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Race Matters Race Matters by Cornel West
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Race Matters Quotes (showing 1-30 of 35)
“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.



Cornel West, Race Matters
“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)”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power. We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other's throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks. We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation--and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be "white"-- they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity. (p. 107-108)”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“To be a jazz freedom fighter is to attempt to galvanize and energize world-weary people into forms of organization with accountable leadership that promote critical exchange and broad reflection. The interplay of individuality and unity is not one of uniformity and unanimity imposed from above but rather of conflict among diverse groupings that reach a dynamic consensus subject to questioning and criticism. As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group--a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so. (p. 109)”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“The need of black conservatives to gain the respect of their white peers deeply shapes certain elements of their conservatism. In this regard, they simply want what most people want, to be judged by the quality of their skills, not by the color of their skin. But the black conservatives overlook the fact that affirmative action policies were political responses to the pervasive refusal of most white Americans to judge black Americans on that basis.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“And every historic effort to forge a democratic project has been undermined by two fundamental realities: poverty and paranoia. The persistence of poverty generates levels of despair that deepen social conflict the escalation of paranoia produces levels of distrust that reinforce cultural division. Rae 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. In short, a candid examination of race matters takes us to the core of the crisis of American democracy (p. 107).”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“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.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“… the major enemy of black survival in America has been and is neither oppression nor exploitation but rather the nihilistic threat—that is, loss of hope and absence of meaning. For as long as hope remains and meaning is preserved, the possibility of overcoming oppression stays alive. The self-fulfilling prophecy of the nihilistic threat is that without hope there can be no future, that without meaning there can be no struggle.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“How does one undermine the framework of racial reasoning? By dismantling each pillar slowly and systematically. The fundamental aim of this undermining and dismantling is to replace racial reasoning with moral reasoning, to understand the black freedom struggle not as an affair of skin pigmentation and racial phenotype but rather as a matter of ethical principles and wise politics, and to combat the black nationalist attempt to subordinate the issues and interests of black women by linking mature black self-love and self-respect to egalitarian relations within and outside black communities. The failure of nerve of black leadership is its refusal to undermine and dismantle the framework of racial reasoning.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“QUALITY leadership is neither the product of one great individual nor the result of odd historical accidents. Rather, it comes from deeply bred traditions and communities that shape and mold talented and gifted persons. Without a vibrant tradition of resistance passed on to new generations, there can be no nurturing of a collective and critical consciousness—only professional conscientiousness survives.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“We need serious strategic and tactical thinking about how to create new models of leadership and forge the kind of persons to actualize these models.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“King never confined himself to being solely the leader of black America—even though the white press attempted to do so.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“This market way of life promotes addictions to stimulation and obsessions with comfort and convenience.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“Where there is no vital community to hold up precious ethical and religious ideals, there can be no coming to a moral commitment—only personal accomplishment is applauded.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“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. And, even more pointedly, to be humble is to revel in the accomplishments or potentials of others -- especially those with whom one identifies and to whom one is linked organically.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“Without some redistribution of wealth and power, downward mobility and debilitating poverty will continue to drive people into desperate channels. And without principled opposition to xenophobias from above and below, these desperate channels will produce a cold-hearted and mean-spirited America no longer worth fighting for or living in.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“Racial reasoning conceals these presuppositions behind a deceptive cloak of racial consensus—yet racial reasoning is seductive because it invokes an undeniable history of racial abuse and racial struggle.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“Only a visionary leadership that can motivate "the better angels of our nature," as Lincoln said, and activate possibilities for a freer, more efficient, and stable America -- only that leadership deserves cultivation and support. / This new leadership must be grounded in grassroots organizing that highlights democratic accountability. Whoever our leaders will be as we approach the twenty-first century, their challenge will be to help Americans determine whether a genuine multiracial democracy can be created and sustained in an era of global economy and a moment of xenophobic frenzy.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“Like alcoholism and drug addiction, nihilism is a disease of the soul. It can never be completely cured, and there is always the possibility of relapse. But there is always a chance for conversion -- a chance for people to believe that there is hope for the future and a meaning to struggle... Nihilism is not overcome by arguments or analyses; it is tamed by love and care.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“The black conservatives claim that the decline of values such as patience, deferred gratification, and self-reliance have resulted in the high crime rates, the increasing number of unwed mothers, and the relatively uncompetitive academic performances of black youth. And certainly these sad realities must be candidly confronted. But nowhere in their writings do the new black conservatives examine the pervasiveness of sexual and military images used by the mass media and deployed by the advertising industry in order to entice and titillate consumers. Black conservatives thus overlook the degree to which market forces of advanced capitalist processes thrive on sexual and military images.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“The new black conservatives claim that transfer payments to the black needy engender a mentality of dependence which undercuts the value of self-reliance and of the solidity of the black poor family. They fail to see that the welfare state was a historic compromise between progressive forces seeking broad subsistence rights and conservative forces arguing for unregulated markets. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the welfare state possesses many flaws. The reinforcing of 'dependent mentalities' and the unsettling of the family are two such flaws. But simply to point out these rather obvious shortcomings does not justify cutbacks in the welfare state. In the face of high black unemployment, these cutbacks will not promote self-reliance or strong black families but will only produce even more black cultural disorientation and more devastated black households. This is so because without jobs or incentives to be productive citizens the black poor become even more prone toward criminality, drugs, and alcoholism- the major immediate symptoms of the pervasive black communal and cultural chaos.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“The prevailing discriminatory practices during the sixties, whose targets were working people, women, and people of color, were atrocious. Thus, an enforceable race-based -- and later gender based -- affirmative action policy was the best possible compromise and concession. Progressives should view affirmative action as neither a major solution to poverty nor a sufficient means to equality. We should see it as primarily playing a negative role -- namely, to ensure that discriminatory practices against women and people of color are abated. Given the history of this country, it is a virtual certainty that without affirmative action, racial and sexual discrimination would return with a vengeance. Even if affirmative action fails significantly to reduce black poverty or contributes to the persistence of racist perceptions in the workplace, without affirmative action, black access to America's prosperity would be even more difficult to obtain and racism in the workplace would persist anyway.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“If there were social democratic redistributive measures that wiped out black poverty, and if racial and sexual discrimination could be abated through the good will and meritorious judgments of those in power, affirmative action would be unnecessary. Although many of my liberal and progressive citizens view affirmative action as a redistributive measure whose time is over or whose life is no longer worth preserving, I question their view because of the persistence of discriminatory practices that increase black social misery, and the warranted suspicion that good will and fair judgment among the powerful does not loom as large toward women and people of color.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“The paradox of race in America is that our common destiny is more pronounced and imperiled precisely when our divisions are deeper.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“Needless to say, this fragile experiment began by taking for granted the ugly conquest of Amerindians and Mexicans, the exclusion of women, the subordination of European working-class men and the closeting of homosexuals. These realities made many of the words of the revolutionary Declaration of Independence ring a bit hollow. yet the enslavement of Africans -- over 20 percent of the population -- served as the linchpin of American democracy; that is, the much-heralded stability and continuity of American democracy was predicated upon black oppression and degradation. Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be "white -- they would be only Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and others engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“nihilistic”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“racial reasoning discourages moral reasoning.”
Cornel West, Race Matters
“This failure of nerve already was manifest in the selection and confirmation process of Clarence Thomas. Bush's choice of Thomas caught most black leaders off guard. Few had the courage to say publicly that this was an act of cynical tokenism concealed by outright lies about Thomas being the most qualified candidate regardless of race. Thomas had an undistinguished record as a student (mere graduation from Yale Law School does not qualify one for the Supreme Court); he left thirteen thousand age discrimination cases dying on the vine for lack of investigation in his turbulent eight years at the EEOC; and his performance during his short fifteen months as an appellate court judge was mediocre. The very fact that no black leader could utter publicly that a black appointee for the Supreme Court was unqualified shows how captive they are to white racist stereotypes about black intellectual talent. The point here is not simply that if Thomas were white they would have no trouble shouting this fact from the rooftops. The point is also that their silence reveals that black leaders may entertain the possibility that the racist stereotype may be true.”
Cornel West, Race Matters

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