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Race Matters

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  10,791 ratings  ·  463 reviews
In this essay collection, many of which have previously appeared in journals, West, the director of Afro-American studies at Princeton & author of several books, addresses a number of issues of concern to black Americans: the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict; Malcolm X; Clarence Thomas & Anita Hill; & black street life. These topics are all timely yet timeless in tha ...more
Paperback, 1st Vintage Books Edition, 159 pages
Published March 29th 1994 by Vintage/Random House (first published May 1st 1993)
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Kevin Shepherd
Full disclosure: I don’t come to “Race Matters” from an insightful and enlightened place. I was raised in an all-white town (infamous for the 1907 lynching of James Garden) by all-white parents who used the “N word” on a daily basis without the slightest hint of reservation or remorse. Although it was off the books long before I was born, our quaint little hamlet once had a ‘sundown law,’ meaning it was illegal for any black person to be within city limits after sunset. No joke, Henryetta Oklaho ...more
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, recs
A series of smart essays on race, class, and gender in America, Race Matters passionately critiques the imperialist state and calls for a just society liberated from oppression. In neat prose scholar Cornel West breaks down complex concepts for academics and lay readers alike, from the multilayered rhetoric of Malcolm X to Black sexuality's fraught relation to American racism, culture, and politics. West writes clearly about historical injustice and collective trauma, without oversimplifying any ...more
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Race is the most explosive issue in American life precisely because it forces us to confront the tragic facts of poverty and paranoia, despair and distrust."

Cornel West's Race matters was published twenty-seven years ago and yet it is still relevant today. Unfortunately, not much has changed in those almost three decades. 

Mr. West digs deep into the American psyche and our culture of white supremacy, seeking ways to change. He points out the problems of both the Right and the Left when it comes
Finished reading this as the George Floyd murder and protests are unfolding…

--The US has the most nuanced propaganda (Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies). How else can the richest and most well-armed empire in human history convince enough people of its “freedoms”, while even at home it literally has the highest incarceration rate/highest prison population (2+ million) and no universal healthcare?
--Freedom for capital, while the surplus population are free to r
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
West is eloquent and insightful. This book is a fast read and it's essential if you're going to engage in race talk in America. ...more
Jun 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Cornel West would probably not be offended if I pointed out that he doesn't quite have the literary talent of a W.E.B. Dubois... Who does? He doesn't have the fiery character of a Malcolm X. He comes across as someone sure of his ideas, but humble as an individual. His ideas are clear and generally well expressed, though his presentation does have a kind of dry style, like an academic essay assignment. The book does not have the kind of rigor to qualify as an analysis, and this isn't really phil ...more
Kent Winward
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
25 years later it is disheartening to realize that this book is still completely relevant. The current West/Coates feud is explained pretty well, when you realize West is pushing a much more progressive and radical agenda than Coates. Also, West takes a much broader and more accurate approach to issues of race, seeing them as a subset of larger economic and political issues. Economic inequality and corporate power only enable the continued racism and bridging the gap on these larger issues with ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Race Matters, published originally in 1993, is a book of its time, but also greatly applicable to 2011. Cornel West writes a series of essays covering the topics that most affect African-Americans in American culture, such as identity, gender, despair, sexuality, black-Jewish relations, how the political left and right have attempted to bring repair and how they have fallen short, the effects both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X had on the black community and where the African-American comm ...more
Tylor Lovins
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics-culture
This is the first Cornel West book I have read, and, in fact, it is the first piece I have read fully on the issue of race. As a white person, spending my formative years in an overwhemingly small white town, I was not exposed much to race issues. There was some mention of slavery, but it was something that was well in the past, America having progressed since the Civil Rights movement. In high school American history courses were largely focused on American foreign affairs--especially American ...more
Sep 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Humility is the fruit of inner security and wise maturity. To be humble is to be so sure of one’s self and one’s mission that one can forego calling excessive attention to one’s self and status.

The inspiration for reading occurred to early this morning as my wife and I walked across he pedestrian bridge to Louisville. That location is by the the most cosmopolitan location in the metropolitan area.

I wanted more poetry in his argumentation, though I concede that this is a primer for popular consu
Erik Graff
May 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: West's fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
One had two thesis advisors for the M.Div. program at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Mine were Ann Ulanov, representing the Psych Dept., and Cornel West, for Philosophy. Since my thesis was about Immanuel Kant's influence on C.G. Jung, and since my interest in the former had grown while my interest in the latter had diminished, its emphasis was on Transcendental Idealism and my primary concern was in truly understanding Kant. Thus I attended Cornel's class on continental philosophy and ...more
Becky Moore
Aug 03, 2011 rated it liked it
For three years, I worked as the grantwriter and public affairs officer for the, an organization supporting North Carolinians living with HIV/AIDS. My great friend and colleague, who is very active in her sorority (the Delta's), and I used to have great philosophical discussions--in our line of work, it was necessary to try and learn as much about people of all different walks of life. The more we learned and could understand, the better we were able to serve the community. So we would ...more
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in background of racial politics in the US
I read this book back in 1994, and thought West was right on target most of the time. The essays were written in plain language, rather than the jargon of political theory; I liked that they were also free of inflated hyperbole and attempts to boil down complex problems to trite slogans. Moderate, conciliatory, and thoughtful, West ably dissects superficial thinking and hypocrisy on both the right and left side of the political spectrum. Of course much of this material, written in the late 80s a ...more
Aug 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
i picked this up out of curiosity, i did not know much about cornel west. i was under the impression he was a scholar. i'm no scholar, but i know one when i read one. i do not believe this book contains much research, nor do i believe it had anything particularly profound or scholarly. the best i read in it was the way cornel west sometimes strings words/sentences together in a rhythm. other than that, he cannot hold a candle to the likes of frederick douglass, booker t. washington, or (to cover ...more
Terri Lynn
May 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
I had to read this for a doctorate class. To sum it up, white liberals are at fault for treating blacks like kids and thinking they need white taxpayers to support them, conservative whites and blacks are at fault for expecting blacks to take on personal responsibility and get an education, not commit crime, don't get pregnant until married and other acts deemed to be "white" which makes the middle class and upper class blacks who do so Uncle Toms, and being black must be the center of a black p ...more
Del Herman
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Cornel West is a radical. There can be no doubt of that. He has been outspoken during Occupy Wall Street gatherings, Black Lives Matter protests, and far-left conventions. He has called President Obama a "Rockefeller Republican in blackface" and has been almost vociferously critical of the Bush administration and American conservatism. Many of his positions I take much more moderate positions on and many of them I flat out disagree with him on. However, when I think about Cornel West, I think of ...more
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A lot of great, general, indisputable truths about being black that you (if you consciously think about race) have probably wondered, contemplated or, better yet, discussed with others.

Also a great number of truths about how the political sphere affect Black livelihood, especially that of the disadvantaged/poor. As someone who has always hungered to dig more into politics and how it affects (Black) American life, but cannot handle for too long the purposely incomprehensibly deceptive gibber-gab
Francesca Calarco
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
In Race Matters, Dr. Cornel West addresses a number of race-related issues with a collection of eight thought-provoking essays. Published in 1993, many of these explorations focus on case studies of the period. That said, given Dr. West’s progressive analyses and sensibilities, his preponderances were quite ahead of their time.

“Race” may be in the title, but at the heart of each of these essays lies a desire to understand and dismantle any type of unjust power imbalance. Given this framework, i
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
West provides a very rational discussion on the different ways that race is still significant in this country. He presents the arguments that it is not just structural discrimination, but cultural and behavioral choice that work together to create and reinforce the inner city ghetto: "The predominance of this way of life among those living in poverty-ridden conditions, with a limited capacity to ward off self-contempt and self-hatred, results in the possible triumph of the nihilistic threat in b ...more
Jul 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
A sharp and eloquent book, marred by a few loose arguments here and there. West is dead-on about many things, patiently and carefully laying out volatile issues and explaining approaches to improve them. Since this is a collection of essays, basically, some will obviously interest you more than others, but they're all worth reading and mulling over. The only weak points come at some moments in his reasoning, at which he substitutes a pat conclusion or an unsourced claim for a more carefully plan ...more
Erica Clou
Interesting nuanced views. I was especially interested in his specific ideas about capitalist consumerism and mass media pushing particular values, especially increased sexuality and violence. I was also interested in his discussion of redistribution of wealth that predominantly affects the middle class and not the poor and his short essay on Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill which stood the test of time pretty well.

West's essay about black and white sexuality reminded me a lot of some essay I read
Nov 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I so wish I was close enough to Princeton to be able to take a course or two of his there - although I hear he is moving to Union Theological Seminary soon to teach there.

Race Matters is a series of lectures exposing and criticizing the moral ethics of racism and many other isms that run side by side with racism.

The beginning story from Cornel West's real life experience in preparing this book for publication says it all. Nothing trumps the lived experience. As Bob Marley said - who feels it kno
Chris Blocker
I love hearing Brother Cornel West speak. I've long been attracted to his unique perspective, style, and eloquence. He's a very likable and dynamic scholar. And that's why I've long been eager to read some of his works.

I thought all of these wonderful qualities would translate well to text, but they really don't. West's brilliance is here, but the POW! is missing. Partly, this is because this slim volume isn't given the space that is needed. Each essay is more of a snippet of a much bigger thoug
Nov 20, 2014 rated it did not like it
Reading black historical figures (Frederick Douglas) and contemporary black conservatives (like T sowell) stimulates my mind and gives me hope for black Americans. But Cornel West likes to hear the own sound of his voice even when his arguments are shallow, unsupported by fact or even common sense, or simply hostile. I fear for our universities of higher knowledge if this man, so stuck in the past, can be a tenured professor and teach young people to fix themselves on issues of race, when most o ...more
I wish I knew more about social justice and the context in which West writes. I sense this to be an insightful work by a brilliant man but am not fully able to grasp its profundity.

What I get here is that race does indeed matter. Especially in discussions of race. While seemingly obvious, apparently this point is not as commonly accepted or widely appreciated at it seems it would be, or should be.

Definitely worth another read at some point.

James Bechtel
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the 25th anniversary edition (2017) of "Race Matters." It was originally published in 1993, shortly after the Rodney King upheaval in Los Angeles. With the new introduction the book is only about 130 pages long. But what a great 130 pages! Cornel West, of Harvard, insists that a serious discussion of race must start with the flaws in American society - inequalities, injustices, and stereotypes - racial hierarchy, the maldistribution of income and wealth, and the arbitrary maldistribution ...more
Jan 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If I could give this book six stars I would! While reading it, I was washed with a wave of mixed emotions. On one hand, I found myself in complete admiration of Cornel West's brilliance and eloquence in laying bare the issues of race, sex, class, and capital in America. I found it amazing that his arguments still hold up 28 years after the book was written. On the other hand, reading it 28 years after it was written and having it still be so relevant was demoralizing. Despite this, West's hopefu ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There were some amazing and incredible insights about the content of a person's character and the voice of Dr. Cornel West of the past decade was brought to life through this entire narrative. The chapter that was most prevalent was the one on public prejudices and private prejudices and recognizing the differences between how people behave toward each other base on Race.

Reading Dr. Cornel West's book while in a state that has a lower literacy rate than most of the United States was a valiant ef
Feb 10, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some parts didn't age well/are a bit dated, but overall the points West discusses are still at the forefront, 17 years later. Sadly. ...more
Oct 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
"Race Matters" is probably the most sincere opinion piece about race that I've ever read. Dr. Cornel West does a great job of removing himself from the role of "the victim," which would have been understandable as he begins his series of essays with a brief recollection of his experience with racial profiling. Personally, I've experienced few incidences of racism in my life, but I can write about the myriad of ableistic incidences I've experienced. Dr. West writes about the notion of nihilism an ...more
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Cornel Ronald West is an American scholar and public intellectual. Formerly at Harvard University, West is currently a professor of Religion at Princeton. West says his intellectual contributions draw from such diverse traditions as the African American Baptist Church, Marxism, pragmatism, transcendentalism, and Anton Chekhov.

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“Of course, the aim of a constitutional democracy is to safeguard the rights of the minority and avoid the tyranny of the majority. (p. 102)” 64 likes
“My aim is not to provide excuses for black behavior or to absolve blacks of personal responsibility. But when the new black conservatives accent black behavior and responsibility in such a way that the cultural realities of black people are ignored, they are playing a deceptive and dangerous intellectual game with the lives and fortunes of disadvantaged people. We indeed must criticize and condemn immoral acts of black people, but we must do so cognizant of the circumstances into which people are born and under which they live. By overlooking these circumstances, the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming black poor people for their predicament. It is imperative to steer a course between the Scylla of environmental determinism and the Charybdis of a blaming-the-victims perspective.

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