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Cornel West Lacks 'Faith' in 'Progressive Vision' of Black Caucus

Dr. Cornel West participates in a panel during the PBS Television Critics Association summer press tour on July 29, 2016, in Beverly Hills. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

WASHINGTON – Political activist Dr. Cornel West said he does not have a “tremendous amount of faith” in the “progressive vision” of the Congressional Black Caucus, telling PJM that he believes the group of lawmakers is on the wrong side of several issues.

West called for a “multi-racial coalition” that can work to “transform” America’s “capitalist civilization into a more democratic socialist one.” He also said there should be a “more serious conversation” in the U.S. about reparations for descendants of African-American slaves.

In response to a question at a recent press conference, President Trump said he was open to meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus and the two parties are reportedly going to meet soon. When asked if he would like to see Trump and the CBC meet, West described the group as “neo-liberal.”

“They’re too friendly to Wall Street. Too many of the campaigns come out of the Wall Street entities and therefore they are not free enough to really speak to the issue of poverty. They haven’t made poverty a major priority, and that’s the legacy of Martin King and the others,” he told PJM following a news conference with Hashim Nzinga, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, and Malik Zulu Shabazz, national president of Black Lawyers for Justice, at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

“Too many are tied to the privatizing orientations of the public schools. That’s made it very difficult to sustain the kind of quality of public schooling and public life when it comes to poor people in general, black poor people, children in particular,” he added.

West also said members of the CBC have been too quiet on foreign policy issues and have shown “no righteous indignation” of U.S. drone strikes.

“When it comes to the Middle East, when it comes to Libya, when it comes to drone strikes, we haven’t heard their voices and it’s a moral, spiritual issue, you see,” West said.

Nzinga was critical of Trump’s meetings with musician Kanye West and television host Steve Harvey.

“Anytime you’ve got a president who brings Kanye West, Steve Harvey, Jim Brown, Ray Lewis to the White House but he isn’t bringing no mayors, he isn’t bringing no congressmen, he isn’t bringing no senators, he isn’t bringing no economic developers, then he’s playing with you,” Nzinga said.

Cornel West said he would be opposed to Trump and the CBC meeting if it became a “version of window dressing” that “reproduces the same invisibility to black suffering” that exists in public policy.

“If it looks as if [Trump] is in some way serious about making available significant resources and the Congressional Black Caucus has enough courage to bring power and pressure to bear on him to make sure those resources get to poor and working people, then I am open to it – but these days, you see, we live in a culture of superficial spectacle, and so many politicians want to engage in symbolic gestures and spectacle with very little substance. And that’s what I mean by window dressing,” West said.

“So I am not excited about it but if they are open to it, fine, but I don’t have a tremendous amount of faith in the progressive vision of the Congressional Black Caucus because they tend, at times, to be a little bit too willing to fit into the neo-liberal politics… that neo-politics also renders invisible the suffering of black poor and working people,” he added.

West continued, “The one percent continues to breakdance on their way to the bank, the stock market breaking records as levels of unemployment and underemployment continue to be, I think, obscene even as the statistics don’t reflect it. The statistics lie as well. They don’t really reflect the suffering of working and poor people.”

West, professor of philosophy at Union Theological Seminary in New York, also weighed in on the illegal immigration debate. President Trump and some Republican lawmakers have argued that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs away from African-Americans and other minorities who are living here legally. West shared his reaction to their argument.

“I think that’s true in a very limited sense but it’s not a reason for us not to be in solidarity with the undocumented immigrant people, especially from Mexico but from anywhere, because in many ways it’s more of a moral and spiritual question than a matter of just economic calculation,” he said.

“Once you allow undocumented immigrants to be demonized like that then it goes to other groups. You’ve got Muslims, you’ve got Jews, you’ve got Arabs, you’ve got black folks, you’ve got red folks, gays, lesbians, so it becomes a matter of setting a whole atmosphere and tone of xenophobia and that haunts all of us in the end, very much so,” he added.

During the news conference, West was asked if he supported African-Americans coming together to create a “nation within a nation.”

“I don’t like to dictate – as an older brother – as to how young people lift their voices. I just want them to know that my attempt to lift my voice, I hope, has been one they might find some insight and inspiration as they find their voice,” West said.

“My own option is to make sure there’s a dialogue in which people who opt for a nation within a nation so that black self-determination can flower and flourish – I say, ‘I’ll support you.’ My own orientation is a multi-racial united front against neo-fascism called Trump, a multi-racial coalition to try to transform a capitalist civilization into a more democratic socialist one, so what does that mean? That means there’s overlap,” he added.

West vowed to visit Washington in the future to support the “Recovery Act,” which was proposed by former D.C. council candidate John Cheeks, head of the United States Citizens Recovery Initiative Alliance Inc. The act includes reparations for descendants of African-American slaves.

PJM mentioned that actor Danny Glover advocated for reparations for Afro- descendants in a speech at the Organization of American States last year. West said there needs to be a “serious” dialogue about some form of reparations.

“We need a more serious conversation on reparations and I’m serious about this Recovery Act. It’s the first time I’ve heard about it and I can’t wait to come back down here,” he said.

When asked how he would like to see reparations implemented, West said, “It depends on what the people come up with. I don’t think it’s going to be direct [payments]. It will probably be in the form of some kind of social support – some kind of social inheritance – there’s got to be a variety of different mechanisms, but I’m fighting for the principle and once we can agree on the principle then we can come up with ways that are fair but, most importantly, are empowering to people, definitely.”