In this latest round of Not Helping, Cornel West decided to celebrate Black History Month by kicking a few other black people in the teeth in his continued quixotic quest do what ... I'm not too sure. Keep it real? West gave an interview to Diverse Magazine where he defended his oddly personal past critiques on President Barack Obama, but to also attacked fellow professor and MSNBC regular Melissa Harris Perry, calling the Tulane professor a "liar," "fake" and a "fraud."
(He also kicked the good Rev. Al Sharpton under the table a few times too. Just for funzies, I imagine.)
Said West of his former colleague:
“I have a love for the sister, but she is a liar, and I hate lying,” says West, adding that Harris-Perry later said on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” that West attacked Obama’s White mother in the interview with Truthdig.com. “I don’t talk about people’s mamas. She’s reinforcing all of the vicious perceptions of me as a racist, and she knows better than that.”
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 fraud. I was so surprised how treacherous the sister was.”
Now. I don't know Harris-Perry or West, but ... what the hell was that? She didn't agree with West when he went after the president on a litany of issues ranging from anti-poverty programs to not receiving inauguration tickets, so now she's a tool of the white liberal establishment trying to silence him?
I didn't know Harris-Perry was a Bond villain!
Or that West was James Bond, for that matter.
Again though, this did not help West's larger cause of wanting to bring to the attention the plight of struggling African Americans. All of his "points" about government, politics, the president and our policies is now somewhere tangled up in Harris Perry's trademark microbraids, ruining any shot at West's complaints being taken seriously. Because now it seems much less about speaking truth to power, and more petty vendettas against who is doing what and who isn't.
West, who in the interview talks about how he was the one who brought Harris Perry to Princeton, claims the academic later "turned" on him and called West and a cohort Dr. Eddie Glaude “hypocritical leftists." But no where does West explain how he and Harris Perry went from being mentor and mentee buddies to now the subjects of slams and slights.
Why did Harris Perry suddenly decide West was no longer a mentor but a "hypocritical leftist?" West leaves out any real detail, other than crapping on her most recent book and saying she wasn't good enough to be down in his Honeycomb Hideout of black intelligentsia.
It's not that West isn't entitled to his opinions but what was the objective here other than to hurt Harris Perry? What was said here that couldn't have been dealt with privately? Who benefits from this egg being laid and left out to rot on the pages of a periodical?
Even if Harris Perry was ruthless in her critique of West's opinions (and she has been), she still attacked his opinions. Not Cornel West the human being. She responded to the things he wrote and said about the president and his administration. I find it interesting that even at his most personal, those being targeted by West's attacks remain in neutral with nuanced responses.
West practically calls Rev. Sharpton and Harris Perry tools of the establishment in this article and the most either can usher in a response is different versions of "Wait? What?" and "I respectfully disagree."
On Al Sharpton:
“Whoever thought that Brother Al wouldn’t be protesting any administration?” asks West, who served as an adviser to Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign. “You watch his show on MSNBC and you want to say, ‘Brother Al, you come out of the Black prophetic tradition like me. Tell the truth about the White House,’ but he won’t say a mumbling word.”
“What has hurt his cause is that he got into name-calling,” says Sharpton, adding that West attacked him, forcing him to respond. “I always had admiration for him, which is why I was surprised he took the position that he did and never talked to me.”
Sharpton says that some of West’s critiques of Obama are blatantly unfair. “Cornel was running around the country and campaigning for Obama in 2008 and had access to him,” says Sharpton. “When did Cornel have this awakening about President Obama? Obama never said he was going to do all this stuff that Cornel wants him to do.”
And, later, Harris Perry's non-response:
Harris-Perry declined to be interviewed for the story, but wrote in an e-mail message that she disagrees with West’s assessment of her latest book. “I am very proud of the book, but academic promotion is always about submitting to the assessment of senior colleagues,” says Harris-Perry. “God knows leaving Princeton was the best thing to happen to me in a decade, so my only response is, ‘Thank You.’ ”
In this possibly never-ending academic slap fight, I really hope West is sincere in wanting to help eliminate poverty. Because that's a noble thing. Acting as someone who is molded in the "Black prophetic tradition that has a commitment to truth and justice," rather than just saying that's what you are means far more. I would hope in his effort to do that he would stop mingling his anti-poverty movement with the pettiness of professional rivalry. It cheapens both him and his admirable goals.
And I leave with something I wrote the last time West went after one of his colleagues:
You can't be a leader if you can't get anyone to follow. And you can't get the power you need without followers. So with that being the reality, where does our true strength really lie -- In the vocal subterfuge of our champions, or the men and women behind the curtain?
Stay on message, dude. You're losing them.