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West, Cornel

Page history last edited by Melanie 15 years, 7 months ago

Cornel West, born in 1953, is a scholar, philosopher, pastor, and professor at Princeton University. The majority of his work focuses on race, gender, and class with a profound interest in the civil rights movement. He suggests that there is a new cultural politics of difference on the rise which seeks to due away with universal truths in order to bring about different creative responses, from the views of the marginalized, to deal with current situations at hand. The movement will not come from the proletariat or lumpenproletariat however, and will instead come from those of privileged socioeconomic backgrounds who seek to move away from mainstream thought to join and give voice to those of the “demoralized, demobilized, depoliticized and disorganized peoples.” Intellectuals, according to West, have been lost in a web of social theorizing, that the work towards actual change has been neglected. He is an advocate for social action and agency, and suggests that:

 

 

There can be no artistic breakthrough or social progress without some form of crisis in civilization—a crisis usually generated by organizations or collectivities that convince ordinary people to put their bodies and lives on the line. There is, of course, no guarantee that such pressures will yield the results one wants, but there is a guarantee that the status quo will remain or regress if no pressure is applied at all.

 

West argues that the new cultural politics of difference calls for deconstructing old Black strategies of identity formation, such as assimilation or homogenization, but to construct multi dimensional responses to "articulate the comlexity and diversity of Black practices in the modern and postmodern world," (513). He stresses the need for social theory to demystify the historically specific ways that relations have come to be as they are.  West, Minh-Ha, Collins, and Lorde all share similar ideas about not wanting to simplify things and say, "We're all the same" because we're not, and they want it to be aknowledged, and thought about, and challenged and out in the open so that more positive change in people's everyday life can happen.

 

West acknowledges Frantz Fanon's work on decolonization and his accurate articulation of “century-long heartfelt human responses to being degraded and despised, hated and hunted, oppressed and exploited, marginalized and dehumanized at the hands of powerful xenophobic European, American, Russian and Japanese imperial countries”. Hard core non-conformist like the late W.E.B Dubois, Frantz Fanon, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nina Simone, have paved the way for present intellectuals like West, Patricia Hill Collins, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. who tirelessly advocate and continuously strive to demystify power relations on the national and international level.

 

When West discusses a version of W. E. B. DU Bois's notion of the double conscious, he argues that Blacks in America have not yet been recognized in White America; he explains that the White people have never recognized the Blacks and their culture.  West describes the eagerness of the Blacks to be accepted as a hunder for meaning, identity, and self-worth.

Comments (2)

Maile said

at 11:35 am on Dec 10, 2008

I don't know how to change the page name but it is Cornel West not "Cornell"

jessicah@... said

at 4:57 pm on Dec 13, 2008

History is constantly shaping our intellectual consciousness and how we conceptualize ideas and institutions. West explains that the late 20th century has caused a shift towards new cultural politics of difference in which we are to "trash the monolithic and homogeneous in the name of diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity; to reject the abstract, general and universal in light of the concrete, specific and particular; and to historicize, contextualize and pluralize by highlighting the contingent, provisional, variable, tentative, shifting and changing" (Lemert 505).

West supports this claim by tracing history from the Age of Europe through the emergence of the USA as world power to the decolonization of the Third World, for each period explaining the (often Eurocentric) forms of consciousness.

West concludes that demystification is "the most illuminating mode of theoretical inquiry for those who promote the new cultural politics of difference" (Lemert 515) because it allows for an understanding which is not constrained by universalist thinking. Rather, it accounts for changes in institutions and the need to apply new ways of thinking to new situations.

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