Cornel West: ‘It Looks Like The American System Can’t Reform Itself, We’ve Tried Black Faces In High Places’

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Written by Ann Brown
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Harvard Prof. Cornel West on the state of America: “It looks like the American system can’t reform itself. We’ve tried Black faces in high places.” Cornel West speaks next to Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader of the Great Sioux Nation, during an interfaith ceremony at the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Harvard Divinity School professor Cornel West is publicly saying what many people are questioning. Can the U.S. really change? Will the protests lead to a more equal and safer society?

West spoke of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis cop, of the protests, and of the unaddressed inequality that continues to grow in America during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

“I think we are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” West said. “This is 400 years of Black people having to come to terms with these kinds of vicious murders and attacks”

The U.S. system is not set up to provide equally for all its citizens, according to West.

“The history of Black people in America for over 200 years has been looking at America’s failures,” he added. “Its capitalist economy could not generate and deliver in such a way that people could live lives of decency. Its criminal justice system, its legal system could not generate protection of rights and liberties…so when you get this perfect storm of all these multiple failures on these different levels of the American empire…and Martin King already told us about that…I could see Martin saying, ‘I told you about militarism, I told you about poverty, I told you about materialism, I told you about racism in all its forms, I told you about xenophobia.’

“What we have seen in America is the chickens coming home to roost. You’re reaping what you sow.”

The result of the U.S. ignoring these issues for decades has led to the current situation, West said.

“What you have is Brother George (Floyd), and it is so clear it is a lynching…And I thank God we have people in the streets… you have a younger generation of all these colors, genders, sexual orientations saying, ‘We won’t take it any longer.’ But what’s sad though, Brother, at the deepest level, it looks as if the system can’t reform itself.

“We’ve tried Black faces in high places,” West said. “Too often our Black politicians, professional class, middle class become too accommodated to our capitalist economy, too accommodated to the militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture tied with celebrity status, power, fame — all of that superficial stuff.”

In a different interview with Fox News, Chris Wallace asked West if he believed the U.S. had made any progress on racial issues, reminding viewers that the U.S. elected and re-elected its first African American president, The Hill reported.

“I’m not saying there hasn’t been progress,” West answered. But he also repeated the Malcolm X quote: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress.”

West described to Fox News how the current crisis is one where we are witnessing the collapse of “the legitimacy of leadership.”

“What we’re seeing here is the ways in which the vicious legacy of white supremacy manifests in organized hatred, greed and corruption,” West said. “We’re witnessing the collapse of the legitimacy of leadership, the political class, the economic class, the professional class — that’s the deeper crisis.

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“The problem is we have a system that’s not responding and seems to be unable to respond,” West added.

“I don’t measure Black progress in terms of Black elites … I’m concerned about the least of these,” he added. “That’s the tradition of Martin Luther King.”