Black Woman, Know Your Place: Cornel West Clings To His Privilege

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from What Tami Said

Sexism from a brown face is still sexism. Male privilege with a unique cadence and sartorial style is still male privilege. Patriarchy is still patriarchy when perpetrated by doctorate-wielding black activists. Demanding that a black woman march in lock step with your agenda or be labeled “treacherous” and “a fake and a fraud” is to further the twin demons of racism and sexism that black women battle every day. It’s disgraceful.

Cornel West on Melissa Harris-Perry in the latest issue of Diverse Issues magazine:

“I have a lot of love for the sister, but she’s a liar, and I hate lying,” says West.

Harris-Perry’s scathing critique, West says, has more to do with the fact that the Center for African American Studies unanimously voted against her when she came up for promotion from associate to full professor, adding that her work was not scholarly enough. “There’s not a lot of academic stuff with her, just a lot of Twittering,” says West, who added that her book Sister Citizen, released last year was “wild and out of control.”
“She’s become the momentary darling of liberals, but I pray for her because she’s in over her head. She’s a fake and a fraud. I was so surprised at how treacherous the sister was.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins, who fancies himself “The Scholar for Black America,” co-signed, branding Harris-Perry a sell-out and deifying West:

His willingness to do that which is unpopular (as Dr. King did before his death) will put Cornel West in the history books as a visionary activist and scholar; Melissa Harris-Perry will simply be remembered as another talking head.

In the worst African dictatorships, European corporations seeking to drain a country’s resources realized this simple fact: There is no need to compensate a country’s citizens for their resources if you can simply pay off greedy dictators and figureheads who control what the people think and do. As a result, there are countries where billions of dollars in oil are extracted every year, yet the majority of the country’s citizens remain in poverty.

In the Black community, leading Democrats have learned the dictator lesson well: If we hijack a few figureheads in the Black community and convince them to always speak in support of our agenda, we don’t actually have to do very much for Black people themselves.

It’s much easier to take care of the Head N*gger In Charge (HNIC) than it is to take care of the people they represent – just give them big media guns and have them aim those guns at any of the field negroes who choose to participate in the rebellion. That’s what makes Melissa Harris-Perry so harmful.

The 2008 presidential election cycle marked a turning point in who was allowed to speak on black issues in the media. I recall complaining in the early days of this blog that the media knew no other black voices than the four-headed hydra of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West. I have been so gratified by the addition of fresh perspectives – young voices, female voices, diverse voices, including those of Barack Obama and Melissa Harris-Perry. Of course, West brands the President not black enough and Harris-Perry a charlatan and a mercenary.

It must chafe, I imagine, to lose your privilege. To know that “the black agenda,” if there even is such a thing, will no longer be exclusively dictated and communicated by a certain sort of black man. The young people, the biracial black people, the women are getting uppity. That’s what this is about. It’s not that liberals have labeled Harris-Perry HNIC; it is that men like West thought that position was exclusively theirs.

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  • Anonymous

    She’s a university professor.  You aren’t going to be a full professor at a four year college or university without being a PhD…were you unaware that she was an academic?  

  • Anonymous

    She is, no need for quotes:

    http://melissaharrisperry.com/about.html

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  • Anonymous

    I must say that I was shocked by the blatant disrespect Dr. West displayed toward Dr. Harris-Perry.  I had an inkling that he had crossed over from African American intellectual  to narcissist celebrity after seeing him on the Craig Ferguson Show, last year.  But it wasn’t until I read a review of his latest book,”Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud”,  that my suspicions were confirmed.  The article highlighted a quote from Dr. West’s book on his expectations from a women.  Now,I could fully understand why the man has been married and divorced 4 times.  I also think it revealed a man who has mayor issues with women.  Here is the quote:

    “The basic problem with my love relationships with women is that my
    standards are so high — and they apply equally to both of us. I seek
    full-blast mutual intensity, fully fledged mutual acceptance, full-blown
    mutual flourishing, and fully felt peace and joy with each other. This
    requires a level of physical attraction, personal adoration, and moral
    admiration that is hard to find. And it shares a depth of trust and
    openness for a genuine soul-sharing with a mutual respect for a
    calling
    to each other and to others. Does such a woman exist for me? Only God
    knows and I eagerly await this divine unfolding. Like Heathcliff and
    Catherine’s relationship in Emily Bronte’s remarkable novel Wuthering Heights
    or Franz Schubert’s tempestuous piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D.960) I
    will not let life or death stand in the way of this sublime and funky
    love that I crave!”Furthermore, I  was equally disappointing to read Dr. Boyce Watkins take on the Perry-West matter.   Unfortunately, a lot of educated males have decided that the dignity of the male must be protected at all cost.  We saw this same scenario during the Thomas-Hill Hearings.  Hell, it’s being played out in the death of Whitney Houston. So called educated men are quick to defend her deadbeat, abusive ex- husband.   It requires intellectual dishonesty and cowardice, if one knows better.  If one doesn’t, they certainly  have no business being called an intellectual in 2012.

  • Rochelle

    Ironic that West criticizes Herris-Perry for not producing enough academic material when he has been charged of the same thing throughout his career.

    • Anonymous

      Very true, and it was that comment from Lawrence Summers that infuriated him so much that he left Harvard to return to Princeton.  

      Granted, when it happened, Lawrence Summers had so many public cases of “foot in mouth” disease that I kind of ignored it, but it’s funny that he’d lob the same criticism at her for the same reason that it was lobbed at him.

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  • K.

    I’m only half-way through Harris-Perry’s book but so far it’s well researched, well written, and completely eye opening. Her book has never struck me as “wild and out of control”. I think her commentary is important and needed. 

  • K.

    I’m only half-way through Harris-Perry’s book but so far it’s well researched, well written, and completely eye opening. Her book has never struck me as “wild and out of control”. I think her commentary is important and needed. 

  • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

    There was so much to digest in this. The language both men used was very disturbing . This bothered me the most though:

    “In the worst African dictatorships, European corporations seeking to
    drain a country’s resources realized this simple fact: There is no need
    to compensate a country’s citizens for their resources if you can simply
    pay off greedy dictators and figureheads who control what the people
    think and do. As a result, there are countries where billions of dollars
    in oil are extracted every year, yet the majority of the country’s
    citizens remain in poverty.”

    Why is Melissa Harris-Perry being raked over coals and compared to centuries of collusion with and domination by,  white supremacy?  To place her metaphorically in the same company as Robert Mugabe or Idi Amin not only is it nasty but it is dismissive of reality.  Not attacking a new liberal female voice would be
    one place to start if he really is concerned about those who are suffering under said dictatorships. What
    is on the agenda for anti-racists, Black America, exploited people globally and allies via the
    Republican Party is some of the most backwards stuff since the 1940s or
    even the 1840s-where is his outrage about that?

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

    Ms. Harris-Perry wrote a pretty vicious attack on Dr. West in the Nation last year. Considering that why is it not okay for West to respond? This, IMO, is just two academic rivals going at each other in public.

    Here is Ms. Harris-Perry’s post about Dr. West; http://www.thenation.com/blog/160725/cornel-west-v-barack-obama

    • Rictus Smirk

      Why was it not OK for Obama to decline attending Smiley’s event?  I’d been wondering if anyone had noticed the once-inspiring and eloquent West going off-rail around the time of the Obama campaign.  It looked like he was suffering from the same rockstar-wannabe anxiety I’ve watched academics go through all my life, what with his sudden interest in top hats and the verbal Amen break.  Now, armed with Harris-Perry’s perspective, I can see what was suddenly ringing so false about West’s vociferous disapproval.  CW has to understand that the difference between a candidate’s abandoning the black community and avoiding his personal company is not porch status on their part but unexamined egotism on his.

      I happen to like West’s writing, but someone had to say it.  Yes, we do have to put maximum heat on Obama to honor the policy changes we elected.  But pettiness and self-righteousness never helped anyone’s platform.    

    • Lindy

      It’s Dr. Harris-Perry.

  • k.eli

    I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about Cornel West but what I do know has led me find him insufferable. I’m so sick and tired of black people – including supposedly educated ones – still measuring one another up based on the mythical blackness scale that exists in their minds only. Obama is the president of the United States, not just black people, but West and his cronies can’t seem to understand that. Are there genuine critiques to be made about the relationship between the Democratic party and people who are struggling (regardless of race)? Absolutely. But to assert that the President isn’t black enough simply because he’s not pushing your limited agenda (or inviting you over for tea and crumpets) is beyond childish and speaks more volumes about West’s character and ego than anything else.

  • k.eli

    I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about Cornel West but what I do know has led me find him insufferable. I’m so sick and tired of black people – including supposedly educated ones – still measuring one another up based on the mythical blackness scale that exists in their minds only. Obama is the president of the United States, not just black people, but West and his cronies can’t seem to understand that. Are there genuine critiques to be made about the relationship between the Democratic party and people who are struggling (regardless of race)? Absolutely. But to assert that the President isn’t black enough simply because he’s not pushing your limited agenda (or inviting you over for tea and crumpets) is beyond childish and speaks more volumes about West’s character and ego than anything else.

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  • karen simpson

    I use to like West now I just have to say I can’t stand him his envy and disrespect of anybody with different views is showing. I love Melissa Harris-Perry can’t wait to watch her show on MSNBC and I loved her book Sister Citizen.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EB7WXVZZDVVDPKFBWJDKSXKSMQ Liz

    Now i love Melissa Harris-Perry. I really do. And I find West grating, bullish and elitist. But I think you should post some of the actual criticism that West has against her – particularly about her and Sharpton’s neglect of how unemployment numbers have worsened for black people while improving over all. Though i loathe to admit it, he may have a valid point or two. 

    I think the two of them (Harris-Perry and West) do not like each other personally and they let that leak into their criticism of each other’s agenda and work – which is really unfortunate since a good chunk of American media is presenting them as THE black voices of this country.

    • Anonymous

      that patronizing as shit rap album he created that my history teacher forced me to listen to in HS was enough for me to decide he’s a waste of everybody’s time. MHP 4tw.

  • Anonymous

    why are we pretending that Melissa did not launch a personal attack on Cornel in the nation?   I agree with everything else you say though, but the Cornell insults aren’t from nowhere.

    • http://loveisntenough.com/ Jstevens0124

      could you provide a link? I’m not aware of this article and would like to read it… Thanks.

      • Whattamisaid

        I imagine eatmyshorts is referencing this: 
        http://www.thenation.com/blog/160725/cornel-west-v-barack-obama

        The difference, in my mind, is that Harris-Perry aggressively analyzed West’s criticisms of the president, pointing out ways that his ire was hypocritical and seemingly based more on the personal than political. On the other hand, West went after Harris-Perry personally, calling her a liar, a fraud, treacherous and challenging her academic credentials in much the same way that women, and women of color in particular, are frequently undermined in academia…and life.

        I do agree with the poster above that there is clearly no love lost between the two. I also believe that some of West’s critique of President Obama is valid. But I think the good professor reveals something ugly in his not-black-enough and not-smart-enough attacks on Harris-Perry and the president.

        • Rictus Smirk

          I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, but just to be fair, let me ask you this:  If you’d been treated like Cornell was by Larry Summers, and if you were privy, as Cornell is, to Summers’s real agenda, how would you feel watching Barack make him admiral of his financial team and refer to him as a propellerhead (giving him means-well geek cred his brutal Objectivist ass never deserved)?

          • Anonymous

            Oh, it would rankle like hell. But West claims his criticism isn’t about that or Obama not kissing Tavis’ ring or West not getting tickets to the inauguration. Anyone listening, though, can hear that his anger is at least partly about those things. It is hard to position yourself as savior of the common people while moaning about the grievances of elite academics and talking heads.

          • Anonymous

            Oh, it would rankle like hell. But West claims his criticism isn’t about that or Obama not kissing Tavis’ ring or West not getting tickets to the inauguration. Anyone listening, though, can hear that his anger is at least partly about those things. It is hard to position yourself as savior of the common people while moaning about the grievances of elite academics and talking heads.

      • Whattamisaid

        I imagine eatmyshorts is referencing this: 
        http://www.thenation.com/blog/160725/cornel-west-v-barack-obama

        The difference, in my mind, is that Harris-Perry aggressively analyzed West’s criticisms of the president, pointing out ways that his ire was hypocritical and seemingly based more on the personal than political. On the other hand, West went after Harris-Perry personally, calling her a liar, a fraud, treacherous and challenging her academic credentials in much the same way that women, and women of color in particular, are frequently undermined in academia…and life.

        I do agree with the poster above that there is clearly no love lost between the two. I also believe that some of West’s critique of President Obama is valid. But I think the good professor reveals something ugly in his not-black-enough and not-smart-enough attacks on Harris-Perry and the president.

    • http://loveisntenough.com/ Jstevens0124

      could you provide a link? I’m not aware of this article and would like to read it… Thanks.