Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Cornel West sees a 'Black prophetic fire'

Cornel West, interviewed recently by George Yancy for the Opinionator blog on the New York Times, is a professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary and professor emeritus at Princeton University. He has written or contributed to more than 30 books, including Black Prophetic Fire and The Radical King.


Cornel West (5th from left) walks with protesters against police brutality in New York, April 14 (scarletsails/Thinkstock)

On Aug 10 of this year, he was arrested outside a St Louis courthouse while protesting against continued racial injustice and police brutality, joining forces with other protesters in places like Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore of the last year or so.

He describes how people were chanting, “We gon’ be alright,” from rap artist Kendrick Lamar, who is concerned, among other problems, with decrepit schools and indecent housing in primarily black, primarily low-income neighborhoods. The chant seems to be emerging as an anthem of the movement for the younger generation.

I think in many ways we have to begin with the younger generation, the generation of Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island and Oakland. There is not just a rekindling, but a reinvigoration taking place among the younger generation that enacts and enables prophetic fire. We’ve been in an ice age. If you go from the 1960s and 1970s—that’s my generation. But there was also an ice age called the neoliberal epoch, an ice age where it was no longer a beautiful thing to be on fire. It was a beautiful thing to have money. It was a beautiful thing to have status. It was a beautiful thing to have public reputation without a whole lot of commitment to social justice, whereas the younger generation is now catching the fire of the generation of the 1960s and 1970s. …

Charleston is part and parcel of the ugly manifestation of the vicious legacy of white supremacy, and the younger generation—who have been wrestling with arbitrary police and corporate power, gentrification, land-grabbing, power-grabbing in and of the black community, and arbitrary cultural power in terms of white supremacist stereotypes promoted on television, radio and so forth—has become what I call the “marvelous new militancy,” and they embody this prophetic fire.

A brief explanation of this series

This is another installment in our continuing series of blog posts in which we find a quote short enough but newsworthy enough to include on these pages and open the gates for discussion in our schools and communities. The series carries the Topics tag “Constructive Dialog” and has the goal to push for equality under the umbrella of educational opportunity for all students.

We hope, with this series, to stimulate constructive dialog between students, school officials, and caring members of our larger communities, including parents, business owners, religious organizations, and that whole “village” thing that it takes to raise a child.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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