One person's thoughts may change the world
Trust me, the title is deceiving. This is going to be somewhat long. I’m stepping into murky waters here. Two highly educated titans of Black intellect are having some issues, issues that have bubbled into their laundry being aired. In fact, they aired it themselves. They aired it at such a high level that it is the buzz amongst my constituency. It’s very long, and builds into a crescendo of analysis, retrospect, accusation, and of surprise and sadness. I have always had an opinion of these two great men, Dr. Eric Dyson, and Dr. Cornell West. Dr. West has been an intellectual titian, a genuine genius for some time now, voicing the opinion and position of Black people, both of the educated as well as the poor and the overall struggle of people in general against a world that needs to be cognoscente of those that are in need, and helping those for a better place of ideas and resources. Dr. Dyson is of similar mold, protégé of Dr. West, and eventually in some ways surpassing some of his ideas, and bringing an additional moral code to the struggle of Black people, and people in general. Both are verbal sparring kings, the Wilfredo Benitez of their time, able to pontificate on a level that leaves me in the first grade of vocabulary. I respect as well as envy them both. And with that I will do my best, give an opinion of two men, black men, whom may never see eye to eye again.
Writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship to ideas than does speaking. It beckons one to revisit over an extended, or at least delayed, period the same material and to revise what one thinks. Revision is reading again and again what one writes so that one can think again and again about what one wants to say and in turn determine if better and deeper things can be said.
West inveighs, stampedes, and kvetches, he gets on a roll that might be amplified in conversation but arrested in print. It’s not a matter of skillful editing, either, so that the verbal repetition and set pieces that orators depend on get clipped and swept aside with the redactor’s broom. It’s the conceptual framework that suffers in translating what’s spoken to what’s written, since writing is about contrived naturalness: rigging the system of meaning to turn out the way you want, and making it look normal and inevitable in the process.
The same culture that killed King now seeks to kill contemporary expressions of his prophetic itinerary, by portraying today’s activists, such as those found in #BlackLivesMatter and the movement to end police brutality, as the moral opposites of his social vision and ’60s-era nonviolent protest. The argument over whom and what is prophetic has rarely been more heated in black culture than it is now.
There were several ideas pontificated on in the above analysis of Dr. West. Dr. Dyson is correct in the assumption that writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship. As a person capable to speak as well as writing, I enjoy the writing piece but when I speak with no script, basically “winging it”, I’m at my best. I actually enjoy writing, but I hate editing. In my mind, the idea is done, why do I have to revisit it? ( to correct mistakes, obviously, I know ). But the world has a strong appetite for the gifted speaker, especially one that can elevate and improvise on the fly. Dr. West is gifted like the jazz musician improvising. Dr. Dyson, while having a similar gift, is a wordsmith, at times, incapable of “dummying down” his improve for the minions ( that includes me).
But to speak to the prophetic behavior, Dr. Dyson talks about, I have to disagree. Prophetic characteristics are always after the fact in my opinion. Sure, you can relate the Hebrew experience of deliverance to the Black experience, but that’s not the worlds of a Prophet. Black culture is not rooted in realizing the many facets of prophetic behavior, even when you add the religious aspects to it. A certain measure of cultural awareness and monolithic behavior would have to be present first. The continued fight for equal rights in this country galvanized many Black people combined with religious and emotional drumbeat to drive Dr. King’s speech the night before he was assassinated. If you have listened to many of his speeches, his famous words of being “on the mountain top” had been said in speeches before the fabled one the night before his assassination.
Did A. Phillip Randolph exhibit prophetic behavior in helping to form peaceful protests during the civil rights marches? Did George Washington Carver exhibit prophetic behavior while discovering the many uses of the peanut? Did the Pope John Paul II exhibit prophetic behavior at anytime during his reign as head of the Catholic church? To me, prophetic can never be declared by the one who is prophesizing, that person’s credibility would surely be in question. Nor can it be reserved strictly for the spiritual, otherwise, those who don’t have any spirituality at all would have no insight to prophesy. So, if Cornel West has claimed to be a prophet, I would have to say, “How?”, “Why?”, and “By who’s hand?”. But at the same time, it’s not because he doesn’t have a religious grounding to say that he doesn’t.
Now, Dr. Dyson also has layed the groundwork of saying that Dr. West has given us no empirical data as to how, why, and who can be a prophet, across all of the major religions, yet, as a member of the “cloth” he also knows that if a preacher, like himself cannot be questioned if he says, “He’s been called by God”, to do his will if he speaks those words. There is no empirical data for that as well, nor is there any way of proving or disproving it.
Just as I did a paragraph ago, Dr. Dyson uses others to compare their work and see if it passes the litmus test of being a prophet. King is a prophet, West says, but Sharpton, who is addicted to the camera, is not, but, amazingly enough, the same thing can be said about Dr. West, who again, calls himself a prophet. I’ve seen Dr. West on Bill Maher, who is either an agnostic or atheist, one too many times.
True prophets embrace religious authority and bravely stand up to it in the name of a higher power.
Dr. Dyson’s argument is that he is not a prophet, yet, says that being a prophet requires religious framework. What is the difference between a prophet and a scholar? You’re first going to say that out of that religious framework, there has to be a systematic order, faith, humbleness, and belonging to a parish or some kind of position that serves their constituency.
The issue I have for that is, if it is prophetic, then, it must only be for those who follow or are under the umbrella of the people that prophet is serving. If the prophetic statement only effect those in the community, then why? How come others cannot “hear” or be exposed by the prophecy, especially if it is something that could be earth shattering or important to them as well?
Dr. Dyson says, if a am reading his text properly, is basically saying that Dr. West doesn’t write enough, his works after a certain point have been nothing but snippets, glued together from other works that he as done, or rather spoken and… He’s in the camera too much, and… he’s not willing to stand under the umbrella and take the heat of his stances. Dr. Dyson is basically saying, I have a moral center based upon my belief in a higher power that I answer to… Dr. West, who/what do you answer to?
Another interesting point was Dr. Dyson’s analysis of Dr. King’s speeches that forced the hand of Kennedy and also Johnson, which included echo’s of his speech to the message to the country. He also talked about how King went even further, criticizing the President ( Johnson ) on the Vietnam policy. Now many may think it was a bold move, but, was it? Was it a reaction to the growing divide in the country, as well as the well publicized stance that Muhammad Ali took during the movement? Was Dr. King moving only when the narrative changed and he had to make a decision to change with it?
In a sense, Dr. West has to dance to a tune that is to the benefits of his provider and like it or not, so does Dr. Dyson. Exposing himself but not over exposing himself. Pontificating on long standing ideas of interracial inequalities, yet, not really acting upon them ( OK, so what did getting arrested at Ferguson actually achieve?) If Dr. Dyson were to attack what he may decide are dubious investments the university he works for – Georgetown ( for example stem cell research), would they be so inclined to continue to employ him? ( Toby vs Kunta)
West remains an elite academic and can hardly be said to have ever been a true outsider, given his position in the academic elite and the upper reaches of the economy, but he hungers to be seen as rebellious.
Wow now that is a misguided characterization of Dr. West’s background who is the grandson of a Baptist preacher. If anything, his background is grounded in Christian values, raised in the shadow of the church, and rooted in spirituality and education. Is he at fault that his parents attended Fisk University? This is the main reason why he speaks in such religious intellect without being “religious” while Dr. Dyson speak from as I would characterize it as religious constraints and intellectual fortitude. And how can this be said while walking the hallowed grounds of Georgetown University? You both are world famous activists who have been justly rewarded for it. There is no street cred here. Look at the long list of powerful academic institutions you have taught at, yet, I would not dare speak to you as being an elitist.
Now, I’m going to give you a gentle jab, since I grew up in the same area you have ( Detroit/Hamtramck) that is. I would challenge you on the “getto” you speak of coming out of Detroit, but, that elite private school you attended, is Cranbrook by the way, the same school my son just graduated from last year ( and he wasn’t on scholarship). This is the same school Mitt Romney attended. Even though you didn’t graduate from there, that exposure of being on 175 acres of never never land ( my characterization of it because of its exclusivity), had to have changed your lexicon. Living on campus there, studying in the library, attending the science museum, going to the art museum, eating in the arched lunch room and other activities wasn’t all a mental sparring ground of racial inequality for you. It was because of the culture shock of it. Some of the blue bloods tht attend there have means beyond what you and I can imagine, why would they be focused on trying to put you in your place when they were already so well established? So you may have come from the “getto”, but, you were exposed to the other side as well. That, my dear friend is some major exposure…
Moving on, Dr. Dyson’s view of Dr. West (along with Tavis Smiley), is correct, there is no way that the President could win the election with a black agenda that he and Tavis suggest. In fact, Dr. West has spent a considerable amount of time critiquing the President, while the vipers in the Republican party tries to throw a monkey wrench in EVERYTHING the President tries to do. As of this writing, they held up the longest appointment of the Attorney General’s office for Loretta Lynch, all because of the Republican hatred of the president. Where was Dr. West speaking to that inequity? ( he may have, but I didn’t hear it ).
This President has suffered many injustices, too many to speak of in the blog, but, I’m hearing a lot of silence from the intellectual black elite. Dr. West also wrote as Dr. Dyson points out:
For West, the cure is a politics of conversion fueled by a strong love ethic. “Nihilism is not overcome by arguments or analyses; it is tamed by love and care,” West wrote in Race Matters. “Any disease of the soul must be conquered by a turning of one’s soul. This turning is done through one’s own affirmation of one’s worth—an affirmation fueled by the concern of others.”
Dr. Dyson is correct to say that this view is similar to the President’s which Dr. West so eloquently wrote is his book, “Race Matters”. The problem is, tell that to a soulless hedge fund manager who is out for nothing but unregulated profit.
In addition he also turned on Dr. Dyson stating the following:
“I love Brother Mike Dyson,” West said. “But we’re living in a society where everybody is up for sale. Everything is up for sale. And he and Brother Sharpton and Sister Melissa and others, they have sold their souls for a mess of Obama pottage.
Now, again, Dr. Dyson is right, especially after quoting from Dr. West’s memoir, “Brother West”. Once I read some of those things of somewhat bragging of the people who he shares company with, I began to see why Dr. Dyson spoke of Dr. West’s urge to be thought of as rebellious without having the trappings to go along with it. With all those people wanting to be in his company, he has transcended himself, yet seems to want to lambast others who have been successful in a similar arena that he swims in. Maybe Dr. Dyson is correct in his analysis. In the statement above, there is no difference of Dr. West and a Republican saying no to everything that the President is trying to put forth in his agenda. When Dr. West begins a sentence of love and understanding to an individual, watch out, he is going to sucker punch you.
But in the same instance, the same can be said in many ways of Reverend Sharpton. Reverend Sharpton has the President’s ear, but he had less that a stellar background before the Howard Beach protest which propelled him into the national scene. Through a series of appointments and activism for the cause of black people, he is now considered a strong voice in radio,and msnbc throughout the United States. Reverend Sharpton shares company with many prominent people as well but has been characterized by Dr. West in many derogatory expletives that I refuse to repeat them.What makes Sharpton’s actions any different than Dr. West’s?
Lastly, what Dr. Dyson has pointed out is that Dr. West has attacked the very people that he has inspired in many ways. Why is that? Why doesn’t he take the high road, and reveal in the honor they would be bestowed upon him, they would give him all the honor and praise without the analysis which has been brought forth by Dr. Dyson. This must have been painful for him to write, but, it was a necessary evil.
Well I’m done. This is long and still half baked. The portrait of Iceberg Slim is on TV, and I’m half watching it, and kinda wondering, I got sucked into writing this blog, but, now that I’ve written it, maybe I’ve been pimped…
Peace, Mickey Fickey….
Oh, by the way, I’m methodical…..At least that’s what I’ve been told….