Open Thread: Cornel West on Stephen Colbert – Respect or Mockery?

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

The Colbert Report is pretty hit and miss.  But most of the time I enjoy it.  Potentially that’s because Stephen Colbert’s satire is so impenetrable that I have little idea as to what his real politics are…which means I can just project my own politics onto him.  Jon Stewart on the other hand is less of a blank space. We get a much clearer sense of what he truly believes, making it (well, at least to this grump) easier to dislike him.

When Cornel West guested on the Colbert Report last week, my sleuthing skills went on overdrive.  What does Colbert really think of West? Does he agree with West, or does he think West’s a joke?

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Cornel West
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Is Colbert mocking West’s manner of speaking, or borrowing it? When Colbert references Jim Morrison, is he poking fun at West’s knowledge base, or is he merely “tangoing”? When West makes a great counterargument to the logic of Post Racialism, Colbert responds by saying “I feel like a muppet.” Does that undermine West – and is that Colbert’s intention?

I have to say that no matter what Colbert is doing, I really love this interview. I couldn’t stop smiling through it – not only because Cornel West’s enthusiasm and exuberance is infectious, but also because I don’t think I have ever seen someone steamroll Colbert so effectively. And I love that it was an anti-racist black man – expounding such truthiness! – that managed the Colbert takedown.

It can be very difficult for women and people of colour to wrest control of a conversation in a white mainstream space, especially when that conversation veers into hateful territory. Feeling voiceless or ignored in a white or male conversational space seems like almost a weekly happening for me. Watching this video, I felt like West was striking one for any POC (or WOC) who’s ever felt silenced by the cacophony of racism around them.

Interestingly a Colbert fan site reports that Colbert appears to genuinely like West, stating that this is what Colbert did after taping the interview:

In person I got the impression that Colbert actually really liked Cornel West. After the interview Stephen immediately walked around the desk and gave him a hug. Then West smiled and waved at the audience and we gave him a standing ovation.

So what do you think? Is Colbert an ally or is he just using West to make white folks laugh?