Cornel West: We’re Witnessing the Collapse of the Legitimacy of Leadership

alex atkins bookshelf cultureCornel West, professor, public intellectual, philosopher, social critic, and civil rights activist was recently interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday (May 31, 2020). He remarked on the recent riots sparked by the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The riots began as local protests but quickly spread nationwide, stoked by America’s long history of deep-rooted, systemic racism, oppression, and entitlement as evidenced by stark inequalities in the criminal justice, health care, economic, and educational systems.

What’s going on [with racism and riots]?

“I think what we’re seeing here is the ways in which the vicious legacy of white supremacy manifests in organized hatred, greed and corruption. We’re witnessing the collapse of the legitimacy of leadership, the political class, the economic class, the professional class. That’s the deeper crisis. The beautiful thing is we’re seeing citizens who are caring and concerned, they’re hitting the streets. We’re seeing black, white, red, yellow, especially young people, coming together. [But] the problem is we have a system that’s not responding and seems to be unable to respond.”

Has the U.S. made any progress on racial issues?

“I’m not saying there hasn’t been progress; [however, to borrow from Malcolm X] if you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. I don’t measure black progress in terms of black elites… I’m concerned about the least of these. That’s the tradition of Martin Luther King.”

Do you think that what we’re seeing in the streets — street violence, looting in African-American neighborhoods — do you think that’s doing any good for African Americans?

“No, most of my fellow citizens, God bless them, that are in the streets are there, the peaceful over there marching and when it does spill over into violence looting is wrong — but legalized looting is wrong too. Murder is wrong. Legalized murder is wrong. I look at the wickedness in high places first and then keep track of the least of these. We all have individual responsibility, but we’re living in a system that seems to be unable to reform itself and when you have such moment you get violent spillover. That’s the concern. If we’re more concerned about the property and spillover than the poverty, decrepit school systems, dilapidated housing, massive unemployment and underemployment, we’re going to be doing this every five, every ten, every twenty years… We got to make sure we don’t pass it on to our younger generation.”

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Read related posts: The Wisdom of Cornel West
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The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
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