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Cornel West may be a big man on campus, but Barack Obama is the president of the United States.
West might have been wise to consider this pecking order before calling the president “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” Such epithets hurled against Thomas Sowell or Allen West will boost their speaking fees. But tugging on the Chosen One’s cape is no way to ingratiate yourself to academia, Hollywood, the media, and other drivers of West’s gravy train who clearly value the president more than the professor.
“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West explained in an interview earlier this month. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white.”
Indonesia? Hawaii? The South Side of Chicago? They don’t exactly have the “white context” of say, Princeton, New Jersey, do they?
West questions not only the president’s racial heritage, but his mammalian status (“he lacks backbone”). The former transgression prompted the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart to blog that “West is no better than a birther.”
West’s tirade has left some on the Left perplexed. Salon.com’s Joan Walsh characterized the celebrity intellectual’s rant as a “tragic meltdown.” She posits that “maybe this is the way that identity politics has to end, not with a bang but a whine. Dizzying racial and personal insults have come from all directions, and they’re beginning to lose their meaning.”
Whereas the “meltdown” sparked in Walsh an epiphany about the identity politics she has so long embraced, Stanley Crouch maintains that West’s ugly outburst just confirms the conception of West that black thinkers have long held—but kept to themselves. “Serious black intellectuals privately dismissed West many years ago as no more than an academic loudmouth with a good show business game,” tartly claimed Crouch, who dubs the Princeton professor a “pompous, educated fool, drowning in narcissism.” The New York Daily News columnist wrote Monday: “Publicity, not scholarship, is his true tradition.” Ouch.
The outrage isn’t about the tactics. It’s about the target.
Such racial vituperation has been a staple West’s rhetorical arsenal for years. When West ridiculed Clarence Thomas’s “claims to black authenticity,” or dismissed him as a token, the Left didn’t merely tolerate this. They cheered wildly, making Race Matters a runaway bestseller. Now that a liberal African American president, rather than a conservative African American Supreme Court justice, is the focus of such ugly abuse through a racial lens, the Left is shocked, shocked.
It is strange that West’s appearance in two of the Matrix movies, or his reinvention as a rapper, didn’t prompt dismissals of him from Stanley Crouch as “an academic loudmouth with a good show business game.” Criticizing Barack Obama did. We do not know what Crouch thought privately about West. We do know that the public disavowals of West came only after he lambasted Obama.
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