Progressive presidential candidate Cornel West, who announced his 2024 campaign as a People’s Party candidate on June 5, has always had a lot to say on nearly everything.
But what does the philosopher, political activist, social critic, and former educator have to say about lineage-based reparations? While the former professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University and professor emeritus at Princeton University, has discussed reparations, he hasn’t had much to say on lineage-based reparations. Here are five things to know.
West, whose most influential books include “Race Matters” (1993) and “Democracy Matters” (2004), once questioned if reparations would spark a deeper discussion about American history.
In a speech in February, he said, “So the question is can we really see what the suffering has been for indigenous peoples Black Folk and others? Then can we feel it, or are we just distant from it and indifferent? And then what we’re going to do about it? To see, the feel, the act all three…so when I think about reparations, my fundamental question is who is interested in a quest for the truth about the history of this country?”
In a discussion about George Floyd, American’s decline, and reparations with journalist Roland Martin in July 2020, West discussed the difficulty of figuring out an exact amount for monetary reparations.
“Brother, I mean, part of it is people always want to reduce these kinds of such crimes against humanity to just monetary matters because America is a business culture, a market-driven culture,” he pointed out.
He added, “It’s a money-obsessed culture, but you are absolutely right to resist it…I would agree that there’s got to be some kind of repair, so some form of reparations is required, and so we’re going to have a dialogue and the dialogue has got to be a robust dialogue. We got…to bring it on the force, you got to bring us the event and tone and all the other voices that are talking about reparations.”
He continued, “But at the same time, you see, I want to talk about redistribution of wealth right into reparations and slavery Jim Crow, Jane Crow, that’s just as an American citizen.”
Providence Magazine reported that West argued in his book “Race Matters” that a class-based affirmative action perhaps makes more sense than reparations.
In an interview with The Intercept in 2019 about the then-upcoming 2020 presidential elections and his endorsement of Bernie Sanders, he said he had been pushing for reparations for “over 40 years,” but even with his support for reparations he didn’t think voters should be swayed by candidates who talk reparations.
He noted, “I’ve supported reparations. I’ve been struggling for reparations for over 40 years, but I don’t see an endorsement of reparations as the only precondition of fighting against white supremacy. There’s no doubt that his policies will benefit poor and working people and poor and working Black people and brown people more than any other candidate.”
He added, “And so, yes, when it comes to just reparations as a whole and larger dialogue certainly, I’m for it, but I hope that a lot of Black folk don’t get confused and sit back on this issue of reparations.”
Again in his explanation for endorsing Bernie Sanders in 2019, West said reparations are not the end all in supporting a candidate.
“No doubt about that, but the core is ensuring that there’s a fundamental transformation in the racist system under which we live so that the lives of black and brown, and yellow people are much better. And so, that’s the real issue. And so, it seems to me I don’t want reparations to be an issue that gets us away from him taking a stand on those issues so much better than any other of the other candidates,” he said to The Intercept.
FILE – Harvard Professor Cornel West speaks at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at the Whittemore Center Arena at the University of New Hampshire, Feb. 10, 2020, in Durham, N.H. West says he will run for president in 2024 as 3rd-party candidate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)