National

The Ghost of Cornel West

Cornel West talks to protesters before a march to the Ferguson, Mo. police station. Activists planned a day of civil disobedience to protest the shooting of Michael Brown in August and a second police shooting in St. Louis, October 2014. (AP Photo)
Cornel West talks to protesters before a march to the Ferguson, Mo. police station, October 2014. (AP Photo)

Michael Eric Dyson, THE NEW REPUBLIC

 
(The New Republic) — “Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”  is the best-known line from William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride. But I’m concerned with the phrase preceding it, which captures wrath in more universal terms: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned.” Even an angry Almighty can’t compete with mortals whose love turns to hate.

Cornel West’s rage against President Barack Obama evokes that kind of venom. He has accused Obama of political minstrelsy, calling him a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface”; taunted him as a “brown-faced Clinton”; and derided him as a “neoliberal opportunist.” In 2011, West and I were both speakers at a black newspaper conference in Chicago. During a private conversation, West asked how I escaped being dubbed an “Obama hater” when I was just as critical of the president as he was. I shared my three-part formula for discussing Obama before black audiences: Start with love for the man and pride in his epic achievement; focus on the unprecedented acrimony he faces as the nation’s first black executive; and target his missteps and failures. No matter how vehemently I disagree with Obama, I respect him as a man wrestling with an incredibly difficult opportunity to shape history. West looked into my eyes, sighed, and said: “Well, I guess that’s the difference between me and you. I don’t respect the brother at all.”

 

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