Clarion University welcomed Dr. Cornel West for a panel discussion and lecture on Feb. 4.
West is a renowned speaker and social critic, having written such influential books as “Race Matters” and “Democracy Matters.” The University Activities Board, the MLK Committee, the Office of Minority Student Affairs and the Mary L. Seifert Cultural series sponsored these events.
He began his “Inside Politics” lecture by addressing the theme of integrity. He defined integrity as the thing missing in contemporary politics.
West called for the necessity of frank speech, classifying this as a “risky, pricey responsibility.” He added there is lack of figures of high standard, and mature moral and spiritual grounds influencing politics.
To frame his presentation, West answered questions originally posed by activist W. E. B. Dubois, quoted from goodreads.com: “How shall integrity face oppression? What shall honesty do in the face of deception, decency in the face of insult…what shall virtue do to meet brute force?”
In response to Dubois’ first question, West continued to insist on the essentiality of integrity throughout his presentation. He said politics are “more and more disproportionately governed by big money,” and “everything is for sale and everybody’s for sale.”
He continued by saying, “those who view life as a gold rush end up worshipping the golden calf.” This biblical allusion was used to reinforce his insistence that current political affairs are governed by exchanges of money and that young people, including the Clarion University students to whom he spoke, need to transcend the current culture of greed and materialism.
Elaborating on his theme of a quest for integrity, West drew a laugh from the audience in telling them, “let the phones be smart, you be wise.” West identified “smartness and dollars” as being at the top of the cultural hierarchy. He related this to injustice and still-prevalent racism experienced by black and minority communities.
West quoted statistics which reveal that 40 percent of black children live in poverty in the United States. He criticized poor distribution of American wealth, 40 percent of which is currently earned by one percent of the population.
Continuing to the second of Dubois’ queries, West identified the United States as having a “broken criminal justice system.” He said that every 28 hours for the last 10 years, a black person has been shot by the police. Such a statistic he claimed would have been addressed had the citizens shot been white.
West addressed in his concluding point the need for “transformative processes in our schools,” and sees great danger in the budget cuts for inner city public school art and music programs. He called such schools “militarized,” and adds that “rich kids get taught, poor kids get tested.”
He said these modern issues can be addressed by a reform in the integrity of politics. He sees the need for politicians and reforms that are sincere, transparent and unhindered by racial prejudices.
The MLK Committee and Office of Minority Student Affairs will co-host National African American Read-In Day, featuring poet Kirwyn Sutherland on Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. on Level A of Carlson Library. The Mary L. Seifert series will screen “Boogie Man” on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Suites on Main Theater.