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There is no American nation per se. The USA is a multiethnic state. After saying all that, I nevertheless firmly believe progressives and socialists must advocate building new nation-states based on ending old ethnic divisions. We must fight for nonracial, color-blind societies as the African National Congress advocates for the new South Africa. But, I also recognize, that such a transformation, including for South Africa, is only possible with the end of capitalism, a system which breeds divisions and bigotry.
He, however, does open a debate about issues generally not hung out to dry in the broad public. Not surprisingly, he sees the problem of Black survival in moral and political-economic terms.
Unlike most socialists, he does not point his finger at capitalism as the primary source of the problem. Nor does he endorse Black nationalism or the revolutionary vision of Malcolm X as the answer. Instead, he says the main problem facing Black survival in the s is nihilism. It is not common for Black intellectuals to explain the problem of the Black community in such terms. Self-worth, or Black pride, is an important issue. It is a necessary ingredient to include in the political discussion to determine what to do next.
This threat is not simply a matter of relative economic deprivation and political powerlessness — though economic well-being and political clout are requisites for meaningful Black progress. It is primarily a question of speaking to the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair so widespread in Black America. For as long as hope remains and meaning is preserved, the possibility of overcoming oppression stays alive.
The self-fulfilling prophecy of the nihilistic threat is that without hope there can be no future, that without meaning there can be no struggle. So nihilism is our number one problem as Blacks. Defeating white supremacy, of course, must be our central goal. To fight national oppression, African Americans must regain our hope and self-love. However, he fails to explicitly show the link between nihilism and the need to organize the fight to end oppression and exploitation.
The lack of self-love is directly related to oppression. Thus West analysis tends to minimize the role of capitalism i. The strength of his view is that he takes on taboo subjects including Black anti-Semitism, sexism in the Black community, and homophobia and demands a critical look at how to reverse Black degradation and remove the color line. And the conservative idea that what is needed is a change in the moral behavior of poor Black urban dwellers especially poor Black men, who, they say, should stay married, support their children, and stop committing so much crime highlights immoral actions while ignoring public responsibility for the immoral circumstances that haunt our fellow citizens.
Tinkering with the capitalist system has brought some improvements but not fundamental relief for the vast majority of poor Blacks. The debate between liberals and conservative Blacks is not over fundamental change but how best to reform the system that is responsible for the color line.
The liberals say it is a lack of resources. The conservatives blame the victim. They say equality was achieved in the s with the end of legal segregation. It is not a new debate, of course. But unlike earlier times in American history when African Americans were mainly slaves or sharecroppers, Blacks today are legally equal and more integrated in all segments of capitalist society. Middle- class Blacks broke into new areas of employment and housing even under Reagan and Bush.
And while many whites may not like it, whites have had to accept Blacks in leadership positions and holding positions of elected power. What is missing is leadership.
Just when one would have guessed that Black America was flexing its political and intellectual muscles, rigor mortis seems to have set in. Du Bois, Anna Cooper, E. West points to the failure of the new Black middle class. A relative term not used in a Marxist sense , he notes that the middle class historically constituted no more than five percent of African-Americans before the civil rights era. In the last two decades, this percentage jumped to well over twenty-five percent.
The present day Black middle class is not simply different than its predecessors — it is more deficient and, to put it strongly, more decadent. Presently, Black middle-class life is principally a matter of professional conscientiousness, personal accomplishment, and cautious adjustment. The problem? Second, the failure of the traditional civil rights leaders lets narrow nationalists like Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton fill the leadership void.
They use demagogy in some cases to expand their support but are not part of the solution. We need national forums to reflect, discuss, and plan how best to respond. It is neither a matter of a new Messiah figure emerging, nor of another organization appearing on the scene. Rather, it is a matter of grasping the structural and institutional processes that have disfigured, deformed, and devastated black America such that the resources for nurturing collective and critical consciousness, moral commitment, and courageous engagement are vastly underdeveloped.
These models must not only question our silent assumptions about black leadership — such as the notion that black leaders are always middle class — but must also force us to interrogate iconic figures of the past.
For a moment, we reflect and regroup with a vow that the s will make the s look like a tea party. My answer goes beyond a critique, however. The leadership must be based on militancy and unity. It must reach out to all people of color too. It must unite with the organized labor movement, and organizations and groups fighting for the emancipation of other peoples of color, women, and defending the rights of gays and lesbians, and other discriminated sectors of society. If this happens and a political fight challenging the ruling class occurs, the future battles will be more like the Boston Tea Party.
There will be battles for state power. Race does matter. But it is more than just Black versus white. In the s it is more and more a class problem. Under Jim Crow this was less the case since the first task was to end American apartheid.
Today, the issue is which class will lead the freedom struggle. The middle-class layers of all colors are incapable of leading the oppressed and poor to their complete emancipation. The lessons of the past thirty years shows that. There can be and will be individual exceptions.
The failure of the Black middle-class leadership and the failure of their liberal ideology the conservative ideology will always have only a handful of supporters points to the need for a new vision and strategy.
Those Blacks who are workers and unemployed have the most to gain. The middle-class layers who suffer some discrimination there is a colored ceiling still live well enough not to want to shake the foundations that support them.
In the political arena, a new vision means a break with the two-party system. Although Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus have played a valuable role in exposing racism in government, and have taken some positions that are unpopular with the powers that be, their refusal to abandon capitalist politics for independent politics has led to little relief for the majority of Blacks. The media lynching of Lani Guinier was made easier precisely because the independent power of the Black community is not organized.
He knew the liberal Black leaders have no alternative to him and the Democratic Party. In the last five years, the Black Democratic Party mayors of four of the five largest cities have lost elections. Some point to racism a definite factor.
But the more fundamental reason was a lack of perspective to take on the poverty and corruption of those cities. It would have meant challenging the real powers. It would have meant organizing all people against the two parties. Such an effort would be the end of a promising career in capitalist politics. Malcolm did call for a break with the two party system. He did explain why the Democrats and Republicans do not serve our interests.
Malcolm called for the formation of a mass independent Black movement with international alliances. Blacks not seeing themselves through the eyes of whites. It failed to speak clearly and directly to and about Black rage. He attacked their illusions that the system could be reformed to bring full equality for African-Americans. The main civil rights leaders believed the problem was legal rights and lack of opportunity and not the system itself.
Malcolm rejected that notion. He said an anti-racist not just a civil rights revolution was needed. This was not an ultraleft or sectarian stance. He was simply speaking the truth. West and his writings are a valuable addition to the debate over racism and discrimination and the divisions in American society. Sign up for our Solidarity Newsletter.
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Race Matters, 25th Anniversary
Look Inside. The twenty-fifth-anniversary edition of the groundbreaking classic, with a new introduction First published in , on the one-year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, Race Matters became a national best seller that has gone on to sell more than half a million copies. This classic treatise on race contains Dr. The insights Dr. West brings to these complex problems remain relevant, provocative, creative, and compassionate. In a new introduction for the twenty-fifth-anniversary edition, Dr.
Cornel West's Race Matters
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