Cornel West, author, professor and political activist, promoted Restoring Hope, a book that addresses societal racism and the hope to overcome it, to a full crowd in the Marvin Center Ballroom Saturday afternoon.
“What this book is about has no room for optimism, it has no room for pessimism, it’s about hope and struggle . (For those) who have lived, who have the vision, who have the courage, who can help people pull together against the odds with no guarantee for victory,” West explained in a speech sponsored by the Progressive Student Union and Vertigo book store.
West has described himself as part of the radical democratic movement. The author called for the death of white supremacy, which he defined as white on black racism in America. He said the way to kill white supremacy is first to acknowledge that it exists, and then link it to wealth and economic inequality.
West said he sees inequality cutting deeply into today’s American society. He said he sees it in black communities, working class white neighborhoods, among women of all colors, among homosexuals and between blue collar and white collar workers.
West said his “hope” has a sense of history tied to a struggle, and this historical struggle plays an important part in America.
“I don’t call for the death of America. We’ve still got relatively free speech, that’s a blessed thing . There’s still some hope for America, but . you cannot be optimistic about America,” West said.
“America grew big, grew old, without ever growing up . If certain things do not die in America – homophobia, white supremacy, male supremacy, then we are in very deep trouble in America.”
West expressed apprehension about America’s future. But West said the future could be saved through hope.
“The framework (of Restoring Hope) is one of trying to ensure that a dialogue exemplifying a democratic sensibility goes far in the next century,” he said.
West linked democracy to jazz music. He likened an individual’s voice to a jazz musician’s individual music. Jazz music tries to get something out, as an individual should try to do with the voice, West said.
“What jazz was able to do, in form and content, was display and depict democracy in action,” he said. “You cannot be a great jazz musician without discovering your individual place.”
West is a professor of African-American studies at Harvard University and co-authored Race Matters.