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“Do We Have What It Takes, America?”

cornel west
Written by Cindy A Matthews

Dr. Cornel West spoke recently to a packed ballroom at Bowling Green State University.

The noted author, scholar, lecturer, and former surrogate for both the Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein presidential campaigns, held the audience’s undivided attention for two and a half hours. His insights on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., challenged previously-held misconceptions of King as “tame, domesticated.” Instead, West enjoined, “Don’t view him [King] as a static icon in a museum–he’s a wave in an ocean.”

It is often forgotten that in spite of King being seen by most Americans as a proponent of non-violent protest and an ordained Baptist minister, he was labeled by the FBI as one of the most dangerous men in America. Why? Dr. West thinks it’s because King was a “love warrior” and never forgot his true mission in life was to break through our materialistic society’s indifference to evil.

King never stopped seeking justice for those who were oppressed and to expose evil for what it was.  “Justice is what love looks like in public,” Dr. West said, noting, “What kind of human will we choose to be?”

By resisting “deodorized discourse,” King made people feel “unnerved, unsettled, uncomfortable.” Today, King is seen as a threat to our commercialized society, which wants to feel good at all costs and never uncomfortable. Dr. West, in MLK’s tradition, challenged us to see through the “American lie” that somehow people are “self-made.”

“Did you give birth to yourself?” Dr. West joked, but turning serious he remarked how we are all molded and shaped by bigger things about us–our family, society, culture.

The U.S. government saw danger in King’s message of how militarism, commercialism, and racism were sucking the energy out of our democracy. King saw the connection between militarism and poverty and he spoke out against the travesty of the Vietnam War. He sought “justice for righteousness.”

Dr. West states that our task today is to remain tender in the midst of our market-driven culture by practicing “spiritual warfare.” We can’t live through the lives of the rich and famous. We need to seek justice–not revenge. Our motto should be: “I don’t have a minute to hate–I will seek justice.”

West urged us to stay on the “love train” or “justice train.” Power without compassion crushes the weak, but Martin Luther King, Jr., whispers, “Interrupt the cycle of hatred, oppression, and exploitation.”

King’s dream was not the American dream, but was rooted in it. It is a dream from one who has dealt with the debilitating effects of Jim Crow for decades. The “pretty words” on our sacred documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were written by slave owners and those who condoned slavery. Dr. West says we must “critique the worst to bring out the best.” King spoke frankly. “We must come to terms with poverty,” is what the civil rights leader was saying, according to Dr. West.

Martin Luther King, Jr., declared no democracy can survive with escalating poverty, militarism, racism, and xenophobia. Dr. West sees that the challenge we face today is how to instill empathy. We’ve had a “rude awakening” under Trump, but perhaps it will awaken empathy for our brothers and sisters, West hopes, “shattering the sleepwalking, hardened hearts” who scapegoat the poor, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, Latinos, Native Americans, and others.

“When you love folks, you wanna do something,” says Dr. West.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “was a blues man with a Christian twist.” Dr. West states that we can learn from blues people and prevent ourselves from falling into the pit. The question is, “Do we have what it takes, America?”


Bio: Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of Our Revolution Continues blog:


  • You can keep trying to saddle me with the grievances you’ve been carrying around for the last century or more. You can keep on carrying those grievances for another century. It makes no difference to me.
    I’ve worked for everything I have. The fruits of MY labor will be enjoyed by MY family.
    There will be NO reparations. As you say, I am part of the majority culture.
    You’d best get over the past and get to work for yourself and your family.

    Hey, quick question: South Chicago. For almost a decade, a few hundred miles to the west of that city there was an energy boom going on: anybody with a willingness to work could go there and make good money. Blue collar work, tough jobs, little education required. I don’t remember a mass exodus from the South side to the oil patch.
    I mention this because, like millions of Americans, I’ve picked up and moved a long way to find work and avoid dependency.
    Just wondering.

    • Why does this type always presume ppl of color have less than them and are in search of a handout? Disabuse yourself of the notion that you might have anything desired by anyone other than your family.

      American history is what it is yet you use the word grievances as if these things did not occur. Your statements were flawed. I pointed that out with facts. When you are prepared to address the inconsistencies in your comments get back to me. But until then, please do not presume… For some “unknown reason” (that’s a euphemism, I actually do know the word for it) ppl such as yourself presume ppl who look like me are dependent. Nope. Wrong yet again. I rely myself for the things I need or want. And I’ve never had to move long distances to remain gainfully employed. Hmmm…makes me wonder why you’ve had to do so?

  • I am appalled and amused that after reading an article about centuries of this country’s inhumane and shameful history of enslavement and discrimination that led Dr. ML King (and many other people of conscience) to fight for just treatment of all citizens, you refer to “the fruits of the labor of others” without even a HINT of irony.
    If you have no respect for people who demand “the fruits of the labors of others” than BY YOUR OWN ADMISSION you should be in favor of reparations or any other remedy to those whose lands were stolen, who were moved onto reservations, whose access to clean water is even now being threatened and those whose ancestors were enslaved? Apologies, and/or reparations for war crimes and human rights violations have been paid by Austria, Italy, Finland, Hungary, France, Canada, South Africa, Germany, Great Britain, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil (and this list is not exhaustive). So, why not the US for hundreds of years of enslavement in chattel slavery followed by decades of discrimination? The US has paid reparations to Japanese-Americans for their forced resettlement in internment camps during WWII, so it isn’t like it’s never been done. But now I’ve gotten off track…
    Enslavement is the ultimate mechanism for building wealth on other people’s labor. Add to that a well-documented legal maneuvers and culturally accepted behaviors to discriminate and marginalize minority populations through Jim Crow, gerrymandering of voting districts, and illegal banking practices and oh-so-much more, you claim (without a shred of supporting evidence, mind you) that every aspect of American life has favored black and brown people for 50 years. This, as legal actions to limit even our right to vote were put forth with such blatant racial bias, judges had to intervene. Because, at the end of the day, no group in this country benefits more from the way things are, and have been, run than the majority culture. Full stop.

  • RGATH — You are one seriously sad and twisted individual. I feel very sorry for you. You must have had a horrible childhood to spout such evil things in a public forum. Please get some counseling. You’ll feel better.

    Dr. West is one of the more erudite and inspiring individuals on the planet. He is worth listening to and he’s talking about another great inspirational leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Listen to Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech sometime and you’ll see. At least, most of humanity hopes you do. After all, God made us all and loves us all the same. Don’t be afraid of other people who don’t look exactly like you do–trust in God’s plan for us all to live as brothers and sisters no matter what we look like.

    To quote Cornel West: “Get on the love train!”

    • Save your insults, your leftist tactic of silencing people with insults doesn’t work anymore, we’re not listening.
      The sub-text of West’s message is “reparations”. MLK was explicit in HIS demand for reparations.
      I can respect people who will organize and march for jobs. I have no respect for people who demand the fruits of the labor of others.
      The “love train” thing is unfortunate. Or have you forgotten that MLK was a notorious womanizer? I guess it doesn’t matter- so was Bill Clinton.

  • We’ve had fifty years, two generations, of quotas favoring dark skin pigmentation, in every aspect of our national life: education, jobs, housing, etc.
    Fifty years of pouring billions of dollars into places like Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago.
    Apparently all that doesn’t demonstrate that “we have what it takes”, whatever that means.
    What’s next? Complete expropriation of the nasty white folks with their nasty, racist white Constitution?
    I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    • The quotas you mention have done more to improve the conditions of white women than ANY other group of Americans. So, unless you expand your definition of who is favored by “dark skin pigmentation” to include that group, your statements are simply not grounded in facts.
      Take a look at where the most Federal assistance money goes (and has gone for some time) to help the poorest among us. It is not the urban areas noted above and based on the numbers there are also a whole lot of white people who are unemployed or under-employed.
      People are in the streets asking for fair and equitable treatment under the law; equal pay for equal work; protection from police brutality; truth from elected officials and you go to “Complete expropriation of the nasty white folks with their nasty, racist white Constitution”. Please just stop with the strawman hypotheticals.

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About the author

Cindy A Matthews

Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of The Bernie Blog.