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Backtalk with scholar Dr. Cornel West.

Cornel West, professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University, is one of our community's most gifted and thought-provoking intellectuals. In the 25 years since he earned his Ph.D. from Princeton, West has been writing, speaking, and teaching cultural criticism and social theory. His book Race Matters, which sold nearly 400,000 copies and influenced a national dialogue on race when it was published in 1994, brought him widespread attention outside the field of religious studies. In fact, so highly regarded are his philosophical and religious writings that West was cast to play the character of a Zion Elder in The Matrix.

Today, however, the real-life West has reached back to young African Americans with his latest recording, Street Knowledge, a double CD composed of 20 tracks that chronicle the black experience in America from slavery's Middle Passage to the emergence of hip-hop culture. BLACK ENTERPRISE recently caught up with West to give him the last word in this month's issue.

What is your reaction to a second George Bush presidency?

I shiver and shudder. We're in great danger because of the consequences of his policy on working people and poor people, but especially black people. When I think of the plight of black youth under four more years of Bush. I shed tears. Look at our prisons, our decrepit schools. Look at the kids who don't have access to childcare. Most of America doesn't give a god-dang, and that's the problem, But I do, and other Americans of all colors do--it's just not enough [for us to keep Bush out of office],

Would you ever run for political office?

If I could be of use. If I could be of service, but the system is so corrupt--shot through with legal bribery and normalized corruption. Our political system is just a sham. But I wouldn't count it out, don't get me wrong, If I could ever be a force for good, I would sing a song, break-dance, run for office, and write a book. If I could help somebody out, I'd do it.

Why do you say our political system is a sham?

It's very difficult for people with a blemished record to run for office. And it's hard for people to have an unblemished record. We all are tainted. We all are cracked vessels. We all are imperfect. If you're looking for purity, you have to look hard because we're all impure. People who claim to be pure are just lying and hiding something. But I have great hope for Brother [Barack] Obama

What is the state of education for black Americans?

I think it's magnificent for black middle class and above, but it's a national disgrace for the black working poor and the very poor. There is a class difference that we have to acknowledge. Sure, for my son and my daughter, it's cool, but I have some cash. You know what I mean? But I have cousins and f have friends and relatives who are not as blessed as I am.

P. Diddy was out there getting young people to register to vote, and while record numbers of young people turned out (see Facts & Figures, this issue), when the election came and went, a large number of young people still didn't vote. What do you think?

He couldn't convince all of them, but we have to accent the ones he did convince. If 47% did vote and 53% didn't, but without him only 40% would have voted, then we have to celebrate the 7% who did vote. I give him a lot of credit for that, We have to say things would have been worse if we hadn't done what we did, See what I mean? P. Diddy Could have broke his neck, turned over, break-dance, and everything else. He wasn't going to get another 25% of the people to vote. Certain things you can't break on your own. But there were certain ones he could influence enough to go out and vote, or at least reflect on voting, and that's a service, That's a contribution. And there's a value to be placed on that.
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Author:Meeks, Kenneth
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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