General Snobbery
« Music Monday: Goodbye, Whitney Houston | Main | Michelle Obama: Ultimate Running, Jumping, Re-election Weapon »

Not Helping: Cornel West Calls Melissa Harris Perry "A Liar," "Fake," "Fraud" In Interview

In this latest round of Not HelpingCornel 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 “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.”

Read the full article here.

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.

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (27)

I lost respect for him a long time ago. He is a giant ass with a giant ego. You don't say you have a love for someone and then call them names. He's ridiculous. If he thought he could get enough attention and a seat of influence, he'd come out for Romney.

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdonnadara


Thank you!

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBlackLizLemon

UGH...he (and Tavis Smiley) are the bane of my existence! Cornell needs to man up or STFU...period!

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMissjackson1

Good blog; good points.

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbluehand

What a black history month this has been so far!

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

Now wait a minute.

We will never know what really went down.

When West leveled criticisms at Obama (some legit, some not so), Harris-Perry’s response in The Nation seemed personal and biting to me. I suppose one good term deserves another and West is letting e’erbody know how it feels about her.

Let the black elites fight it out amongst themselves.

I will say this about the article through, West made an observation about Rev. Al that deserves more than a kanye shrug. If George W Bush had failed to prosecute bankers after the 2008 crash and invited many of its architects to his cabinet or maintained Gitmo, there would not have been a bull horn made that could withstand the usage Sharpton would give it. Think all the sneakers and track suits he would have wore out. You have to wonder if Brother Obama granted him access to the White House to shut him up and his program on MSNBC was a smoothing balm to calm him down when he gets hot under the collar. I don’t know, it just something to think about.

Another good point West made was to question the impact of careerism on honest debate and commentary. It’s great that Harris-Perry has her own show but you have to wonder if it’s because she parrots the party (White House) line on MSNBC. I wonder if she is interested in teaching, writing and offering her occasional opinions like Doris Goodwin Kearns and Douglas Brinkley or if is she interested in being a pundit? Again, it’s just something to think about.

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

This is a mess, no less.

In an interesting turn of events, Mr. West is calling out Ms. Perry for her unscholarly work. The same was leveled at him by Harvard President Larry Summers when Summers entered Harvard. West was on the radar to prod out the door and promptly moved on to Princeton after a verbal exchange that happened behind closed doors. Was West’s work worth the Harvard acclaim? Or was it the performance that preceded the pontificator? The kerfuffle ensued, and West remaining dignified, used his name recognition to move to another Ivy League institution (Read the book Harvard Rules). However, that still does not negate the question of scholarly work from the professor. His last five books have literally been propaganda for his own promotion, and potty press at best.

I find it quite interesting after the first broadcast of West and Sharpton clawing at each other, Mr. West went on to get involved at the street level of protesting. He was arrested, not charged, and added struggle stripes to his resume. He was so afraid that everyone could now see through his thinly veiled act of black pride and prophesy. In response to Mr. Sharpton calling him out on TV regarding his ivory tower stance in the midst of the marches, he attempted to curry favor by “symbolically” getting arrested. Dude, roll over! The scrabble board language and the afro can only cover up so much. “The streets is watchin’”

Listen, it is no doubt that Ms. Perry is a beautiful black woman with European features, which makes for good crossover on television. However, it was her articulation of the issues of politics that allowed her to step forward when MSNBC was looking to add African Americans to the roster. Don’t hate the player – hate the game. Something tells me that Mr. West selected her as a “young mentee” for reasons other than her scholarly writings, but she rebuffed him in his approach……(my thoughts). This wouldn’t be out of character for Mr. West. He has attached himself to young co-eds in the past, and leopards don’t change their spots.

I don’t know any of these three personally, but if I had to roll with anyone, it’s going to be Rev. Al. I saw his work, and the work he continues to do. I am itching to say that Obama sees that Rev. Al was loyal during the campaign, and he remains loyal for no other reason than he believes in Obama’s message. Question: If you had a news/commentary station wouldn’t you hire someone with the President on speed dial too?

Mr. West on the other hand proved to be the type of “crusader” we all know. The one who only does what is needed in order to get acknowledged, but when the real work needs to be done they sit down and write about it as if they were the ones doing the work. My bet is Obama saw this all along…….look how easy it was for Mr. West to become brash and outlandish in his approach to the President after not receiving tickets to the Inauguration. This reminds me of Pro-Athlete family members….always looking for tickets, without wholeheartedly contributing to the skills and the ability of the player. They only want a hand out, and never appreciate an honest handshake. Take heed Mr. West, take heed. The same issues you preach about, you fall victim to. As I always say, “We hate in others, that which we hate in ourselves.”


February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustice

Apparently the word "love" does not mean what Mr. West thinks it means. I'm still waiting for West to call out Tavis Smiley for pimping subprime loans to the AA community for Well Fargo.

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNellcote

I wish Cornel was as vocal about the Jobs bill, the payroll tax cut, and/or Mitt Romney's equating of the very rich with the very poor as he is about Prof. Harris-Perry's career choices.

February 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTallulahBankhead

Cornel West told the truth. The truth is always helpful.

February 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterblack yoda

Is that Poverty bus on flats? Or did the corporate sponsorship run out? Looks like the poor could only afford the focus of Tavis and Cornell as long as the bus was paid for by sponsors….once the money ran out, so did they! If we would have left the Civil Rights movement up to these two, we would still be “the Help”.


February 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustice

Dr. West's behavior reminds me of the character Buggin' Out from the film "Do The Right Thing"...he and Tavis would do well to enroll next semester in the Acme School of Ego Management (our motto: "It's Not All About YOU")

February 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKellybee

Hello everyone

I want to jump in here.

I do agree that ALL academics and scholars should practice the highest form of professionalism and adhere to the proper etiquettes of argumentation. Personal attacks and career sabotage are unethical warfare acts.

I have a HUGE… GIGANTIC… problem with “Obama protectionism.”

I have a HUGE… GIGANTIC…problem with Group Think. I believe that Dr. West, Tavis Smiley, and others who question/challenge/critique this president are being punished for their refusal to submit to the cultish group think going on within our population. This same form of Group Think is also responsible for the very deplorable and inhumane conditions of the masses within our ethnic group. Dr. West is being shunned and disrespected by his own peers because he won’t tow their cultish agenda.

I have a HUGE… GIGANTIC…problem with the belief amongst the masses of blacks that because President Obama is black (In my opinion he is not) all blacks are honor bound or obligated to support him no matter what he says or does. I have a serious issue with that line of thinking. I have a problem with the mental health of those who believe that just having his “presence” in the white house is enough psychic stimulation or satisfies their revenge against whitey fantasy.
I’m angry with President Obama because our ethnic group gave him 90% of our vote and have been pissed on his entire presidency. He did reach out to specific groups and his outreach is documented.

Just because a “black face” is in a situation doesn’t mean the situation is healthy, legitimate, or even honorable.
I don’t care about the childish pettiness amongst the black clergymen, academics, or scholars. I care about the larger point they are trying to make: WAKE UP BLACK AMERICA!

February 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ann

I really hate when people infer black folk voted for Obama because he's black (and he IS). historically black folk have always been Democratic. There is cult of personality surrounding the president probably because he's accomplished much from a humble beginning.He, as well as his wife, are people to look up to. Tavis had no problem pimping out black folk when he had something to sell and Cornel is content to criticize from his ivory tower. The poverty tour was nothing but a way to sell more books. Where are their solutions? Where was Voter registration on their tour? Where were they when the Republicans started this economic collapse? Did Tavis call out the Clintons for their race-baiting during the campaign? No. I have a gigantic problem with people who act like nothing happened until January 2009.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShazza

While we kick, scream, criticize and react to criticism, somebody's African-American child is becoming a statistic because she's growing up in a home that is part of a neighborhood that is part of a community in a city in a state in a nation in a world that kick's, screams, criticizes and responds to criticisms instead of taking a look around and loving somebody more than themselves. Someone's hurting Lord, Kumbaya.....

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCam

Justice & Kelly Bee:

You are spot-on!!!!!! Well done!!!!

American Rogue

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmerican Rogue

There are a million talented well spoken African Americans that could have been given that spot. Toure, as well as a lot of others come to mind as being literate, professional and not developmentally challenged. She is an example of why republicans don’t take affirmative action seriously. Now seriously though have you seen anyone on Fox or CNN who has a noticeable lisp and acts so strange. I’ve even seen her slobbering on TV as she gets excited, this had me sick for a week seeing the slobber escape a grown woman’s mouth who is not developmentally challenged. MSNBC and their hiring policies are why liberals suck.

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterinteresting

West is a phony and fraud!. All his talk against Obama and then he goes and gives him the nod....his thing about one being a disaster and one a catastrophe or some nonsense like that. He did not have the balls, in the end, to stand up and say that Obama was a part of the problem and did not deserve to be reelected.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterandrew conte

It's not a dilemma for me. I can't stomach West, Sharpton, Harris-Perry, or the Obamas. Elitists are elitists. Let them fight amongst their elitist selves.

April 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarcus

Cornel West is a great man. He takes no prisoners and despises the mainstream talking heads like Harris-Perry and Sharpton. Obama is far from a left-wing Marxist/socialist as he has been called by some. He is Republican-light and further proof that there is little difference between the two parties once they get to Washington. Corporate media mouthpieces like Harris-Perry and Sharpton do not DARE criticize their precious darling Obama, and it is sickening. Far from being an egomaniac, Cornel West is a courageous man who refuses to settle for less than what is best for America. Whoever wrote this article should be ashamed of themselves.

June 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

okay, here's what i think:

cornel west is a clown and he seems mentally unstable.

tavis smiley is a fraud and seems mentally unstable (and is ugly as hell).

rev. al is an embarrassment who needs to learn how to read. i can't respect a black man who straightens his hair. sorry.

president obama has a very difficult job. i wouldn't want his job. i respect him, although i don't agree with all of the decisions he's made. that said, he has an ugly wife who needs to get her teeth straightened, and fill in her eyebrows. yeah, i said it. her physical beauty (or lack thereof) does NOT say anything about black female beauty overall. black women are some of the most beautiful women on the planet, but michelle is not one of those women. she follows in the tradition of american first ladies though, all of whom have been very unattractive.

melissa harris-perry tries too hard. i liked her better as a guest as opposed to having her own show. her lisp is incredibly annoying. i know this sounds mean.

June 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercaligirl

"adding that her work was not scholarly enough.

“There’s not a lot of academic stuff with her,.."

Interesting....that's exactly what Larry Summers said about West's work shortly before West left Harvard! Summers claimed that West was not producing the scholarly output that is expected of a Harvard professor.

July 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Harris-Perry is a moron. Some of y'all need to go read, then come back

July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTray

Melissa Harris turns the "right to life vs. pro-choice" argument into a farce by arguing that parents can decide if a child should live up until the age of three. Not science that dictates such a decision, but "feelings". Sounds incredibly intellectual and credible to me if one were to trade their ethics for a pair of tampon earrings.

July 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergw

These articles and insults are the very reason we as black people are not very quickly moving ahead. I have been at the University of Pennsylvania "Wharton School of Finance", and having taught high school (all races) 45 years and now retired. These comments just don't help us as a people. Calling someone a liar, etc. just does not help our cause. We need to work together for the common cause and very existence of a healthy and safe life. President Obama just cannot bring about the change we need as a people alone. We have this burden to bare as citizens of this great country.

Reach out to everyone and operate with the purpose of helping people like Melissa Harris-Perry for she is doing her best to change the world. Her very presence is making a difference to others like her. Dr. West has been the only token spokesperson for years and now others have actually earned the rights to be leaders and speakers for all of us. Let them speak and embrace them for their accomplishments. The struggle continues to be never ending for future generations. Our younger generation (all races) has come a long way and have a tough and in some cases an almost impossible challenge ahead of them.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHarriett H. Simmons
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.