Princeton University professor Dr. Cornel West promised a crowd of 1,200 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke that he would “say something that will thoroughly unsettle you.”
Dr. West critically examined race relations in America and its corrupting culture of wealth. His provocative discourse ripped into hip-hop artists, professional athletes, politicians and preachers alike.
As part of UNCP’s Black History Month celebrations, Dr. West spoke on February 24 as part of the University’s ongoing Distinguished Speaker Series. The academician’s popularity was put to the test by a one-hour delay in the start of his talk, but no one left the Givens Performing Arts Center.
Socrates paid the ultimate price for his bold speech, and so did Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. West said.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” he said. “As Malcolm X said, an examined life is painful.”
“You cannot talk about Black history without talking about death,” he said. “America is an anti-intellectual nation.”
Dr. West said America is a nation in denial about its history and a nation in terror, referring to the 9/11 attacks.
“Now that the nation has the blues, can a blue nation learn anything from a blue people,” he said. “What happens when America is terrorized? Do we hunt them down like cowboys and snuff them out?”
“Have you looked at the wretched of the earth, in Africa and elsewhere?” he asked. “Is there any relationship between their suffering and American foreign policy?”
Dr. West said America began looking at itself in the 1960-70s, but replaced critical dialog with a culture of materialism and ever-increasing inequity of wealth.
“America is the most unequal of all democracies,” he said. “We’ve gone from ‘let freedom ring’ to bling-bling,” he said. “The question remains, what are you willing to give up to wrestle with wisdom when we’ve reduced fundamental ideas to material toys?”
“We used to be able to turn to the church, but more and more our pastors are market-driven and our churches a business, an enterprise,” he said.
But Dr. West’s message was hopeful for the future.
“I have great confidence in the younger generation,” he said. “Our generation has not been a good example. The post-civil rights generation has been a success-driven generation.”
“There is a sign of hope, but I am not optimistic and I am not pessimistic,” he said. “There is a deep crisis in Black leadership, just like there is a deep crisis in American leadership.
“Leadership is going to look different in the future,” Dr. West said. “Everybody is looking for a Martin or Malcolm, but maybe the sisters are going to have their day.”
Dr. Cornel West is author of many books, including “Race Matters,” “The Future of American Progressivism” and “Democracy Matters.” He appeared in the final two episodes of the movie trilogy, “The Matrix” and has produced two CDs.
ESPN basketball commentator Dick Vitale is the final speaker on April 11 in UNCP’s Distinguished Speaker Series. For more information on the series, please contact the Office of Student Activities at 910.521.6207 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.