Cornel West tackles race, politics: Intersections keynote address fills Zankel to capacity

Posted by Max Siegelbaum

On Thursday April 6 Zankel Auditorium was at full capacity as Cornel West presented the final lecture in the Intersections Panel series, titled, "Race and Democracy in the Age of Obama."

More than 600 students, faculty and community members attended.

Audience overflow was sent to Gannet and Davis auditoriums, where the lecture was simulcasted.

West is the Class of 1943 Endowed Professor at Princeton University, where he teaches African American studies.

He is a civil rights activist and a self proclaimed "radical democrat."

West is also an author, a musician and an actor, with cameos in "The Matrix Reloaded and "The Matrix Revolution."

He is also a frequent guest on television programs such as "The Daily Show," "The Bill Maher Show," and "The Colbert Report."

The lecture began with an introduction by Acting President Susan Kress, who thanked Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Human Resources for making the lecture possible.

Professors Jennifer Delton of the history department and Michelle Rhee of the English department followed the Kress, and spoke about interactions they had with West when they were both students at Princeton.

Professor Grady-Willis ended the introduction with a list of West's accomplishments.

West began the lecture with a direct address to the audience.

"You are an intellectual jewel and a moral gem," West said, "Make no small plans."

West then said he wanted to begin on a Socratic note.

"What does it mean to be human?" he asked.

He said being human, for many, has to do with dealing with the "vicious legacies of white supremacy, which create unjust suffering."

West then said he believes the nation has to embrace race, because "sometimes color blindness leaves us more than blind."

Transitioning to the topic of current American society, West said he believes it is difficult to be courageous because of societal obsessions with wealth and status.

For past generations, West said, the general goal was to be a great person, but today the goal is to be successful.

He blames the current market driven society and culture of celebrity, West said.

West said he was fiercely critical of President Obama, who he believes is too politically moderate and does not address race aggressively enough.

"We are not post racial," West said.

West said that America has made progress, but not fully. The prison system, he said, is a massive failure, with 2.5 million people incarcerated, and 71 percent imprisoned for "soft drug" use.

West then discussed the importance of love, saying that he loves fully and unapologetically.

He said he believes that "to be human is to have a loving conscious."

West then directly addressed the audience again. "Integrity is in the kind of person you choose to be and the kind of life you choose to live."

It is important for everyone to find an individual voice for his or her self, West said.

West ended the lecture saying that he is not optimistic, but considers himself a prisoner of hope.

After the lecture ended, West participated in a question-and-answer session with the audience.

West was brought to campus by a team of faculty and administrators, including Winston Grady-Willis, Rochelle Calhoun, Muriel Posten, Herb Crossman and Mariel Martin.

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