Dr. Boyce Watkins; Ex-Princeton Professor Melissa Harris Perry’s Assault on Cornel West Distracts from the Key Issues… : ThyBlackMan

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Dr. Boyce Watkins; Ex-Princeton Professor Melissa Harris Perry’s Assault on Cornel West Distracts from the Key Issues…

May 18, 2011 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) If a man is offered a piece of stale bread for dinner, he’s probably not going to want to eat it.  If you were to then say, well, “stale bread is better than horse manure,” this won’t make the stale bread taste any better.  When given the choice between bad food and horrible food, some people would just rather not eat or try to eat someplace else.

But this is what black America is being fed when they are told that they should passionately support the Democrats simply because the Republicans are going to be worse.  The meal is being fed, in part, by elitist liberals like Melissa Harris Perry at Princeton University, a darker-skinned staple in the  white liberal establishment and fully-indoctrinated member in the Barack Obama fan club.   In a recent article where Perry works diligently to dismiss the political and scholarly relevance of Dr. Cornel West (a huge mistake on her part, since West earned his stripes when Perry was still in high school), she reproduces the same rhetoric that Ivy Leaguers utilize to somehow convince rank-and-file black folks to start seeing things that simply don’t exist.  The same political magic trick was used when the administration got a tiny militia of black Harvard Law Professors to campaign on behalf of Elana Kagan for the Supreme Court in spite of her undeniably racist hiring record – this is how Harvard and Yale folks take care of one another.  Notice that our entire Supreme Court is full of Ivy League graduates; the elite protect their power by manipulating the minds of poor and working class Americans.

Let’s be clear, I am no fan of the disposition against President Obama taken three years ago by Tavis Smiley.  I took Tavis to the carpet for his very personal assault on Obama, which I speculate might explain why he hasn’t ever spoken to me (I could actually care less, to be honest).  I am neither an Obama critic nor am I a super fan.   My agenda is simple:  I want to see leading politicians address massive black unemployment, mass incarceration, rampant racial discrimination in the workplace and the dysfunctional educational systems that are destroying black children and families.  To date, politicians are not standing strong on nearly any of these issues, and given that our surveys show that these problems affect the vast majority of the black community, this should be a concern.

What disturbs me most about the calls I’ve received from the White House and others who somehow believe that we are helping the president by resigning our right to free speech, is that the political types in Washington are more concerned about who gets blamed for the problem than they are about solving the problem.  After Dr. Wilmer Leon and I spoke about the seemingly unproductive relationship between the Obama Administration and the Congressional Black Caucus, most prominent critics of that conversation could only ask, “Why are you blaming Valerie Jarrett for canceling meetings with the CBC?”  Most interesting is that I spoke to Dr. Leon because he could provide an objective opinion on political strategy without any of the selfish agendas that drive those who either reject or support the president outright.  Dr. Leon makes it clear that if you spend all of your time either hating the Obama Administration for no reason or popping champagne bottles because you think we’ve hit Juneteenth Part II, you are not using your political voice in an effective way.

I don’t care if the responsibility for Washington’s political apathy falls on Valerie Jarrett, Barack Obama, the CBC or the pet chicken in the front yard.  All I know is that I just talked the daughter of a formerly incarcerated man who told me that none of his five children graduated from high school because their father was not there to guide them.  I am not sure why any black person on the planet would have any incentive whatsoever to vehemently support an administration with a black male attorney general who has not lifted a finger to reform a justice system that is undeniably racist.

So, perhaps those who are quick to implement the “stop snitching on Obama” policy on Cornel West should stop trying to counter his argument by telling West to remain silent.  Instead, he should be silenced with relevant and meaningful action on the part of the Obama Administration.  Spinning, twisting and reshaping the conversation means nothing when black unemployment continues to rise, mass incarceration decimates our people and our children are not being educated.  You can either get angry at someone for calling you fat, or you can take your fat butt to the gym.  Unfortunately, it’s easier for Washington types and elitist liberals to use political double-speak than it is for them to point to concrete evidence that working and middle class black people (the bulk of whom experience rampant and unregulated discrimination in the workplace) have a reason to be excited about the next election.  Whether they should reject President Obama vs. his Republican counterparts is debatable; but whether they should reject all of Washington is undeniable.

The bottom line is simple:  Giving black folks a choice between stale bread and horse manure is not going to make them want to eat at your restaurant.  It’s time for some political courage and action, instead of asking us to submit to a system that clearly isn’t working.  Whether one agrees with Cornel West or not, he must ultimately be given credit for guiding the conversation back to poor, black and brown people.  Attacking West for pointing out the obvious is nothing more than a counter-productive distraction.

NEW” Update Article here; http://thyblackman.com/2011/05/20/dr-boyce-watkins-tulane-professor-professor-melissa-harris-perrys-personal-attacks-on-dr-cornel-west-show-that-she-may-be-hiding-something/ 

Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  For more information, please visit http://BoyceWatkins.com.


13 Responses to “Dr. Boyce Watkins; Ex-Princeton Professor Melissa Harris Perry’s Assault on Cornel West Distracts from the Key Issues…”
  1. Nicholas says:

    As I read the comments to this article, bitching, bellyacheing and complaining is what I’m reading. You people must think the president has a magic wand, he doesn’t. This kind of thinking got him/us a Congress that is dragging it’s feet and using its majority, to hold up every presidential appointment President put before them for their approval. He needs to win in 2012 or somebody else will name the next two Supreme Court Justices. If you don’t know what that would mean ASK SOMEBODY.

  2. AgentWu says:

    Dr. Watkins,
    Excellent read. Funny thing to me is are so many people suprised at the President’s poor performance? At the end of the day he promised the same things every other politician promises, “change”. Change? He gave more money to bail out billionares on Wall Street. At the expense of the poor and middle class. Not ONE person who caused the financial crisis was even charged with a crime. Expanded wars into Libya and Pakistan. He is in the process of extending the war in Iraq. All the while taking more freedoms away from you and your family. People voted for someone base on their skin color not the content of their character as Rev King had once asked. WE didn’t get the man we wanted, we got the President we deserved.

    Every problem we have today is the same one we had 30-40 years ago. You thought just because you voted for someone who looks like you that would change? When did we become so weak? So dependant on government hand-outs and politicians we will never meet. We spend more time making excuses for each other than solving problems. If our slave ancestors could see us now I have no doubt they would shocked and disgusted at what we have become.

  3. Lei says:


    And I commend Cornel West for his attempts to demand action from this indifferent Black president and his administration!

    He doesn’t deserve condemnation or derision. He deserves your backing, your support, and your activism! I’m tired of Black folks being petty, debating the minutiae, instead of acting and communicating as a united front with a common goal.

  4. BlackBostonian says:

    Thank you for this reasoned and needed article. I want to make one point: Brother Obama is willing to address AIPAC and claim undying support for Israel, a Jewish state, and justice and security for the Jews in the Middle East and yet he rebuffs Tavis, trys to avoid being publicly in support of us black folk. Yes, Obama is president for all Americans. But we black folk are a part of America, and we disproportionately get a raw deal. I am only 22 years old, but both my parents were born in the 1940s, before the Civil Rights movement. Can anyone reasonably argue that that didnt affect the present, the opportunities available to them, not to talk of all the struggle they went through growing up. And Obama wants to pretend we are post-racial. It really makes my blood boild. I thank God for brothers like Cornel West who in the face of the neoliberal, capitalist machine continue to speak out.

  5. Herman Black says:

    So many of you blacks who comment on social issues which pertain to black people and our struggles in America are so naive. When are you simple minded negros going to wake up? The black race is under assult in America like it hasn’t seen in decades. Massive unemployment, mass incarceration, the erosion of affirmative action, etc. All Tavis and Cornell try to do is bring real issues and facts to this so called “Black President” and his administration and force them to have some type of accountablity.

    The problem here on most of these blogs is that many of you have house nigger mentalities and won’t be able to see the realness of global warfare against blacks until it affects you and your kids personally.(which will come soon, guaranteed) The true fact of the matter is that Barack Obama was vetted and screened very intently and purposefully by the powers that be because they knew he’d be the perfect puppet to give the USA and the whole world a false sense of hope.(a man with a black face but totally void of the historical black american struggles, mindset and experiences) What does having a black president really mean for blacks if he won’t do ANYTHING concrete for the one’s who voted for him with over 90% of their votes?

    Do any of you who disagree so vehemently against the Smileys, Wests, etc really believe Obama has done what you voted for him to do? He was supposed to change the way things were done in Washington and has done absolutely nothing with regards to real change! Instead of bringting in new people with fresh ideas and solutions, he continues to stick to the script and has kept EVERYTHING status quo. If you Obama supporters are honest, (And I voted for him too) you would admit that the team of rivals mentality he has is a bunch of nonsense.

    I’d encourage all of you who continue to believe in and follow Obama blindly to buy two movies. 1. “The Inside Job” and 2. The Company Men. If the Obama Administration, the NAACP, The Urban League, the CBC, etc, were really serious about serving the poor and the middle class of Black America, they would include and infuse the ideas, insight and saavy of people like Tony Brown, Dr. Kunjufu, Dr. Francis Welsing, Dr.Julia and Nathan Hare and Randall Robinson.

    See, scared, naive and ignorant negros think they can assimilate and tiptoe to a safe comfortable life in America but they can’t. America’s downfall is already in effect and the truth is when things like , money, jobs and opportunity start to become scarce, all Black people will feel the harsh brunt and backlash of the racist society which is America.

    Wake the hell up people! Our survival depends on it! Remember, we were brought here as slaves and we now serve no purpose to America and have no real value as far as white America is concerned. They’re already focusing on the Asians, Hispanics and Indians to take our place. Don’t take my word for it. Just look around.

  6. Procrastination_Xtravaganza says:

    Dr. Watkins, you disappoint me. This is really beginning to feel like a good ole boys network for blacks. The same “self-appointed black leadership class,” Dr. Harris-Perry refers to in her opening statements. You suggest that she shouldn’t identify the gaping flaws in Dr. West’s argument, simply because he’s been around and relevant significantly longer than her? Are Melissa Harris-Perry’s excellently articulated arguments that complicated for you to understand? You have a Ph.D.! It seems as though your respect and admiration for Dr. West, which he very well deserves – has clouded your ability to recognize a solid argument, which Harris-Perry has definitely presented.

    Some of your arguments are as hypocritical as Dr. Wests. You rail against the Ivy League establishment and Melissa Harris-Perry’s connection to it, completely overlooking the fact Dr. Cornell West has been a part of that exact same institution, and for many more years than she! Apparently you think he’s managed to stay grounded and connected to “rank-and-file black folks” while she has been swept up in the highest Ivory tower in Obamaland. This is either ignorant or disingenuous. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her work, but no one in recent history “keeps it real” like Dr. MH-P. Prior to her I think the same could be said about Dr. West.

    Harris-Perry did not launch an assault on Dr. Cornell West. Nor did she suggest that he remain silent. You Dr. Watkins framed it that way. What she did do however is identify untruths, hypocrisy, revisionism, and personal bias in his statements, that detract from the validity of his argument. If you can’t see her excellent identification the Socratic irony, elitism and hypocrisy in Dr. West’s criticism of President Obama because he and his family didn’t get tickets to the inauguration and his hotel bellhop did, then you are a fully-indoctrinated member in the Dr. Cornell West fan club. That was one of the most disgusting, classist, entitled bits from Dr. West, and interestingly enough, this comes in a piece criticizing Pres. Obama for not looking out for poor people (like hotel bellhops)! To quote MH-P, “What kind of crazy, mixed up class politics are these? Wait a minute…”

    What I do agree with you on is that framing this as a Dr. Harris-Perry vs Dr. West event definitely distracts from the issues. Also, rather than naming some of her gripes with the Obama Administration in an attempt to prove she isn’t a blind fan, (clearly she didn’t convince you,) the piece would have been better served if she addressed some of Dr. Wests valid arguments. She attempts this in a television interview on MSNBC’s The Ed Show recently. She calls Dr. Wests arguments vague, and brings to light laws the administration has passed which directly affect minorities, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Act, Loosening of Marijuana and Cocaine laws in two separate acts, which attempts to turn the tide on disproportionate black/brown imprisonment and subsequent disenfranchisement. Not to mention his appointment of two female/minority supreme Court justices which will have long lasting effects on laws that directly affect us. These are the issues you and Dr. West speak of him not addressing, and here we have three recent laws passed under his watch to address those very issues, among others.

    I realize it takes time for some of his actions to be felt at the community level, but it’s there. Please don’t preclude the much more instant results of local government action, Obama can’t do it all.

    Dr. Watkins is it that the administration is doing nothing? Or are you not paying attention?

  7. Robert Piercy says:

    Hello Dr Watkins,

    I am of the opinion that these particular comments by Dr West where not really appropriate, but that will not change the fact that Cornell West is one of my heroes.

    We all say dumb things sometimes, but Cornell West is a great man and I will continue to think very highly of him.

    Thank you very much, I really liked your bread metaphor and agree with you 100%. I think that President Obama is getting some really bad political advice. And as much as I disliked Rahm Emanuel, Daley is worse. Another person I have always admired is Jesse Jackson, and I supported him in both his runs for President. In 1988, William Daley moaned about “the black party.” The black party of course being the Democrats, and was in reference to Dukakis’ failed attempt to keep Jesse Jackson’s profile low during the Democratic convention.

    So it is not surprising that President Obama has not been great on issues important to the Black Community.

    I really love this site. Keep up the good work!

  8. lross says:

    Dr. Watkins,

    Thank you for bringing attention to issues that will be the ruin of us all if they are not addressed. While I agree with comments about Dr. West and Mr. Smiley making attacks that seem very personal and that seem to little to enhance important debate, I do believe this article offers much needed insight.

  9. Karen says:

    I read the article by Professor Harris-Perry, and I am consciously aware of where Tavis Smiley criticism comes from. Basically no one can dispute Harris-Perry’s assertion that Tavis attacks come from a personal “DISS”, that he felt when President Obama turned down his invitation to answer his questions on his program. Initially, (the first year of President Obama’s presidency)Cornel West remained quiet giving the President a fair chance, but by the second year of his presidency, West was on full attack. Anybody following Tavis and West, knows that they are very close friends and it was a matter of time before West would jump on Tavis’ bandwagon.

    Anyway, it is my opinion that despite my feelings that both Tavis and West criticism began from a personal incident, their points are valid. Aside from West attacking the President’s race and taking his “blackness away from him” by asserting he was raised by whites, the point that Black issues (issues/concerns of those who overwhelmingly voted him into office) are not on the President’s visible, public agenda, for fear of not wanting to lose votes of backward ass thinking whites, is a problem.

    Does the black community let the President and his advisors get away with taking our vote for granted? Do we vote for the President blindly because he is the first black President? I think West knows exactly what he is doing. He is raising the discussion at the perfect time. He knows that the election is next year. He wants this debate to go into the summer with the help of the media, and the white house is listening with open ears, make no mistake about it, they are listening and they will be forced to address the issue.

    Mark my words, if West and Tavis continue to voice legitimate issues and stay away from the personal attacks, they will begin to shape this debate as the white house outsiders they are, (since they clearly do not have access to the white house and the first Black President, they are locked out of direct access to a one time event…they will never have the opportunity to write a book about their inside access to the first black President. Make no mistake about it, this bothers them) causing the Presdient give a speech directly addressing black issues. I think that speech is going to come sooner rather than later, because he does not want to do it in the middle of a heated campaign when it will be fresh in the minds of backward ass thinking whites, jeopardizing their possible support of him.

    The black community needs someone to hold the President accountable when he does not address our issues, especially since our local elected officials in Congress don’t seem to be able to hold him accountable. They have been silent. Maybe because like me they know his heart is with us. Or they don’t want to risk losing their seat to someone else when re-elected. Or maybe they don’t openly criticize him because he is getting enough heat from the Republicans. But if their reason for not holding him accountable is the latter, we must remember that while we hold back criticism the Republicans are shaping policy and setting his agenda.

    This is evident in instances such as the health care debate when the President opted out of the public option, and recently when he extended the Bush tax cuts…they are lobbying him along with corportate America. They all have a seat at the table, except us.

    During one of President Obama’s speeches early in his presidency, he challenged us to make him address our agenda. When I heard him say that, I immediately reflected on how he started his political career. He started as a Community Organizer in Chicago. He organized on a grassroots level. I interpreted his remarks as we need to organize his white house with our agenda. To some extent this is what Tavis and West are doing without the grassroots level. They are doing it by voicing their feelings (such as no agenda to address the 16.1% black unemployment rate) and using the media to lobby the white house. Brilliant! Now we will have half a seat at the table in the oval office.

    The other half of the seat will come when we organize and take our concerns to our local officials, who will then be forced to lobby the white house with our agenda. As Fredrick Douglass stated, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.” This is still relevant today.

  10. Nicholas says:

    I voted for Barack because he was black and happended to be the the best bet to win the 2008 Presidential election. Well, he’s still black and happens to be the best bet to defeat any conservitive choice. Get off of the Presidents back and use your intellect and influence to help stave off the voter fraud and hit peices paid for by big business. With a 5-4 decision, the conservatives on the Supreme Court said the government may not stop corporations from spending as much money as they want, to help their favored candidates. That decision is a big win for Big Oil, Wall Street banks, health-insurance companies and other powerful interests that use their vast amount of money every day, to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. The winner of the 2012 election will more than likely get to appoint two new Supreme Court Justices, who will serve for life. This is more critical than how black is Barack Obama.

    That all I got to say about it!

  11. Public Financing says:

    Dr. Watkins,
    As a pro democracy lefty who thinks the president has a whole lotta room for improvement, even I must respectfully disagree with your assessment (although you get 3 points for the Juneteenth II line!). I read Chris Hedges’ (who always gets a thumbs up) interview with Dr. West & was so disappointed. His personal prejudices about whites, the working man and jewish brothers and sisters were so disturbing. With Dr. West representing the “weak,” the “strong” have nothing to worry about.

    Dr. Perry was correct to point out how personal all of Dr. West’s issues with Pres. are – no tickets to the inauguration that the doorman is going to so he’s upset? How does he know what that man did or didn’t do to get a ticket? What an elitist snob Dr. West came across as!

    As Mysistagirl said above, Dr. West was no better than a birther when it came to his rant about the President’s background. Newsflash: Most “Black” firsts are “biracial.” Welcome to planet Earth.

    With regard to Dr. West’s overt anti-semitism – yikes. Coming from a man who goes out of his way to praise the work of Jewish Freedom Riders, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, etc. made the whole thing even more surreal. He would never have made those statements had it been Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn (RIP) or Paul Krugman in the Obama cabinet. Which is the point, West can disagree with the neoliberal politics, but there’s no need to make excuses, about the President’s background or the religion of some in his cabinet, for personal prejudices. Pathetic.

    It’s sad that even I, someone who did not gulp Three Cups of Kool-Aid & agree with the politics of Dr. West, am so disgusted by that interview. Regardless, it actually solidifies my own position – that we should work/advocate/praise ideas, not men. Democracy, equality and justice should be our goal. Wearing t-shirts, believing empty campaign slogans, not holding elected officials accountable because they’ve “made history” is nothing more than idolatry. Likewise, continuing to hold Dr. West up as a fine public intellectual after he’s shown his true colors is also unacceptable for me. Oh, well.

  12. Abailey says:

    While I agree that White House staffers should not try to stiffle critical free speech, IMO you at times sounded just like them when your only specific critique of Prof. Perrys comments is she critiqued an icon in Dr. West, instead of the validaty of her statements. I totally agree with you on what our focus should be on in key issues and holding the president accountable for addressing those issues, but that wasn’t the point of Dr. Perrys’ article. The article, amongst other things, spoke to what she felt was more personal(back to how can obama understand my black pain when he grew up with a white mom) than objective policy driven critiques by Dr West. When you inject that into valid critiques you deserve to get questioned on what your true motivations are.

  13. Mysistagirl says:

    Hello Dr. Watkins:

    I enjoy reading your opinions and I find you to be among the most balanced. However, I do wish to take slight issue with you on this matter. I don’t think Ms. Harris-Perry was at all trying to “dismiss the political and scholarly relevance of Dr. Cornel West”, as you said. Moreover, I think she was simply outraged by, and pointing out, the very personal nature of Mr. Wests comments(some of which I found outrageous) against the President. She also did a good job of pointing out the double standard of Mr. West(who lauds himself as the most concerned about the treatment of blacks and underprivaledged) when he is deafeningly silent about his “dear brother” Tavis’ relationships with several corporations whose practices are certainly adverse to poor and black communities.

    Most personal, disturbing, and worthy of Ms. Harris-Perry’s rebuke, was this statement by Mr. West:

    “I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. “He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,”

    Dr. Watkins, this is SO over the top, and at the same time, an underhanded attempt at the same tactic that is known as birtherism. West is pejoratively calling Barack Obama an oreo. West’s insinuation that Barack Obama does not know, understand, and is not comfortable with black culture is nothing more than a pathetic attempt at making Barack Obama the “other” to the African American community. Just as birthers used his birth certificate to imply that he was not one of us, so West is using his biracial background to imply that he is not one of us blacks or he is something “other”. This kind of screed is so far beneath the Cornel West that I used to have much respect for, and its pretty sad. Using his biracial background to conclude he is “rootless”??? I don’t even know what to say about that asinine assertion. Policy disagreements are one thing, but West went personal in his screed against this President and he is as wrong for it as the birthers are.

    Thanks for allowing me to share my 2 cents.
    Be Blessed!!!

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