It was during my senior year in high school when Karlyn Hunter introduced me to the thinking and writings of Cornel West. I believe I have read Race Matters some 10 – 12 times since high school, and I guess 13 times if you count tonight. West, who is a self proclaimed Chekhovian Christian and Post-Modern Marxist, is committed to democratic values and social justice. He is obsessed with confronting the pervasive evil of unjustified suffering and unnecessary social misery in the world. Moreover, he is determined to explore the intellectual sources and existential resources that feed societal courage.West is an intellectual Marxist who realizes the merit of such a philosophy in addressing social vice and ill; however, he also realizes that Marxism cannot serve as a religion. Because of this perspective, his writings constitute a perennial struggle between his African and American identities, his democratic socialist convictions and his Christian sense of profound tragedy, his possible triumph in life and history. It was my reading of West’s prophetic pragmatism that drove me to read more about the dynamics of critical race theory, historical transformations, and to search and explore the problems of sexism, racism, classism, and other ugly adjectives that a Christian must understand in order to remove ignorance from the minds of the masses.
In my quest to do this, I found my self reading from the likes of my favorite intellectuals: DuBois, Ellison, Knowles, Thoreau, Hurston, Wright, Sartre, Rorty, and Kierkegaard, to list a few. It was my reading of such great intellectuals that allowed me to join the ranks of the Talented Tenth. There are questions that I and other Christians must constantly present and address in order to deconstruct a world lost in materialism. And, as I concluded years ago, Christians are human too. Thus I witnessed too many Christian churches segregated by race and class while growing up. This was especially true amongst some Christians living in Montgomery, Alabama who too were lost in ignorance. I am blessed that my faith has guided my intellect, thus it is my intellect that will serve as a vehicle in sharing my faith.
West’s table of contents in Race Matters reads something like this:
1. Nihilism in Black America
2. The Pitfalls of Racial Reasoning
3. The Crisis of Black Leadership
4. Demystifying the New Black Conservative
5. Beyond Affirmative Action: Equality and Identity
6. On Black-Jewish Relations
7. Black Sexuality: The Taboo Subject
8. Malcolm X and Black Rage
As with most works of scholarship, this piece of literature has a distinctive point of view. I do not agree with everything presented by West; however, I do embrace the way he challenges my intellect. I have heard him speak twice thus far, once at an academic conference in Chicago and again at the University of Houston. I even met him while working in Princeton last spring. West left Harvard two years ago only to return to Princeton. He found himself engaged in a major disagreement with the now removed Larry Summers, former president of Harvard. (Click HERE to read West’s account)