Cornel West & MLK

Tonight I attended a lecture by the great Princeton scholar Cornel West. I like him a lot. Don’t agree with everything he says, but I think he’d like that. Yesterday I painted chairs at McDonough High, which wasn’t quite the enlightening experience I was hoping for, but I hope the students appreciate how diligent we were painting over their graffiti. Oh well, I guess I’m glad I did something.

Tonight was more stimulating. I would have liked to ask the following question after his lecture: I am torn between two key emphases of his address. I truly value critical thought, and I truly admire bravery and conviction. The problem is that when I focus on thinking critically (which is usually my habit), I find myself seeing so many sides to an issue that I don’t know what to do. It’s as though I’ve critically thought myself into inaction. I preach to my students that intelligent people can disagree about important things, but I still can’t bring myself to commit. How do I handle this dilemma?

Now, I have to admit that much of my problem is simply a fear of confrontation. I don’t like to make waves, and I’m ashamed of that. I firmly believe that I would have been in line with King’s goals, but I can also see myself being persuadable that another approach toward the end justice would be better. In hindsight, almost everyone thinks King’s great and should be revered. I do too. But would I then? I’m not sure.

A parallel issue (for me anyway) came up tonight at the talk. West expressed some reservations about Obama running for president. Well, I’m a fan, and he pretty much has my vote at the declaration. Is he perfect? No. Do I wish he was a little more progressive? Probably so. West wishes he showed more “courage,” and I can see what he means. On the other hand, could Obama be the best weapon for creating realistic change at this point? Maybe it’s a sellout, but part of what I like is that he can persuade without ostracizing.


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