Cornel West on a post-racial America

By Jonathan Adams Nov 19, 2008

Listen to Cornel West on Democracy Now! Princeton University professor of religion and African American studies, Cornel West, speaks about the election of Barack Obama, his selection of Eric Holder to be Attorney General, the possible selection of Lawrence Summers to be Treasury Secretary and the role of the progressive left to push Obama. West is the author of the new book Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, congratulations on your new book, Hope on a Tightrope. When people talk about a post-racial America, what is your response? CORNEL WEST: I say there’s no such thing, no such thing, Amy. By “post-racial,” they really mean “less racist.” You’re talking about white brothers and sisters who are now willing to vote for a black man based on qualification as opposed to pigmentation. That’s a beautiful thing. But at the same time, it recognizes that there was a time in which pigmentation would trump qualification. Black people have been voting for white candidates, as in Gary, Indiana. You had a white mayor, the Chocolate City. Black people voted for the white candidate vis-à-vis the black candidate, because the white candidate was better. That wasn’t post-racial; it was just black people were less racist. And so, we have to be honest about this. There’s no such thing as “post-racial” in that regard. It’s a beautiful thing to be less racist. Same is true for “color blind.” We can’t say it’s color blind, on the one hand, and then be so happy when we cross the color line and vote for Brother Barack Obama, that there is a color line, we cross it, we’re trying to stay in contact with the humanity of each other. We need to be embracing of each other’s humanity, not trying to subtract our bodies and somehow be color blind and post-racial.

West, though a supporter of Barack Obama, has also been critical of the president-elect’s choices for his cabinet:

But I am a little suspicious, in fact, highly suspicious, of the degree to which my dear Brother Barack Obama seems to be recycling all of these Clintonites. I’m looking for an age of everyday people, not a Clintonite recycling in this new period. And so, I’m a little bit suspicious of this, though I think Eric Holder is much better than many of the other Clintonites that’s being recycled.