular Negro in the whole world, and now he's on the house arrest. His name was Paul Robeson.

[APPLAUSE]

And DuBois told Paul Robeson, somehow we've got to prepare the younger generation to be spiritually fortified, intellectually sophisticated, morally fearful but also humble. And so he embarks on the writing of three novels. Can you imagine at 89 years old, you embark on the writing of three novels?

The first novel was call The Ordeal of Mansart. He turned to page 275 in that first novel, and he says, I've been wrestling with four questions all of my life, and every generation has to come to terms with these questions. The first question, how shall integrity face oppression? How shall integrity face oppression? Oh, for me that's one of the most fundamental challenges of our day because we live in an age of mendacity. It's an age in which a lies are ubiquitous, not just in the business community, even though when you turn the business page you scandal after scandal after scandal.

There used to be a labor page, but that's gone. Oh, that's a sign of the weakness of the organized working class, isn't it? But it's true; among our young people, 58% say they cheat regularly on exams because it's a question of just getting over being obsessed with the 11th commandment, thou shall not get caught.

Of course, even in our churches, my church Shiloh Baptist Church, we had pastors, now more and more we've got CEOs running the churches—the market model's setting in. Megachurches, but not a lot of mega-courage.

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Megachurches, not a lot of mega-love. Megachurches, not a lot of mega-justice. Megachuches, huge building fund, but very weak prison ministry. Megachuches, prosperity gospel, chamber of commerce religion—mendacity ubiquitous, and the younger generation hungry, thirsty for integrity. Now by integrity, I don't mean purity. Each and every one of us, not free of spot or wrinkle. Each and every one of us, fallible, finite, no one of us have a monopoly on Truth capital T.

But at the same time, integrity has to do with what is the quality of your courage and your willingness to bear witness radically against the grain even if you have to sacrifice something precious, including your popularity in the name of integrity. That's what DuBois was talking about.

[APPLAUSE]

And let us be very clear, that to be fundamentally committed to integrity makes you counter-cultural in an age of mendacity. You have to cut so radically against the grain. Intellectual integrity, the quest for unarmed truth, and we know the condition of truth is always to allow suffering to speak. And if you don't allow those who are suffering to raise their voices and play a role in the shaping of all of our destinies, you can rest be assured that mendacity is operating in a powerful manner.

Thank God for the Supreme Court that I'd begun to think didn't have the capacity to speak [? for them. ?] Thank God the voices of our precious gay brother and lesbian sisters and bisexuals and trans peoples can now be heard in the sense of having their dignity and humanity affirmed to love in whatever form want to love. That is worth celebrating.

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That's worth celebrating, y'all. Even in this dark moment with all of the thickness of evil, that's worth celebrating.

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Thank God for our courageous politicians—the slice that we discern. If it were predicated on the fickleness of our politicians, who check their deepest convictions too often by checking the polls, and then say they're evolving. How you're going to evolve if you're committed to the humanity and dignity of every person. People don't need political calculations at certain times. You just need moral conviction. Take a stand, politicians. Be honest. There's something bigger than your next election.

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I don't care what party you're talking about. I don't care what color the politician is. We're looking for integrity.

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But then the intellectual integrity—and I want to highlight intellectual integrity because as a black Baptist myself, and I'm critical but also unapologetic about being a gut-bucket Holy Ghost black Baptist now. Because we did produce Otis Redding. I know you all still trying to do that now. We produced Aretha Franklin. I know, you was working on it. I understand. We produced Donny Hathaway. We produced some folk now. But I love your commitment to intellectual integrity, your fundamental commitment to unarmed truth, and if it leads you outside of the institutional church, that's fine, because you for you. That's what it is to have integrity, and you take a stand based on your commitment to intellectual integrity. Shatter the dogma, shatter the doctrine if it doesn't make sense to you.

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Nothing wrong with that. Free-thinker, cut against the grain, be transgressive. But at the same time, as I said, truth is always a two-edged sword because we all fall short. I take very seriously what the great Samuel Beckett, a lapsed Irish Protestant, one of the greatest artists of the most barbaric of all centuries, the 20th century—he said, try again, fail again, fail better. Try again, fail again, fail better. That's what he says in a Worstward Ho, his last piece of prose fiction, and that's a reminder of our own deep humanity. It's a reminder of what it is to be tied to the earth.

But it's the aspiration that I'm talking about. What DuBois wanted the younger generation to understand, what DuBois wanted to see in the black freedom movement, what he wanted to see in the women's movement, wanted to see in the worker's movement, what he wanted to see in the movement of our precious disable brothers and sisters, what he wanted to see in the anti-imperial movement, keeping track of empires, what he wanted to see in the immigration movement, keeping track of those folk who want to return to what used to be their land—Mexicans coming back to what used to be Mexico—Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico.

He once said, I want to keep track of the integrity, beginning with the intellectual integrity. Who is willing to tell the truth—good and bad, up and down, insights as well as blindnesses of ourselves first, then our communities, then our nation, then our world? I've got a lot of vanilla brothers and sisters that walk with me and say, Brother West, Brother West. you know, I'm not a racist any longer. Grandma's got work to do, but I've transcended that.

[LAUGHTER]

And I say to them, I'm Jesus-loving, free, black man, and I've tried to be so for 55 years, and I'm 62 now, and when I look in the depths of my soul I see white supremacy because I grew up in American. And if there's white supremacy in me, my hunch is you've got some work to do too.

[APPLAUSE]

Oh, yes, we're not talking about purity. We're not talking about being pristine. What is the quality of your struggle? Now push it back to learn how to die, in order to learn how to live, to murder what's inside of us. Too much male supremacy inside of me. I grew up in America. Too much anti-Jewish sensibility—there is no Christian civilization in the history of the globe that has not been shot through with anti-Jewish hatred. We've got to come to terms with that.

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Anti-Muslim, anti-Arab—hatred shot through. And then this notion—oh, this notion I abhor—that somehow an American life has more value than a life in other parts of the world.

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Oh, my God, I say to my dear brother Mr. President, thank you for apologizing for that one American life that one of those bombs of your drones dropped and killed. But do you know it was 233 children in Yemen and Somalia and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Libya? Apologize to them, too.

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Let's be consistent. Let's have integrity. Let's tell the true across the board.

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This is not a political game we're playing. This is a matter of integrity, and no tradition has a monopoly on it, be it Christian, Judaic, Buddhist, agnostic, atheistic, neopagan, postmodern pagan, or premodern pagan.

[LAUGHTER]

But this is precisely the ways in which we can create a dynamic common ground. That's what the great DuBois, with tears in his eyes, was trying to transmit to the younger generation. And, of course, the night he died, John Lewis, Mahalia Jackson, and Walter Reuther and so many others, including our dear brother Martin, told America about a dream that they had. He could see the aspiration, the integrity—intellectual integrity—truth-telling, but also spiritual integrity, and that's my tradition.

And I know you all have your own very rich tradition. I just want to be personal tonight because I come from a black people for 400 years terrorized, traumatized, stigmatized, but the best of our tradition is what? Generating the love supreme of a John Coltrane, the love ethic of a Martin Luther, Jr., the love sensibility of a Frederick Douglass and a Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and in the music of a Stevie Wonder. What is it about these people that in the face of being terrorized, they continuously dish the love? That's partly what Charleston is all about. Those folk don't come from the sky. They come out of a tradition, fundamentally committed to love in the end, no matter what the situation is.

[APPLAUSE]

Oh, yes.

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I tell my fellow Americans, when you see Negroes, you ought to give them a standing ovation. Thank you for Martin King. Thank you for John Coltrane. Thank you for Aretha Franklin. Thank you for A. Philip Randolph. They don't fall from the sky.

[APPLAUSE]

They hone it out. They work it out. John Lewis doesn't come from the sky. And it's the leaven in the loaf. Because if black people had attempted to terrorize terroristic white brothers and sisters in the same way they were terrorized, there'd have been a civil war every generation. We wouldn't have an American democracy. There'd be civil strife so pervasive there'd be terrorist cells in every chocolate neighborhood. None of us would be able to even talk about American democracy. And it doesn't mean the black people, we black people, have a monopoly on truth or goodness, and we certainly don't have a monopoly on beauty. Just look at me.

[LAUGHTER]

But that's all right. We're talking about human beings who choose, who have the courage to aspire to integrity, and we're living in a moment in which integrity had so thoroughly declined and decayed that it looked as if the very raw stuff that's necessary for social motion and social momentum and social movement was gone. Because it doesn't make any difference how correct your analysis is or how sophisticated your view of the world is, if you lack integrity, the movement itself still is sounding brass and tinkling cymbol—it's empty.

[APPLAUSE]

And this is very important because those of us who have been blessed to teach in higher education, we've seen this obsession with smartness, smartness, smartness. it's like the use of the word "obvious." You know, people use it going, obviously, obviously—no, that's not obvious to me. "Obviously, obviously—" not obvious to me. Sometimes what you think is obvious is obscure. But if you don't find it obvious, you're on the outside, because they want an inner circle of the smart ones.

And we have generated a whole culture, market-driven, obsessed with titillation and stimulation, and puts a premium on smartness and dollars—smartness and dollars. The heroes are the "smart ones," and I say to myself, let the phones be smart. We have to be wise and aspire to integrity.

[APPLAUSE]

There were a whole lot of smart Nazis. There's a whole lot of smart white supremacists, a whole lot of smart male supremacists, a lot of smart homophobes, a whole lot of smart imperialists. We're looking for something more than smartness, and I'm not promoting stupidity. I'm talking about wisdom.

[APPLAUSE]

Courage, that's what DuBois had mind. And one of the messes—and I know Brother Sekou, Reverend Sekou, is here somewhere. I don't know where he is though. I know he's here. But I want to salute him because he spent so much magnificent time. Where is Brother Sekou? Where is he? There he is, right by the wall. There he his. Wave a little bit, brother, wave a little bit. We love you. We love you, brother.

[APPLAUSE]

This brother's been arrested so many times, it reminds me of Stokely Carmichael and John Lewis and Martin King. But we try to tell the young folk, this movement is about integrity first. Don't [INAUDIBLE] movement as a political movement first and foremost. It was go spiritual and moral movement that put integrity at the center, and that's why it affected it our souls and touched our humanity. This is not some calculation of interest groups. This is about what it means to be human.

[APPLAUSE]

Oh, yes, but that second question DuBois raises, what does honesty do in the face of deception? What does it mean to aspire to be an honest person? And by honesty, I'm talking about the willingness to engage in what Jane Austen called constancy, to be morally consistent. So when you do have righteous indignation and holy anger and moral outrage, it has as much to do with the ecological catastrophe, which is as evil as the moral catastrophe of white supremacy or male supremacy or wealth inequality or the economic catastrophe of wealth inequality.

1% of the population owning 42% percent of the wealth, and 22% of America's precious children of all colors living in poverty in the richest nation in the world. That's a moral abomination. That's spiritually obscene—obscene.

[APPLAUSE]

But the same moral outrage ought to be connected as well to the homophobia, the anti-Jewish hatred, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim hatred. We have got to be consistent across the board. We can't be honest within our own little silos and then draw walls and think that somehow the moral and spiritual energy does not overflow. What America needs is a coalescing of the moral outrage, ensuring that it's filtered through love and through justice and through truth, but it is militant—militant, precisely because it requires those who have been walking around with their backs humped over to straighten up and take a stand.

And Brother Martin used to say, [INAUDIBLE] time. Every day, people straighten their backs up. They're going somewhere. Because folk can't ride your back unless it's bent. Straighten it out.

[APPLAUSE]

And what does that mean? It reminds me of the black man who was always in the front of the rally of the great Marcus Garvey, who hated white supremacy. He didn't hate white brothers and sisters; he hated white supremacy. But he always had a black person with a banner that said, the Negro is not afraid. Even if he was shaken, [SHIVERING SOUNDS] the Negro is not afraid. Almost like Kanye West when they talked about George Bush—G-G-G-G-G-G-George B-B-B-B-Bush doesn't care about black people. You see, Brother Kanye's not my cousin but I thought your flow was better than that.

No, the Negro was afraid. All of us are afraid about our careers, about being unpopular, not being accepted by the mainstream. Some of us will be engaged and have to wrestle with character assassination. There always must be a few who are willing to die based on the love of the people you're willing to fight for, given what you're up against.

Now, martyrdom is not normative for the moment. Everybody can't die, but you've got to have a slice of folk who are willing to in their truth telling. And when you have that, then, with the integrity and the honesty, it's a new day. And what is happening in Ferguson, what is happening in Staten Island, what is happening in Baltimore, what is happening in Charleston is that people who have been afraid for so long, been sleepwalking for so long.

And I don't need to remind my UU brothers and sisters of the great Henry David Thoreau. When he went off to Walden Pond, what did he say? I want to do something, wake up my neighbors from their sleep walking. just Gamble and Huff with the song sung by the musicians. What are the conditions under which folk straighten their backs up, no longer afraid?

What are you doing, Martin? Martin said, what cowardice is more evil than violence, and I'm a pacifist. Think about that. Gandhi said the same thing in is essay on the swords—cowardice is more evil than violence, and I'm an absolute pacifist, Gandhi says. The fear, the sense of being intimidated—and, of course, the history of black folk is precisely that. They try to niggerize all black people to make sure that we're so fearful and are scared and intimidated that we defer to the policies that be, and then we believe we're less beautiful and less intelligent and less moral.

And when you shattered that white supremacist lie, same is true with the male supremacist lie. All sisters of all colors, you know that man sitting next to you has a brain that works much better than yours. What a lie. Get away from that intimidation. Get away from that fear. That brother got the same potential and possibility relative to his capacity that you do. Don't believe that lie. Shatter the fear. Shatter the sense of being afraid—straighten up.

[APPLAUSE]

But keep the love at the center of it.

[APPLAUSE]

Honesty, third query, what does decency do in the face of insult? These sound like pretty basic notions—integrity, honesty, decency. I think we need a spiritual and moral awakening and renaissance around integrity, honesty, and decency, cuts across color, sexual orientation, gender, nation. It's something that people are hungry for, given the fact that we're living in the most commodified marketized and commercialized culture in the history of the world, and the market has never been fundamentally about integrity.

[APPLAUSE]

This is not to say that you haven't had people with integrity engaging in contract. You have, and it's worse now than ever. It doesn't mean that Wall Street greed is new, but the Wall Street greed now is a much worse than it was 40 years ago. It is we're running amok. It's out of control, and yet what? 2008, massive market manipulation, insider trading, fraudulent activity—how many Wall Street executives at the top went to jail? Zero, not one.

Under Ronald Reagan, not known for being on the cutting edge of for social justice, 1,100 of the S&Lers went to jail. That sends a sign to Wall Street. People ask me why I get upset with Brother Barack Obama when he brought in Tim Geithner and Larry Summers and other—I thought you were going to have a Main Street government. You've got a Wall Street government. I don't care what color you are. We were fighting for honesty, decency, integrity. You disappoint us in that sense.

[APPLAUSE]

1% of the population in the last six years got 98% of the income growth at the very moment in which these decrepit school systems in inner city, generating so much soul murder every week, every month, every year, with levels of literacy and no access to arts program, but we wonder why they don't have bands like Count Basie or Duke Ellington or James Brown or Lakeside or Sly Stone. They can't play their instruments because they don't have the instruments.

[APPLAUSE]

Or we wonder why they can make a million dollars and sometimes not even sing in tune, because they don't have a pitch teacher an Carmen McCrae and Nat King Cole turn over in their graves because they wanted to get it right when they sang a song. That's honesty. That's decency. And it gets even deeper than that, because, you see, I grew up old school. Now, some of y'all might remember The Dramatics and The Del Fonics and The Whispers and The Main Ingredient and the Emotions and the Jones Girls and The Marvelettes and The Temptations.

These were folk who were so disciplined in the cultivation of lifting that voices that they could do it by bouncing off against other voices, so that they had a tenderness and a sweetness and a gentleness that touched our souls, even as we were involved in struggle. What groups do you see among the magnificent young generation these days singing together like The Whispers?

AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE].

CORNEL WEST: That's right. That's one. What bands do you see other than The Roots on television? Because it's all so individualistic and isolated, with just that one person behind the microphone running his or her voice. Some of them are lyrical geniuses. No, Kanye is, and so is Jay-Z. No doubt Beyonce is the greatest entertainer of her generation, but everybody knows Beyonce ain't no Aretha.

[APPLAUSE]

Because there's a difference between exploring the dark corners of your own soul and singing from the depths of your soul and touching other souls, so that you come from a tradition of soul stirrers like Sam Cooke and Johnny Taylor and Lou Rawls, not just body stimulation on the stage, moving, shaking, your thing. I ain't got nothing against sisters shaking their thing. I believe in autonomy. I believe in a woman's freedom. But I want a woman to use everything that's gone to her—her heart, her mind, her soul, her body, her grandmama, her granddaddy, what she learned in the studio, what she learn from the teachers and the mentors, and then give it all, give it to the audience in such a way that the audience is so empowered that they might even forget about you, and begin to wrestle with what's going on inside of them. That's what it is to be a servant,

And somewhere I read, he or she is greatest among on you will be your servant. Well have quality of service to the weak and the vulnerable, to the least of the these, to the orphan and the widow and the motherless and the fatherless. That's the tradition I'm talking about. That's the tradition DuBois is talking about when he's talking about integrity, honesty, and decency.

And the last query, and this is, in some ways, the most difficult one, because we don't like to talk about it—DuBois says, how does virtue meet brute force? Because anybody who has the audacity to be fundamentally committed to integrity, honesty, and decency may soon or later have to come to terms with brute force, with repression—with the FBI, with the CIA, and a variety of different forces that will try to silence you, that will try to make you so afraid, or to make you last sellout. They'll sell your soul for a mess of pottage because they think that the new wave of young folk might begin to be a serious challenge to the status quo, and that's where the issue of spirituality plays a role.

And again, in many ways, I fall back on my own tradition. Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory? There must be those who are willing to look the brute force in the face—Oscar Lopez Rivera in jail, Mumia Abul-Jamal in jail, Sundiata in jail, Assata Shakur in Cuba. Look the brute force in the face, had to come to terms with the killing of Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin, had to come to terms with the vicious murders of Bobby Hutton in Oakland and Fred Hampton in Chicago.

Yes, that is the cost oftentimes. So what, in the language of Miles Davis? So what? Is that all you've got to offer, powers that be? We have a love so deep. We have a commitment to justice, since justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private.

[APPLAUSE]

We've got a commitment to a cause. Some of us call it the beloved community. Some of us call it radical democracy. Some of us call it the best of America. Some of us call it the best of the world house. Whatever your language is, just make sure you're putting in that integrity, honesty, decency and virtue at the center of it, and you are spiritually and morally prepared to be able to go hand in hand with the new ways that are trying to transform an America so now diseased by increasing wealth inequality, so diseased by vicious legacies of white supremacy and male supremacy.

And even, given the Supreme Court, let us remind our precious gay brothers and lesbian sisters and bisexuals and transgender, homophobia is still very much alive, even after the marriage—even after the marriage—which means of struggle goes on, which mean in the end—and I'll close on a blue note—in the end, if we're serious about that four-fold quest, if we're serious about the analysis from ecological catastrophe all the way across to moral and spiritual and political and economic catastrophes, then we're going to have to choose to be a blues people, which means that America either learns something from the blues people in your midst, or you're going to lose your democracy. Because terrorism, and trauma, and stigma is not new for some of us.

Catastrophe is not new. There has never been a Negro problem in America. There has been catastrophes visited on black people. Don't reduce the catastrophic to the problematic. There's never been a woman's problem. Catastrophe has been visited on women. There's never been an indigenous people's problem. Catastrophes visited on indigenous peoples. There's never been a gay problem and a lesbian problem. Catastrophes have been visited on gays and lesbians. There's never been a disability problem. Catastrophe vistied on—that's the blues perspective.

That's the blues perspective, and we just lost the king of the blues, BB King, and what did he say? Nobody loves me but my mama, and she might be jiving, too. That's the blues. But BB King says in the face of the blues, I'm still aspiring to integrity, honesty, decency, and virtue with a little help from Lucille with a style and a smile that is unreplaceable and irreversible.

America, do we have what it takes? Always an open question. It could be we just experienced the decline of an empire that goes the same way of Rome. Depends on what we do. But one thing that puts a smile on my face that when I come and see my brothers and sisters from UU, feel the authenticity of your spirit. I know you're not saviors or messiahs, but I have a feeling deep inside of me going all the way down to the bowels of my existence that we have got folk in this room who are willing to go down swing like Ella Fitzgerald and Muhammad Ali.

[APPLAUSE]

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