Over the past several months, Dr. Cornel West has been vocal in his disapproval of President Barack Obama, as well as Dr. West’s fellow intellectuals and cultural commentators Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Rev. Al Sharpton. Speaking last year in regard to President Obama’s 2013 inauguration, Dr. West stated, “We saw, of course, the coronation of the bonafide house Negro of the Obama plantation, our dear brother Al Sharpton, supported by the Michael Dysons and others who’ve really prostituted themselves intellectually in a very ugly and vicious way.”
As he spoke about the state of black intellectualism at Rev. Sharpton’s National Action Network Conference yesterday (April 10th), Dr. Dyson addressed Dr. West’s criticisms.
“The prophetic temptation is to believe your voice is the only voice,” said Dr. Dyson. “[You think that] your vision is the only vision. That’s what makes you a genius at a certain level. That’s the nature of genius — but you’re tripping, because you’re not the only one.”
“I don’t see [humility] in a lot of Negroes talking. They act like it’s ‘my way or the highway’ — you ain’t Frank Sinatra!” he continued. “Howard Thurman said, ‘You can go to the Atlantic Ocean, you can dip your glass into the Atlantic Ocean and it may be full of the Atlantic Ocean — but it ain’t all of the Atlantic Ocean. So stop thinking that your way is the only way. It may be a great way, it may be a powerful way that works for you, but one size don’t [sic] fit all. So be honest and humble in genuine terms — not the public performance of humility masquerading a huge ego. No amount of hair can cover that.”
After insinuating that he was referring to Dr. West, Dr. Dyson spoke about his contemporary directly.
“I’ve probably known him longer than anybody on this panel. Hung out with him,” Dyson said. “I’ve been a victim of his vicious assaults in public. I’ve held my powder. That ain’t my usual nature. [Dr. Farah Griffin] called me up and I listened to Farah. Because she loves us both [and was] trying to negotiate a cease of hostilities. But I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t hurt for you to call me a sellout because I disagree with you. You can be ‘ride-or-die,’ but while you’re riding — see who your vehicle is rolling over.”
Dr. Dyson voiced his belief that Dr. West’s criticisms of President Obama stem from his personal vendetta against the president after West felt that he had been “snubbed.” Dr. West did not receive an invitation to Obama’s 2013 inauguration after attending the president’s first inauguration in 2009. One of West’s major criticisms has centered on his belief that the White House is not providing access to those working for civic and legislative causes.
“With [former President] Bill Clinton, you’re rhapsodizing about access [to the White House] — if access is a problem, it was a problem then. Not because you didn’t get a ticket to go to the inauguration for Obama!” Dr. Dyson stated emphatically. “I’m not talking about just [West], he ain’t the only one. But since he’s been public about it, here’s my response to [his criticism]: I love you, but you can’t talk about love and act unlovingly. It’s the personal assault on Obama that I found problematic, not the principled critique. I’m not mad at principled critique, but you still could be wrong. But when you start indicting my soul like I’ve given my soul over to Obama or the devil — now you’re tripping. You ain’t that important. You’re not God to be able to leverage the divine assignment of privilege or punishment.”