New York: Beacon Press, 1994
Cornel West’s Race Matters is about the black experience in America, much as one might expect. It tends to be one-sided, and certainly not our side; again, hardly too remarkable. What does come across as a mild surprise is that it’s less wretched than recent sermons by skintellectuals about race relations. The author is more honest and consistent than most Ivory Tower Leftists. If nothing else, at least we all can agree with the title.
This turned out to be a pivotal book for the author, and seems to have been his breakout title. Also notably, it emerged at an inflection point in history; a relatively innocent time, though evil trends were astir. Race Matters was reprinted in 2001 (an ill-omened year, though much worse was to come) with a new preface added. However, the main subject matter reflects the zeitgeist of the early 1990s. Ah, those were the days! Nearly three decades ago, it was an almost halfway normal time.
Lately, I find myself a bit misty-eyed for the scandal-ridden Presidency of Cupcake and her sidekick Bill Clinton. As awful as they were, look at where we are now! Back then, we only had one neocon spit-in-your-eye war, the one imbroglio that actually wasn’t their fault, remaining mostly on pause. During the reign of Billary (or Hill-Billy if you prefer), liberalism was merely beginning to go from bad to worse. Political correctness was only getting off the ground floor. The Internet was new, and not yet a collection of Tech Tyrant monopolies imposing Left Coast ideology on cyberspace. Men believing they’re women weren’t a pushy “civil rights” cause-du-jour any more than men believing they’re Jesus or Napoléon. There was no Wuhanic Plague, with its attendant massive security theater, tricky side agendas, and dodgy vaccines with severe side effects. Last but not least, Chubby Bubba won elections without stuffing the ballot box. But I digress. . .
Celebrated as a public intellectual, Cornel West may be described as a Leftist Christian philosopher. He also has had some screen time (most famously in the two Matrix sequels) and a foothold in the hip hop scene. However, he’s best known for his academic work, mainly as a professor of theology and African American studies at Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. His doctorate dissertation became The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, one of a couple dozen books to his name by now. Most of them are about being black — what else, right? As for Race Matters, this includes eight monographs, some published previously in such august MSM journals as NYT, Time, and others. Other than that, Cornel West has racked up a collection of honorary degrees probably longer than Al Capone’s rap sheet.
Two prefaces and one introduction, in brief
The new opening is polemical from the start:
BLACK people in the United States differ from all other modern people owing to the unprecedented levels of unregulated and unrestrained violence directed at them. No other people have been taught systematically to hate themselves — psychic violence — reinforced by the powers of state and civic coercion — physical violence — for the primary purpose of controlling their minds and exploiting their labor for nearly four hundred years.
Whew! Read it once more and just let it sink in. . . Are you feeling the pain yet? The paragraph continues:
The unique combination of American terrorism — Jim Crow and lynching — as well as American barbarism — slave trade and slave labor — bears witness to the distinctive American assault on black humanity. This vicious ideology and practice of white supremacy has left its indelible mark on all spheres of American life — from the prevailing crimes of Amerindian reservations to the discriminatory realities against Spanish-speaking Latinos to racial stereotypes against Asians. Yet the fundamental litmus test for American democracy — its economy, government, criminal justice system, education, mass media, and culture — remains: how broad and intense are the arbitrary powers used and deployed against black people. In this sense, the problem of the twenty-first century remains the problem of the color line.
One striking thing is that it mentions the existence of American Indians, Latinos, and Asians. (Surely the latter are offended at the stereotypes of being good at math and keeping tidy neighborhoods.) He brings them up later occasionally, sometimes to drive home a point; for example “This also holds for red, brown, and yellow peoples.” Although it’s merely a formulaic way of trying to squeeze out a few more drops of white guilt, there’s actually a contrast to the near-solipsism of Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates. For them, everything is pretty much all about the black bodies, even when these skintellectuals were trying to get intersectional.
Mentioning the grievances of other constituencies in the liberal-minority coalition doesn’t necessarily mean that Cornel West understands that America’s founding population also has legitimate interests, such as (for starters) safety, sovereignty, and survival. Still, it might constitute a small step in the right direction, at least theoretically. He does have the synapses to realize that other people exist too. Maybe there’s a crumb of hope here? Perhaps in the fullness of time, he might come to understand that whites don’t care for street crime, ethnomasochism, misrule by hostile elites, destructive propaganda, and economic exploitation — not too different from what he was complaining about in the very beginning. On second thought, I’m probably dreaming.
As the new preface continues, he does cautiously recognize that, since 1965, “Racial progress is undeniable in America.” Actually, that’s refreshing; most comparable book-length skintellectual sermons about race seem to pretend that the Emancipation Proclamation happened yesterday.
Yet the legacy of white supremacy lingers — often in the face of the very denials of its realities.
You knew that was coming, right? Then it lists a few of our society’s shortcomings. One states that blacks only consume 12% of illegal drugs (references, please) yet suffer 70% of narcotics convictions. Then it calls out death row executions. This time, he doesn’t argue that blacks only commit 12% of murders; the actual statistics are pretty well-known and definitely wouldn’t support his case that colored people are being unfairly targeted by the law. Fortunately, the solution is a simple one. I’ll recommend the same thing as what I keep recommending to Zionists, who are remarkably touchy about public relations blowback from their chronic bad behavior; to-wit: stop doing that.
Then the author has a go at big business “with its plutocratic, patriarchal, and pigmentocratic realities” as an antidemocratic force. This line of argumentation is evocative, but turns out to be an “almost there” effort; a Dissident Rightist really could go places with that.
The impact of the market culture on black life has been devastating. As Stanley Crouch rightly has noted, fifty years ago black communities were the most civilized and humane in America — highly nurturing, caring, loving, and self-respecting behind the walls of American apartheid. The market invasion, including the ugly drug invasion, has transformed too many black neighborhoods into hoods, black civic communities into black uncivil combat zones. This transformation results from the double impact of strong market forces and vicious white supremacist (and male supremacist, heterosexist) stereotypes that disproportionately shape black perceptions and practice. Needless to say, this holds for American society as a whole.
It’s quite a brave confession to admit that things were better under segregation. He’s also correct that big business caused some major problems. The black unemployment rate used to be very low, but globalization ruined that. It happened for the same reason as the deindustrialization that created the Rust Belt. Namely, traitorous CEOs moved factories overseas, because these enemies of the people cared about their dividends more than the future of their country.
Still, there were some other factors that caused inner city dysfunction. I’ll name one; LBJ’s creation of the welfare state turned out to be a major disaster. Another factor, rather obviously, is behavior. Trying to deflect it onto white male supremacy doesn’t change anything. We don’t like their dysfunctional behavior either, and want it as far away from us as possible, preferably in a different country. If these skintellectuals want to find their number one enemy, they can go look in the mirror instead of pointing fingers at Joe Sixpack.
Shortly after, he does say that low quality of black leadership is a problem. Curiously, he praises Al Sharpton. By 1993, the guy had done quite enough to demonstrate his buffoonery. In later times, Cornel West was less enthusiastic and called Sharpton a “bona fide house Negro of the Obama plantation.” Ouch!
The original preface follows. This one begins with a more conciliatory tone, but ends in a subtle threat from a James Baldwin verse:
GOD GAVE NOAH THE
RAINBOW SIGN, NO MORE
WATER, THE FIRE NEXT TIME!
Isn’t that special? Actually, Joseph Smith did say something fairly similar, during an optics-unfriendly moment by our first Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.
After that, the author describes experiencing several racially motivated discourtesies. All told, I’m inclined to concur — multiracialism sure is for the birds, isn’t it? All this wouldn’t be happening in homogenous societies.
One of the incidents was being passed up by ten taxis in New York City. OK, so why would they avoid him when his money was just as green as anyone else’s? If it’s necessary to spell it out, blacks had a very bad reputation for mugging cabbies. One could sympathize with blacks for suffering microaggressions from difficulty hailing taxis, or one could sympathize with the cabbies for receiving macroaggressions from armed robbers. The incident he mentions likely happened in 1992, which was during the Dinkins administration before Giuliani took office, and approximately at the national peak of violent crime, which made driving taxis a pretty hazardous profession.
After the two prefaces is an introduction. (Whew!) That one starts with the following:
Since the beginning of the nation, white Americans have suffered from a deep uncertainty as to who they really are. One of the ways that has been used to simplify the answer has been to seize upon the presence of Black Americans and use them as a marker, a symbol of limits, a metaphor for the “outsider.”
Well, that one was a groaner, but I’ve seen a lot worse.
Then it discusses the mayhem in Los Angeles following the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King incident. He characterizes it as “neither a race riot nor a class rebellion” since only 36% of the arrestees were black, and most professed to being apolitical. (Although mainly remembered as the “LA riots,” this actually was a string of violent upheavals across the country. I’ve seen some discussion about the role of outside agitators, similar to the engineered mega-riots of recent years, though nothing conclusive.) I’ll have to concur with the author partially. The core of it was the reaction to the verdict, but beyond the racially motivated component which set it off, there did seem to be a greater number of those who were in it not for politics but as an opportunity to loot stores and generally raise hell. On the other hand, it would’ve been just another day had the jury decided differently. The author’s take is:
What we witnessed in Los Angeles was the consequence of a lethal linkage of economic decline, cultural decay, and political lethargy in American life. Race was the visible catalyst, not the underlying cause.
Then he discusses the difficulty of political solutions for race problems. He indicates that neither the left nor the right has the correct answer.
The common denominator of these views of race is that each still sees black people as a “problem people,” in the words of Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, rather than as fellow American citizens with problems.
Well, if all the bad news about the black community seems embarrassing, how about they give us some good news to balance out the rest?
As long as black people are viewed as a “them,” the burden falls on blacks to do all the “cultural” and “moral” work necessary for healthy race relations. The implication is that only certain Americans can define what it means to be American — and the rest must simply “fit in.”
Oh, really? So then, what specifically were the changes the black community has made since the 1960s to conform themselves better to integrated society? What expectations to fit in were they earnestly trying to comply with, which sadly turned out to be too burdensome despite their best efforts? Also, apparently he missed the fact that whites had been badgered for decades about race relations, long before he started adding to the pestilence. Moreover, the government gave in to nearly every demand by the “civil rights” movement. So then, who has been expected to make unilateral accommodations?
Really, the only way there will be healthy race relations is separation. Whites mostly have been tolerant to an extreme fault for the last half century, contrary to the rhetoric incessantly badgering us about race relations. However, nothing has made blacks happy thus far. (Besides, placating them is not our job.) They never will be happy, as long as it’s politically productive for Leftists and Zionists to aggravate old grievances and stir up new trouble. After bending over backwards for blacks since the 1960s, and walking on eggshells more recently, how much more accommodating are we supposed to be? Let’s do better in the future — they can go be happy in their own country.
After that, the author takes a somewhat more economic Leftist approach; that much does make sense. Several factors contributed to a cauldron of malaise in the 1990s precursor to Clown World:
We have created rootless, dangling people with little link to the supportive networks — family, friends, school — that sustain some sense of purpose in life. We have witnessed the collapse of the spiritual communities that in the past helped Americans face despair, disease, and death and that transmit through the generations dignity and decency, excellence and elegance.
He’s really onto something with that. He does identify a couple of globalist-related contributing factors; specifically, jobs being shipped away and immigration from Asia and Latin America. I’d also add cultural Marxism and neoliberal economism to the list of problems leading to a public bereft of natural social ties.
American politics has been rocked by an unleashing of greed among opportunistic public officials — who have followed the lead of their counterparts in the private sphere, where, as of 1989, 1 percent of the population owned 37 percent of the wealth and 10 percent of the population owned 86 percent of the wealth — leading to a profound cynicism and pessimism among the citizenry.
Again, he’s onto something. Still, the problem is less about the One Percenters (who would start catching considerable flak fifteen years later) and more about the 0.001%ers. That tiny sliver of the population owns 100% of mainstream politicians, which is why democracy has been a Deep State kabuki theater show for a very long time.
The next item is calling out the Republican Party for appealing “to popular xenophobic images — playing the black, female, and homophobic cards to realign the electorate along race, sex, and sexual-orientation lines,” which seems a little odd. Who started all the identity politics, anyway? The “civil rights movement,” second wave feminism, and the radicalized GLBTs have roots in old-school Communism and remain cultural Marxist efforts. Therefore, any Republican attempts to push back were defensive, and for that matter were mostly all talk — not that it really makes much difference who wins elections.
His solutions generally can be categorized as economic Leftist agendas. He also calls for more emphasis on developing leadership. None of that is too far out. Thus ends the ponderous opening matter, which made up about a sixth of the book. Following that are the topical essays.
Nihilism in Black America
This one has a rather surreal beginning with a quotation from Richard Wright:
We black folk, our history and our present being, are a mirror of all the manifold experiences of America. What we want, what we represent, what we endure is what America is. If we black folk perish, America will perish.
So blacks are the very bedrock of American identity now, without which the USA would cease to exist? Uh. . . Anyway, despite this shaky start, it does improve and makes a lot of sense in places. The author discusses that for “the plight of African Americans — especially those at the bottom of the social ladder” neither Leftist solutions (throwing money at the problem) nor Rightist solutions (telling them to get their act together and fix their culture) are suitable. Much of what follows is a longer treatment of similar arguments in the new preface.
For the synthesis, the first item is to recognize that “How people act and live are shaped — though in no way dictated or determined — by the larger circumstances in which they find themselves.” So that one’s a liberal position, but it’s not too objectionable. The Narrative about that is much more extreme lately and badly overdone. (It should be telling that arguments about the lingering effects of Jim Crow and all the rest of it have intensified the further away we get from the historical events.) The second item is basically that culture matters and has its effects. I’ll concur; gangsta rap, for instance, certainly hasn’t been a positive influence. Those two factors get more detailed treatment later.
The third item is “to face up to the monumental eclipse of hope, the unprecedented collapse of meaning, the incredible disregard for human (especially black) life and property in much of black America. . .” He identifies this bucket of malaise — the nihilistic threat, as he terms it — as the number one problem afflicting the black community at the time, one that used to be held back with cultural supports. Again, much of this recaps his remarks in the first preface. His explanation is an economic Leftist argument. For example:
What has led to the weakening of black cultural institutions in asphalt jungles? Corporate market institutions have contributed greatly to their collapse.
I’m not sure how much that was a causative factor, but there’s not much to love about big business lately.
By corporate market institutions I mean that complex set of interlocking enterprises that have a disproportionate amount of capital, power, and exercise a disproportionate influence on how our society is run and how our culture is shaped.
Now that one almost sounds like a Sam Francis riff. (The two of them should’ve compared notes back in the day; surely the results would’ve been interesting.) Then he discusses the corrosive effects of consumerism.
The eclipse of hope and collapse of meaning in much of black America is linked to the structural dynamics of corporate market institutions that affect all Americans. Under these circumstances black existential angst derives from the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating U.S. society and culture.
The globalist corporate shmucks are indeed horrid. However, it’s an unfortunate misunderstanding to believe these deracinated wallet-heads have anything to do with white society. They certainly don’t care about their race or their country; their top priorities are their personal money, status, and creature comforts.
The author calls them out for creating psychological damage, with the worst effects falling on black women. Indeed, I’m appalled that the rootless cosmopolitans are still up to that, trying to convince black men that their own women aren’t good enough for them. I say those boardroom culture distorters should be cast out into Outer Darkness. For devaluing black ladies among their kinfolk and making them lonely, these sons of Perdition should face eternal damnation, and the sooner the better.
To the problem of nihilism, the author envisions a solution in creating a love ethic. The details are rather sparse, but he recommends Toni Morrison’s Beloved as an example. If they can make it work, good for them. Perhaps a similar concept for us would be promoting pride in our heritage as an antidote to cultural Marxism and the anomie and despair that it’s causing.
The Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning
This one begins with a discussion of the Clarence Thomas SCOTUS nomination. First he denounces “the predictable inability of most white politicians to talk candidly about race and gender.” (Yes, we’re well aware that they’re too spineless to diverge from the Party Line.) About Bush the Elder’s pick:
Few had the courage to say publicly that this was an act of cynical tokenism concealed by outright lies about Thomas being the most qualified candidate regardless of race.
Ouch! Still, it’s a little difficult to believe that the author wouldn’t have wanted a black replacement for Thurgood Marshall. Besides, he defends affirmative action in later chapters, so his gripe about tokenism seems disingenuous and more about disagreeing with the nominee’s ideology. He goes on to say that Clarence Thomas was unqualified for the job, but black leaders were afraid to remark about that, which “shows how captive they are to white racist stereotypes about black intellectual talent.”
He laments that us-versus-them thinking by blacks reinforces some illiberal trends among them, such as “black male subordination of black women in the interests of the black community in a hostile white racist country.” What planet was he on? Bush the Elder’s administration was thoroughly globalist and didn’t give a damn about white Americans. The administration didn’t even pretend they wanted to stop population replacement migration. Moreover, they enabled big business to ship manufacturing jobs overseas. In the early 1990s, the glowies and gun-toting bureaucrats in the TLA agencies were out of control and thought they were the KGB — does Ruby Ridge ring a bell? In what way did the government further the interests of whites then? Clinton obviously was no improvement.
Then the author calls to reframe black activism on universalist grounds, specifically “ethical principles and wise politics,” to counter the illiberal trends mentioned earlier. I do believe he’s sincere about that. Still, he should be careful what he wishes for. If identity politics became as taboo for blacks as it is for whites, he’d find himself out of a job. So would every other black activist and skintellectual under The System’s patronage.
Then he discusses who is really black, and whether Clarence Thomas qualifies:
First, blackness has no meaning outside of a system of race-conscious people and practices. After centuries of racist degradation, exploitation, and oppression in America, being black means being minimally subject to white supremacist abuse and being part of a rich culture and community that has struggled against such abuse.
So he was up to speed on some pretty cutting-edge cultural Marxism there. (Ta-Nehisi Coates develops this line of argumentation further, with absurd results.) Nice try, but race is about biology first and foremost. Deciding who is or isn’t true to his people is a different matter, though an important consideration.
More importantly, it’s weaksauce to define blackness merely in terms of opposition to supposed relentless white aggression. (For another matter, skintellectuals seldom point out any of the good things whites have done for them; a balanced picture would spoil the bellyaching.) Rather than this cringing victimology, it’s much more accurate to define African Americans as a folk. Specifically, they’re a genetic category — primarily western Bantus, if you want to be technical — with a distinct culture; “soul” as they put it so evocatively back in the day. Therefore, blackness really does have a meaning apart from certain bad historical experiences. For Kek’s sake, why am I the one explaining this?
A convoluted argument follows, approximately calling out Clarence Thomas as a sellout, and for playing the race card following the Anita Hill allegations after previously espousing universalism. Then once more, the author criticizes the black community for illiberal tendencies. Rather than black nationalism or conservatism, he proposes:
This new framework should be a prophetic one of moral reasoning with its fundamental ideas of a mature black identity, coalition strategy, and black cultural democracy. Instead of cathartic appeals to black authenticity, a prophetic viewpoint bases mature black self-love and self-respect on the moral quality of black responses to undeniable racist degradation in the American past and present.
That’s fine, though once again, victimology is weaksauce and has no soul. Much similar discussion follows, though it’s rather hard to nail down some of the specifics about this prophetic framework. One definite item is counteracting the black community’s illiberal tendencies:
In short, black cultural democracy rejects the pervasive patriarchy and homophobia in black American life.
Then he blasts both Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill for supporting several policies he considers regressive. He argues that his prophetic framework of moral reasoning (rather than us-versus-them thinking) would allow black leaders to call them out likewise.
The Crisis of Black Leadership
Following a quote from Malcolm X, the chapter begins:
THERE has not been a time in the history of black people in this country when the quantity of politicians and intellectuals was so great, yet the quality of both groups has been so low.
Once again, it seems we weren’t so different! Most white mainstream politicians and intellectuals at the time weren’t all that and a bag of chips. We had entirely too many globalist bootlickers and pointy-headed professors who couldn’t park their bicycles straight. This hasn’t changed much.
He notes that the black middle class had grown tremendously since desegregation, but “is more deficient and, to put it strongly, more decadent.” He notes the role of consumerism, and likewise “the gross deterioration of personal, familial, and communal relations among African-Americans,” in detracting from the quality of their leadership.
Presently, black communities are in shambles, black families are in decline, and black men and women are in conflict (and sometimes combat).
Welcome to Clown World, right? So the black community turned out to be sort of a leading indicator of dysfunctional families and radical feminism. (I’ll add that bad Leftist sociopolitical doctrines, and globalism to an extent, have made matters a lot worse for them.) The author relates that class differences became another problem. Ultimately, he concludes that the “lack of quality leadership in black America today. . . is primarily a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by its ethical ideals, and from a credible sense of political struggle.” Indeed, there’s a lesson in that; for activists, continuity of acquired knowledge can be helpful.
He also notes that the previous generation of black leaders showed passionate concern for the fate of their community. The newer ones don’t seem genuine, and otherwise come across as ostentatious status seekers. He compares leadership types, regretting the lack of what he terms race-transcending prophetic leaders.
Black intellectuals are faced with two problems. The first involves having to work within established formats and conventions of academia, including social critique:
If one is fortunate enough to be a “spook who sits by the door,” eavesdrops on the conversation among the prominent and prestigious, and reproduces their jargon in relation to black subject matter, one’s academic career is secure.
He’s onto something with that, and I sense a note of frustration about it. Did he mean himself?
Other black scholars tend to avoid academia, but the few available niches outside of it amount to “isolated groups and insulated conversations that reproduce the very mediocrity that led them to reject the Academy.” I’ll add that at least it’s better than what Dissident Rightists get. Luckily for blacks, nobody disputes their right to discuss matters affecting their people or deplatforms them for doing so, but the author finds the glass half empty:
With few periodicals available for cross-disciplinary exchange, few organs that show interest in this situation, and few magazines that focus on analyses of black culture and its relation to American society, infrastructures for black intellectual activity are feeble.
He distinguishes categories of black scholars, as he did for activists, and regrets that there aren’t more in the universalist tradition. Then he provides some ideas for moving forward (as usual, rather vague) and wraps up with this:
For the moment, we reflect and regroup with a vow that the 1990s will make the 1960s look like a tea party.
Anyway, whatever may be the shortcomings of black leadership; Cornel West should count his blessings that they get to have any at all without The System pitching a continual hissy fit about it. The most prominent white leader in the early 1990s (who he complains about later in the book) was David Duke. The MSM screeched endlessly about him as if the journalists were undergoing an exorcism, the cuckservatives were falling all over themselves to disavow him, and he caught heat from the government too. Not even the motormouth Louis Farrakhan gets as much flak as David Duke. I should add that mainstream politicians don’t count as white leaders; no matter what they look like, they work for the globalists.
Demystifying the New Black Conservatism
The chapter begins discussing Thomas Sowell. Next up is Glenn Loury’s moderate critique of black liberalism; specifically its victimology, “debilitating loyalty to the race that blinds them to the pathological and dysfunctional aspects of black behavior,” and shouting down of critical perspectives. Then the author charges him with inconsistency.
A discussion follows concerning affirmative action, that sugar-coated term for preferential treatment in hiring. (As they said in JFK’s day — imagine this with his Boston accent — “Pursue your job with vigor or be replaced by a. . .”) Black conservatives tend to oppose it, arguing that it causes the perception that they’re getting jobs despite being less qualified, which causes resentment. The author presents a rebuttal that whites would discriminate if they could, rather than hire based on merit. It’s a curious argument, essentially that blacks need cheating in their favor because otherwise cheating in their disfavor is inevitable. (I’d say that makes a pretty good case against multiracialism, since obviously it will be impossible to make everyone happy. The System certainly hasn’t been going the utilitarian route of trying to make the majority happy!) An unstated assumption seems to be that only whites hire anybody; we’re the absolute gatekeepers to employment.
The author has some quibbles about black conservative stands on foreign policy. However, he does recognize that they have a point that black unemployment isn’t all about discrimination; much has to do with far-reaching economic shifts in production. (Basically, somebody moved their cheese.) Still, the black public generally isn’t convinced.
This negative reaction to black conservatives by most blacks partly explains the relative reluctance of some of the new black conservatives to engage in public debates in the black community, and their contrasting eagerness to do so in the mass media, where a few go as far as to portray themselves as courageous, embattled critics of a black liberal establishment — even while their salaries, honorariums, and travel expenses are payed by well-endowed conservative foundations and corporations.
Thus saith the skintellectual who wouldn’t have been bestowed with Ivy League professorships and lucrative book deals if anti-white posturing weren’t trendy in academia and the MSM. Dude, really?
The black conservatives claim that the decline of values such as patience, deferred gratification, and self-reliance have resulted in the high crime rates, the increasing number of unwed mothers, and the relatively uncompetitive academic performances of black youth. And certainly these sad realities must be candidly confronted.
Still, he faults them for not calling out “sexual and military images used by the mass media and deployed by the advertising industry in order to entice and titillate consumers.” (He might be happy to know that conservatives in general actually do complain about bad taste advertisements sometimes, just as they do about bad taste music.) Other than that, he faults them for noticing bad behavior but ignoring “the cultural realities of black people” — something that’s apparently entirely out of their control.
Then he critiques the conservative critique of welfare. Still, his analysis contrasted with theirs is a dialogue missing some important details. Behold the elephant in the room. . . Welfare subsidizes single mothers to stay at home and reproduce; their idleness and fecundity funded by the taxpayers. Part of the deal is that that the father must not be around; the guy who could help raise the kids, provide much-needed discipline, and give them a better chance at becoming productive citizens. After the first under-parented generation started culturally enriching the streets, it became clear that the government is a lousy substitute husband. Worse, welfare mainly incentivizes fertility on the left tail of the IQ bell curve, the people least able to hack it in society. What’s the worst thing that possibly could happen? One needn’t be Madison Grant or Paul Popenoe to figure out that it doesn’t end well. Unless evolution gets out of reverse gear, then the Talented Tenth will need to downsize its name.
Then he says, in effect, that the only way to end welfare dependency is to provide employment, which likely will mean government jobs since the private sector isn’t offering them. Kicking everyone off welfare would entail “social policies that have genocidal effects on the black poor.” I do have some ideas for addressing these things. Distributism would enable the small business sector to flourish. It would be helpful to deport the illegals who outcompeted the blacks in their own labor niche. Bringing back more manufacturing jobs would benefit everyone, other than a handful of overpaid CEOs who deserve a trip to the Place de la Concorde for a history lesson. Still, a better outcome yet would involve forming their own country where they can fix their own economy.
As for the final item — that it would be inhumane to withdraw the government tit, the unlimited fountain of sweet white milk — let’s reframe this. How is it our duty to support some other race’s burgeoning population, who already exhibit chronic problems hacking it in society? Also, blacks are more sullen and resentful than ever despite trillions of dollars showered on these ingrates since LBJ. It’s time to replace this badly-conceived entitlement program with the “don’t breed ’em if you can’t feed ’em” program.
Beyond Affirmative Action: Equality and Identity
This one is about wealth redistribution schemes:
Like earlier de facto affirmative action measures in the American past — contracts, jobs, and loans to select immigrants granted by political machines; subsidies to certain farmers; FHA mortgage loans to specific home buyers; or GI Bill benefits to particular courageous Americans — recent efforts to broaden access to America’s prosperity have been based upon preferential policies. Unfortunately, these policies always benefit middle-class Americans disproportionately.
Yeah, it’s too bad that Joe Sixpack gets anything back from his tax money, isn’t it? It’s not like anyone else ever gets a break, right?
The political power of big business in big government circumscribes redistributive measures and thereby tilts these measures away from the have-nots and have-too-littles.
References, please. With few exceptions, the government doesn’t give a hoot about the middle class, except as beasts of burden for the IRS.
Then Cornel West argues for affirmative action because of past discrimination. Even so, it’s a half measure which ne recommends to be regarded as “neither a major solution to poverty nor a sufficient means to equality.” Rather, its role is to prevent discrimination from returning. (So we need preferential treatment that he likes to prevent preferential treatment that he doesn’t like. Did I mention that multiracialism doesn’t work?) He discusses the need for black identity and self-esteem. Luckily for him, he doesn’t get called a “hater” for doing so, or get shouted down by black renegades. The rest of the chapter fits a familiar pattern with the rest of the book: a thesis-antithesis discussion, and then an evocative but vague synthesis.
On Black-Jewish Relations
Despite Cornel West’s sincere efforts to create mutual understanding, this chapter helped get Race Matters a frosty review from the Jewish magazine Commentary, a departure from the book’s shower of praise in other venues. They had a point; the following in broader context is a pretty good summary of the entire book:
West’s observations on blacks and Jews conform to a clear pattern: he attributes a perspective to all blacks or many blacks or some blacks which in fact represents little more than his own opinion or an opinion limited to the relatively small fraternity of like-minded black Leftists. And a similar tactic is evident in West’s hazy and substanceless prescriptions for change.
Still, what a topic! Blacks and Jews sometimes go together like a pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese schmeered on top. When they don’t, well, turbulence happens. Since the 1960s, blacks began realizing they’d been used as pawns in a broader ethnic conflict. Lately, they tend to be unimpressed with claims to Jewish exceptionalism, exaggerated wartime propaganda, duplicitously switching self-identification from white to non-white as it benefits them, among other peculiar habits. Early on the author writes:
Black anti-Semitism and Jewish anti-black racism are real, and both are as profoundly American as cherry pie. There was no golden age in which blacks and Jews were free of tension and friction. Yet there was a better age when the common histories of oppression and degradation of both groups served as a springboard for genuine empathy and principled alliances.
Oh, the poor innocent! The usual Narrative is that a century ago, the Jews beheld the downtrodden blacks, their woeful misery reminding them of their own oppression under the Czar, and endeavored to befriend them and take their side. Surely this was motivated by their big hearts and the turgid throbbing of their superhuman social conscience. (Actually, many Jews are aware that this public relations boilerplate is BS, and some will come right out and say so.) Following the “civil rights” movement, relations soured tremendously.
The author attributes this to mutual misunderstandings:
For example, few blacks recognize and acknowledge one fundamental fact of Jewish history: a profound hatred of Jews sits at the center of medieval and modern European cultures.
It’s true that interfaith relations frequently were abysmal, but saying that it was a central feature of European society all throughout is a distortion on the order of Monty Python historiography. (That much seems reminiscent of some other public relations boilerplate.) Despite all the persecution, the Middle Ages weren’t a complete bust. The Jews did get partial toleration as People of the Book. This courtesy pointedly wasn’t extended to believers in Europe’s own native religions; Pagans were converted at sword-point, and their remnants were next to nothing by the modern era. Sometimes kings reserved special roles for Jews, such as tax collectors. They also were granted the privilege to be moneylenders, a profitable racket forbidden to Christians by ecclesiastical law. There might not be much of a Jewish community remaining if not for earlier royal protection and specialized economic niches.
What follows doesn’t show a very keen awareness. For example:
Ironically, the founding of the state of Israel — the triumph of the quest for modern Jewish self-determination — came about less from Jewish power and more from the consensus of the two superpowers, the United States and USSR, to secure a homeland for a despised and degraded people after Hitler’s genocidal attempt.
Come on; it’s not like the Balfour Declaration is a big secret. I’ll let him take a mulligan on this one, since he isn’t a professor of history.
For a moment, the tone gets harsher. The author accuses many Jews of trying “to procure a foothold in America by falling in step with the widespread perpetuation of anti-black stereotypes and the garnering of white-skin privilege benefits” though without providing examples. (Some Jews might consider themselves worlds apart from European peoples, but they need to understand that blacks don’t see things that way. That’s one reason why anti-white agitation is a remarkably bad idea.) Even so:
The period of genuine empathy and principled alliances between Jews and blacks (1910-67) constitutes a major pillar of American progressive politics in this century.
A brief list of “supportive links” documents major instances of collaboration. If one were to put a more cynical spin on it, making a case that Zionists were building a “both halves against the middle” alliance against real Americans, that’s a good place to begin researching. So our forefathers gave them refuge from the Czar, fought the War to Make the World Safe for Democracy largely on their instigation, and this is how they thank us? How embarrassing! For crying out loud, stop doing that!
Cornel West indicates two major points of contention. Some Jews were getting cold feet about affirmative action. Among other things, he says their opposition “seems to reek of naked group interest,” not that affirmative action itself has anything to do with naked group interest, of course. The second problem is Israel. Basically, the blacks beheld the downtrodden Palestinians, their woeful misery reminding them of their own oppression under Jim Crow, and endeavored to befriend them and take their side. Then the author describes much mutual finger-pointing. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. . .
The present impasse in black-Jewish relations will be overcome only when self-critical exchanges take place within and across black and Jewish communities not simply about their own group interest but also, and, more importantly, about what being black or Jewish mean in ethical terms.
Well, good luck with getting these two turbulent ethnic groups to make nice. Both collectively are notorious for overestimating their importance, obliviousness to their faults, and inability to learn from their mistakes. Worse, their activists have become accustomed to making extravagant “my way or the highway” demands and throwing temper tantrums whenever they hear the “N” word (to-wit: “No.”) What a team! Still, it’s not like their disagreement put a serious crimp into the “both halves against the middle” shtick.
Much consternation follows. There are attempts to deconstruct more black disagreements with Jews; conspicuously disproportionate membership in lucrative and influential positions via ethnic nepotism, for example. The author argues at length, though with uneven results, that these are only misunderstandings. The chapter ends on a universalist note.
What’s striking about this effort to smooth things over is what wasn’t said. After all that, it’s telling that the book made no equivalent effort to encourage blacks to get over their prejudices about ordinary whites and coexist better. Maybe doing so could’ve improved race relations. Quite the opposite, Cornel West makes one atrocious generalization after another about us and complains that he feels blacks are expected to fit in.
I’d be inclined to let bygones be bygones and side with the Jews on this dispute, except that their elites have learned nothing. David Cole, a Jewish guy himself, recognizes the golem dynamic recurring with vibrant Somalis imported to culturally enrich Flyover Country. His horror and dismay are palpable; this sort of thing doesn’t end well. The shortsighted Zionist bigshots should listen to sober-minded Jews like him, realize the danger these tactics created, and stop doing that before they outsmart themselves yet again.
Black Sexuality: The Taboo Subject
I’ll have to defer to the author’s knowledge here, as I’m inexperienced in the topic. I’ve had offers from black ladies, but I never followed through. I’m not out to poach their women, and I don’t feel like being a hypocrite. Still, even if I were a Leftist television addict who thought that genetic confusion is “progress,” all that high-octane hair conditioner would be a little much.
Anyway, the chapter opens discussing America’s obsession with sex and its fear of black sexuality. Then the author lists some stereotypes:
There is Jezebel (the seductive temptress), Sapphire (the evil, manipulative bitch), or Aunt Jemima (the sexless, long-suffering nurturer). There is Bigger Thomas (the mad and mean predatory craver of white women), Jack Johnson, the super performer — be it in athletics, entertainment, or sex — who excels others naturally and prefers women of a lighter hue), or Uncle Tom (the spineless, sexless — or is it impotent? — sidekick of whites).
Then the author says that whites view black sexuality as “dirty, disgusting, and funky” yet “more intriguing and interesting.” Did he take a survey about our attitudes, or was that an uncharitable assumption? Again, lacking firsthand knowledge, I don’t have much of an opinion about what they do together. Maybe they compose love sonnets as foreplay? I suppose I could listen to some rap music to discover their normative courtship practices.
He calls for “candid dialogue about black sexuality” among blacks and whites. However, it’s not made clear what form this dialogue would take or what the point of it might be. Then this:
The major cultural impact of the 1960s was not to demystify black sexuality but rather to make black bodies more accessible to white bodies on an equal basis. The history of such access up to that time was primarily one of brutal white rape and ugly white abuse.
I’m getting sick of ugly slurs like this, which are becoming hokier than holobunga propaganda. We just don’t find the black bodies irresistible like he and some other skintellectuals assume. In fact, The Narrative on that looks an awful like psychological projection. Anyone who needs evidence of this can look up the crime statistics I mentioned earlier and see the loathsome truth about this. As for conditions prior to the 1960s, I’ll just say that the lynchings they complain about so much lately were vigilante actions largely because of this particular problem.
He describes changing times, including this:
The classic scene of Senator Strom Thurmond — staunch segregationist and longtime opponent of interracial sex and marriage — strongly defending Judge Clarence Thomas — married to a white woman and an alleged avid consumer of white pornography — shows how this change in climate affects even reactionary politicians in America.
Not really; it turns out that Strom Thurmond was a hypocrite. I guess he was OK with powerful hair conditioner.
Then the author goes into a lot of other stuff about how whites have terrorized blacks and made them feel bad. (This litany of villainy gets mighty tiresome, though Ta-Nehisi Coates’ victimization porn was much cringier.) He says they survived the ordeal we put them through, but it left its mark on them psychologically. Moreover:
These scars and wounds are clearly etched on the canvass of black sexuality.
Then he should ask some Asians how they’ve coped; surely little dick jokes must be worse. (He also could redouble his efforts to patch things up with Jews; they have some first-rate shrinks.) Anyway, so he describes the black institutions that have helped them survive all the psychological warfare we’ve inflicted on them, although they avoid the controversial topic of sexuality.
He analyzes the situation further; blacks having sex with blacks doesn’t involve white society. (Cool by me; they can compose love sonnets for each other to their heart’s content.) On the other hand, Rassenschande gets complicated. They play the dominant role, with white guys losing control to the charms of dusky Jezebels. Then we get upset about finding blacks irresistible, since this sort of usurps our status:
This form of black sexuality makes white passivity the norm — hardly an acceptable self-image for a white-run society.
I have to wonder if Cornel West was putting a lot of credence into some really fusty pop culture tropes about this stuff, perhaps scandalous 1920s melodrama. He speaks of “the crucial link between black sexuality and black power in America” regarding this interracial dynamic. Such noisome rhetoric, which is pretty unbecoming of him, implies that the point of race mixing is about getting one over on Whitey. Maybe it was never really all about the lurrrrve as we were told? Still, at least the golems had little to do with producing all the poisonous propaganda since Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
He states that the major hazard to exploiting this dynamic is the risk of reinforcing stereotypes. Then the discussion gets intersectional, discussing sexuality of black men and women, hetero and homo. One topic is the pros and cons of macho swagger. Another is that black women make better lovers, according to myth, but they lose out because “white beauty plays a weightier role in sexual desirability for women in racist patriarchal America.” I’ll give black guys a tip — they should ignore the propaganda telling them that their own women aren’t good enough for them. By the way, we didn’t produce that poison either!
Malcolm X and Black Rage
Admittedly, I have a bit of guarded admiration for Malcolm X. Anyone who can wear a bowtie without radiating cringe has worked a miracle. Other than that, he was refreshingly genuine. During the 1960s, St. Dr. Rev. MLK Jr. and Malcolm X made for a sort of “good cop / bad cop” dialectic presented to the public. Still, the ol’ Drum Major of Social Justice was a phony preacher and a comsymp, so his militant rival came across as a pretty straight shooter by comparison.
This chapter gets off to a positive note, sort of. The rage was because of all the ways we made blacks feel bad, an itemized list identical to that in the previous chapter. Malcolm X at first thought it could inspire self-love to “produce a psychic conversion in black people; they would affirm themselves as human beings, no longer viewing their bodies, minds, and souls through white lenses, and believing themselves capable of taking control of their own destinies.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, a similar approach could work for us to burst the cultural Marxism propaganda bubble afflicting our people’s collective psyche.
Unfortunately, the analysis gets sloppy. With a fine bit of purple prose, the author claims that during the 1950s and early 1960s, self-confident blacks who believed their people could “throw off the yoke of white racist oppression and control their own destiny” usually got lynched. I’ll spare an in-depth analysis of political violence during that era and simply say that most activists did indeed survive unscathed, and their likeliest hazard was a free shower.
More discussion follows about psychic conversion; that blacks should view themselves through their own perspective. Although he says the concept “often strikes horror into this privileged group” — that’s us — I find it unobjectionable. (Again, my summation from the last chapter is that they should love each other and reject enemy propaganda. I’ve stayed consistent here.) Then there’s mention of Michael Jackson’s face; granted, the guy had some personal problems.
Much more follows, including digressions about music, religion, culture, and the alleged nature of democracy. Still, we could call it Variations and Fugue on the Theme of Blacks Needing to Regard Themselves by Their Own Standards. Toward the end is a discussion of jazz as a state of mind, at times sounding like a vastly improved version of Norman Mailer’s wigger manifesto. The epilogue follows, recapping some of the riffs in the book.
In my deplorable opinion. . .
All told, Race Matters was pretty one-sided in several places, but that sort of comes with the territory. It also features too much overgeneralization, mind-reading acts, and vague solutions. Still, of all the sermons about race that I’ve reviewed thus far, this one has the most redeeming characteristics and stands out as the best. I’m happy to report that despite his dreadful politics (and surely he’d see mine the same way), Cornel West actually seems sensible here and there. He strikes me as more intelligent and thoughtful than typical skintellectuals lately; he did indeed have a point about quality slipping.
Another factor is that the political climate was being changed. (The Overton Window doesn’t move all by itself, but all that’s another discussion.) Race Matters was more moderate than similar fare these days. The new preface from the 2001 reprint takes on a harsher anti-white tone than the rest of the book, descending into maudlin bellyaching. That much could be taken as a sign that nasty rhetoric was becoming more fashionable. Already it was a far cry from the soothing universalism that Comrade Stanley Levison put into St. Dr. Rev. MLK Jr’s speeches. Still, even twenty years ago, skintellectual literature from now would’ve gone over with the public little better than a street demagogue ranting into a megaphone.
It was only since the Obama administration that the literary-industrial complex has been emboldened to go whole-hog SJW and crank out hardcore demoralization agitprop, almost as bad as during the crazypants 1960s. Now that cultural Marxism has taken on characteristics of a bizarre death cult, it’s anyone’s guess what sort of sewage the literary-industrial complex will be dumping on the public soon. When the day comes that the nightmare is over and the propaganda spell is broken, all their pompous attempts to push ethomasochism and white guilt will be profoundly embarrassing.
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