West discusses state of civil rights at Common Hour

BY ERIN MOYER ’16
Assistant Opinion & Editorial Editor

Acclaimed intellectual, author, and activist Cornel West delivered a talk entitled “The Struggle Continues” as part of Civil Rights Week during Common Hour Thursday.

His wide-ranging discussion touched upon topics such as the tendency for meaningful music to fall through the cracks of a hip-hop driven generation; rampant injustice, ranging from the plights of both the rural and urban poor; the nation’s one percent wielding more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined; the wartime deaths of women and children being brushed off as “collateral damage”; the importance of education and faith in one’s own development; how best to live and love; and advice he occasionally gives to Jay-Z.

All remarks, though, seemed to fall under one unifying theme. After issuing several enthusiastic shout-outs to the Black Student Union, I.M.P.A.C.T., S.I.S.T.E.R.S., “Brother” Dan Porterfield, president of the College, the F&M faculty, and, last but not least, Sidney Rochet ’51, the second African American to graduate from F&M, West leaned forward onto the podium and breathed his mission in speaking to his audience.

“I wish I could stay for about three hours, but I know students must get back to class, so I want to try to say something that thoroughly unsettles you,” West said. “That’s what I’m here for: to un-house you. I am an extension of the great tradition of struggle.”

West proceeded to characterize that all-too-frequent American theme of struggle, as well as why it is relevant to everyone, regardless of creed or color.

“It may begin on the chocolate side of town, but it spills over to the vanilla side, too, and it spills over to our precious indigenous brothers and sisters on reservations,” West said. “It spills over to our precious Asian brothers and sisters, the brown, the barrio, but today we begin with the black freedom movement.”

West took care to strongly emphasize that the black freedom movement is still an ongoing struggle, one that has not seen its end in any sort of utopian, Obama-ian, post-racial America.

West also urged F&M students to undertake their own struggle of sorts.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” West said. “The examined life is painful. Young people, I must encourage you to examine yourselves, scrutinize yourselves, interrogate yourselves.”

West asked F&M students to choose to view the world and neighbors around them with brotherly love instead of prejudiced hate.

“When you begin to [break down] those kinds of perceptions and suppositions, this is when you begin to live,” West said. “The black freedom struggle has never been conceived solely with black people. Don’t be well-adjusted to injustice. We want freedom for everybody, but we want freedom for ourselves, too.”

West also issued a challenge to students.

“Don’t just get through F&M, let F&M get through you,” he said. “Get contested, unsettled, turned around. When you’ve emerged, you have to learn how to die. Learn how to think critically. Have you really given all you can? So when they put you in the tomb, it’s not just a matter of money and celebrity, but greatness? Were you able to serve with the gifts you had? Love is not a plaything, young people. Hold on to the courage to think for yourself and then hold onto your hope. And hope has nothing to do with optimism. Hope is staying in motion in the face of catastrophe.”

West’s résumé is just as wide-ranging as his lecture. He is currently a professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary in New York, as well as the class of 1943 university professor in the Center for African American Studies Emeritus at Princeton University. As a scholar, West has authored 20 books, including Democracy Matters and Race Matters.

His achievements, though, are not limited to the dusty stacks of academia: West has also dabbled in fields of entertainment and culture. He attained notoriety for his cameos in The Matrix movies, as well as for his release of two spoken-word/soul albums and guest spots on the tracks of various other artists, among them Brother Ali and Immortal Technique. West has also appeared on CNN, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, where he is a frequent contributor.

Questions? Email Erin at emoyer1@fandm.edu.

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