Dr. Cornel West Speaks
Dr. Cornel West Speaks

Notes from the Interview of Dr. Cornel West by Owen Huelsbeck

Young Adult and former GA Youth Caucus Dean Owen Huelsbeck furnished the Blue Boat notes from his meeting with Dr. Cornel West on the occasion of Dr. West's appearance at Santa Clara University.  (Dr. West will also deliver the Ware Lecture at General Assembly 2015) The following is a transcript of quotes by Dr. West from that meeting. Read Owen Huelsbeck's impressions of his meeting with Dr. West here. – Ed.

On Ferguson –

  • Racism in America makes black people so intimidated and scared they never want to straighten their backs, stick their necks out and fight back.
  • Every 28 hours a black youth is shot down by police.
  • There is a certain threshold in which rage becomes a turning point, we might be seeing that in Ferguson soon.
  • The most important thing they will be doing in Ferguson is letting people know they are loved.
  • Anger is wanting to change the way things are; courage is the hope to change the way things are.
(Dr. West will participate in four days of protest in Ferguson, Oct. 10-13.– Ed.)

On Social Justice –

  • We are who we are because someone loved us.
  • Too many young people feel unloved, superfluous, disposable, and that is the worst kind of injustice.
  • If it involves the subordination of God’s people, it needs to be changed.
  • In Philadelphia several public schools were taken down to put up a prison instead the “school to prison pipeline.” In poorer areas they fund less for education, taking out the arts programs and such that foster creativity and imagination, and instead are testing, testing, testing, which in a way dehumanizes the kids, making them a statistic, a number to be achieved.
  • We need more education systems that target people in prison systems, educating them in prison so that when they get out, they don’t ever come back. It has worked.
  • #activism is alright (twitter, facebook, blog activism etc) but we can’t confuse #activism with the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, that is activism, no #.
  • “every day I get up, I put my cemetery clothes on” – Martin Luther King (See note "¹", below.–Ed.)
  • God gave you life through love, and sometimes through love you have to be willing to give that life back.
  • Christianity is founded on the man named Peter who to Jesus’ face denied him 3 times. Christianity is founded on humanity.
  • We need to be not just informed, but transformed by education.
  • Anyone who makes a commitment through prolonged integrity (intellectually, morally, and religiously) will be counterculture but it’s important to maintain integrity anyways, don’t imitate anyone, and sing your own song.
  • To be a copy is to fit in – the movement of justice is to be mal-adjusted to injustice
  • If you view life as a gold rush, you reduce the golden rule to “those who have gold, rule”
  • Last words: Stay strong in your work.

From the talk given by Dr. West –

  • Justice – what love looks like in public
  • The unexamined life is not worth living – Plate. We need (need as a human imperative) to think examine our lives, and think critically about ourselves
  • W.E.B. DuBois has four questions: 1. How does integrity face oppression? (integrity is an old school word) 2. What does honesty do in the face of deception? (cultural deception, criminality, etc.) 3. What does decency do in the face of insult? 4. What does virtue do in the face of brute force?
  • The age old question: what does it mean to be human?
  • We all emerge from our mother’s womb by a love push, and we’re all born old enough to die.
  • Quotes Wu Tang in that Cash Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.) but cash doesn’t rule me. Cash doesn’t need to rule you.
  • Think: what kind of human are you going to be?
  • We are a death-ducking, death-denying civilization. We don’t like to think about death, we don’t like to talk about the deaths we incur (slavery, drone strikes etc.)
  • You’ve got to come to terms with death. Where there is no death, there is no life. She/he who learns how to die, unlearns slavery.
  • We are called to examine prejudices, and being courageous and willing enough to kill those prejudices. We need to learn how to die in order to be reborn/grow more mature.
  • Engagement with death has its structural challenges (Like Jim Crow-civil death)
  • Fail again, try again, fail better.
  • White supremacy is a part of American Culture. It is a part of whites as much as blacks in America, just like male supremacy is in the hearts of women as well.
  • The Jesuit education connects Athens with the cries of oppressed people.
  • Bring deep Socratic questioning of what it means to be human, and pushing ourselves to our limits and making ourselves vulnerable
  • Jesus wept because he loves. He loves concrete fleshified people.
  • How do we love our crooked neighbors with our crooked hearts?
  • The best leaders lead by raising questions, and loving others in such a way that they exemplify what they want to see in leaders. They become leaders.
  • Integrity, honesty, virtue in the face of hate is true love for humanity.
  • Leadership is the willingness to think critically, speak courageously, and act honorably. Being willing to risk popularity for integrity, honesty, virtue is what it is to be misunderstood
  • Everybody loves Martin Luther King now, when the worms have his body, but when he was alive and doing his thing he really wasn’t all that popular.
  • Malcolm X had such a love for black people because we himself was so unloved.
  • Tell truth, expose lies, and bear witness.
  • Keep track of the suffering and the lenses in which those people have to suffer daily.
  • Our country is empty with music, can your music sustain your soul and not just your body?
  • If I can lift my voice, maybe other voices will be lifted as well.

¹ From an interview of Dr. West on Aljazeera by David Shuster. The full exchange and quote: DS: You're wearing your uniform: black, black tie. Why do you always wear black? CW: Well, it comes out of the legacy of John Coltrane, comes out of the legacy of black preachers, comes out of the legacy of Martin King, where we put on our cemetery clothes every day. We are coffin-ready because it is our uniform. We put on our armor and say, "Speak the truth, bear witness, get ready to die with the worms."
Owen Huelsbeck, first-year student and Johnson Scholar at- See more at: http://blueboat.blogs.uua.org/2014/10/06/dr-cornel-west-interviewed-about-ferguson/#sthash.7qA7YYPS.dpuf

About the Author

  • Ted joined the staff of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in February 2010. He brings more than twenty-five years of experience using media to create social change by creating communications strategies and content for progressive non-profits, political campaigns, and cause based...

For more information contact blueboat@uua.org.

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