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Platt writes: "West noted that the demonstrators did not cover their faces like the hooded Klansmen of the past, and many appeared to be clean-cut white men in their 30s."

Visiting professor Cornel West discusses an idea from 
W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk with his students. (photo: Eli Burakian/Dartmouth News)
Visiting professor Cornel West discusses an idea from W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk with his students. (photo: Eli Burakian/Dartmouth News)

Cornel West: I've Never Seen the Kind of Hatred I Saw in Charlottesville

By Bill Platt, Dartmouth News

21 August 17


resh from the streets of Charlottesville, Va., where he stood with activists and pastors against a rally of violent white supremacists, Cornel West stepped into a Dartmouth classroom to lead an exploration of W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of the ancient Greek idea of paideia.

“Paideia is the maturation of a soul, it is the critical cultivation of a mind, and it is the attempt to examine one’s own assumptions and presuppositions,” said the activist, social critic, and professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard Divinity School. West is a visiting professor for the summer term at Dartmouth, teaching “The Historical Philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois.”

Throughout his scholarly lecture and dialogue with students about Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, West wove in his witness to the deadly violence and racism he confronted in Charlottesville, where hundreds of white nationalists and neo-Nazis gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a city park.

“I’ve never seen that kind of hatred in its raw form, and I’ve been alive for a long time,” West said. But this is not some new phenomenon; Du Bois would not be surprised, West told his students. “The best of America ebbs and flows. The worst of America is always there—sometimes it flows.”

In Charlottesville on Saturday, as militarized groups of neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and white nationalists gathered in Emancipation Park around the statue of Robert E. Lee, clashes broke out between the white supremacists and counter protesters. Social justice activist Heather Heyer was killed and many others were injured while marching peacefully that day, when a purported neo-Nazi sympathizer allegedly plowed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Also, two state troopers dispatched to monitor the violence died when their helicopter crashed on takeoff nearby.

As President Donald Trump was holding a press conference attacking the “alt-left” as equally culpable for the violence and hatred in Charlottesville, West told his Dartmouth class he was standing with 20 clergy members and social justice activists singing This Little Light of Mine while nine military-style units of white nationalists marched past them shouting and cursing in their faces.

“We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and anti-fascists,” West said.

Speaking about the loneliness and obscurity of Du Bois at the end of his life in 1963, West invoked Heyer’s name as he listed little-known champions of the long struggle of for racial justice.

“How many will remember Sister Heather. She sided with the black people of her community and gave her life,” West said.

On Friday, the eve of the neo-fascist rally, West was speaking at a multifaith prayer service at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on the University of Virginia campus. Additional speakers included Rev. Traci Blackmon, who served on the Ferguson Commission in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown, and West’s former Harvard Divinity student Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor of religious studies at UVA and a leader of the Black Lives Matter effort to remove the statue of Lee.

As the leaders spoke against bigotry, hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists staged a surprise march to the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the UVA rotunda, across the street from the packed church, trapping the activists inside. Watching the Tiki-torch-bearing marchers, West noted that the demonstrators did not cover their faces like the hooded Klansmen of the past, and many appeared to be clean-cut white men in their 30s.

“To see so many of the white brothers who look so much like the white brothers I see in the airport, it made me look around when I flew out of Charlottesville and say, I wonder,” he said to laughter.

At Dartmouth, West begins each class with a wide-ranging lecture on Du Bois’ writing and devotes the second half to dialogue with students about their reaction to the text.

Tuesday night, one student spoke about Du Bois’ essay “The Propaganda of History,” which examines the revisionism of Reconstruction, which elevated Civil War leaders to the status of cultural heroes and obscured the enslavement of a people at the center of the Confederacy. Du Bois was addressing the same lie that inspired the white nationalists in Charlottesville, the student said.

West built on the point, saying, “Lee was part of a movement seeking the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, based on a constitution that sought the enslavement of a people in perpetuity.”

As the discussion went on, a student said she had just received an alert on her phone reporting that President Trump was defending the groups in Charlottesville who were there to protest the removal of the statue of Lee.

“I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” Trump said at a press conference in Trump Tower Tuesday night.

West was asked how he reconciled the hatred he saw on the streets of Charlottesville and the scholarly discussion of Du Bois’ ideas in his class.

“We’ve got a commitment to paideia—which is deep, courageous, critical self-cultivation—to try to be forces for good in the world. This has to do with bringing together critical intelligence, moral compassion, and intellectual humility,” West said. “That aim is the same, be it in the crisis of Charlottesville or be it in the quiet of a school room here at Dartmouth.”

The neo-Nazis and racists in Charlottesville, or even Donald Trump for that matter, are not from a different world, he said.

“The raw hatred on the street is on a continuum with a certain kind of hatred we all have inside of our hearts. So it is not as if they are outside of the human condition—they’re just representing, I think, the worst of it,” West said. “But the worst is inside of us, too. That’s why it behooves us to be more fundamentally committed to paideia so that we don’t contribute to the kind of raw hatred that’s out there and also, most importantly, we learn how to argue against it, fight against it, and for some of us, put our bodies on the line against it.” your social media marketing partner


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-24 # Depressionborn 2017-08-21 10:58
The racists should not have hurt the peaceful white guys protesting their statue removal. Very bad behaviour to hurt those you disagree with.
+8 # SHK 2017-08-22 03:12
Quoting Depressionborn:
The racists should not have hurt the peaceful white guys protesting their statue removal. Very bad behaviour to hurt those you disagree with.
Did you actually READ the article above? Oh! Maybe your comment was sarca.... naw. I get it...but you don't. Yeah, that's it!
-7 # Depressionborn 2017-08-22 15:07
i get that BLM is racism. Treating others by their supposed group is societal suicide.

get it? SHK?
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-08-21 12:28
This is a very apt description of the society we live in. You can see this level of race hate in just about every city. I see it daily when I see cops standing over the bodies of young black men prostrate on the ground. The cops are yelling orders to them not to move.

West is right to being up the greek concept of paedeia. Greek philosophers understood this term and talked a lot about it but Greek society was as racist as America. Nonetheless it is a useful concept. I would put a different emphasis on its meaning. It is more about education and raising children to be members of the polis or society. America does not do that well at all. Education in the US is scorned.

People are educated more by US popular culture than in a formal school. Formal schooling can at best be an antidote to the culture of America. America is a white supremacist culture. That may change when there are enough people who have reached the sort of self-consciousn ess and public-spirited ness that West talks about. But we are a long way from that and we are not even going in that direction.

Right now, one side is saying "you will not replace us" and the other side is chanting "we will destroy your history." Both are destructive positions.
+7 # Missrayraythegreat 2017-08-21 15:16
"We will destroy your history"... Said no one ever. I sincerely hope you are not referring to those who oppose the deployment (or removal, however you wish to look at it) of statues that glorify treason and/or white supremecy....
+11 # MidwestDick 2017-08-21 17:06
Immediately after the civil war, the Confederacy dissolved and reconstruction began. There was no celebrating a glorious past then.
Only much later after a generation had passed, a glorious history was made up out of whole cloth. This was part of a deliberate effort to undo the social and economic gains the enslaved people had made. It was not a history, it was an ephemera, made up propaganda. You can't steal something that doesn't exist.
+14 # Farafalla 2017-08-21 14:24
I just sent the DuBois book on the souls of black people to my brother,who is conservative. So happy to see that work have a central role in Cornell West's classes.
+4 # carytucker 2017-08-21 20:53
Quoting Farafalla:
I just sent the DuBois book on the souls of black people to my brother,who is conservative. So happy to see that work have a central role in Cornell West's classes.

Also, Black Reconstruction in America:1860-18 68, though it's too scholarly for my taste, is a readable and much belated counterpoint to Woodrow Wilson's acclaimed (by white people) History of the American People, which among other things viewed the KKK as a reasonable response to northern carpetbaggers, and dismissed lynching as just another crime in a lawless era. Pres Wilson was a segregationist' s segregationist. He's feel right at home today.
+7 # futhark 2017-08-21 17:00
Hatred is the commodity in which these "alt-right" groups deal. There seems to be competition among them for which can better express rejection of those deemed as inferiors. The levels of violence also seem to be boosted by an insane sense of competition for the most bones broken, the most skulls cracked, and the most lives taken. Certainly no demonstration ought to be allowed in any community in which the demonstrators are to be allowed to appear brandishing firearms. That is NOT freedom of speech, but raw physical and lethal intimidation.
-15 # Depressionborn 2017-08-22 01:08
this is gong around now. not pretty.

The VA Gov, The Mayor of Charlottesville , The Vice Mayor of Charlottesville , Charlottesville City Council, and the Charlottesville Chief of Police, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to intentionally facilitate violence against innocent people. They defied multiple Federal laws and a direct order by a Federal Judge.

They ordered police to stand down while innocent people were being attacked by radical far-left thugs. Peaceful, innocent people were ordered to march double file into two pens while heavily armed and masked Antifa/Surj/BLM activists assaulted them from both sides. Even the far-left SPLC describes the groups involved in the attacks as "having a track record for violence."

Then police ordered the same innocent people to march back through the tiny openings and into the crowd of violent Antifa to be attacked a second time! The people who did not want to walk into the attacking Antifa were sprayed with chemicals by the Charlottesville PD and then thrown out into the street to be attacked again by Antifa. This intentional mayhem led to the death of one woman and dozens of injuries. It also led to the death of two police officers who died in a helicopter crash.

At no time, were the violent attackers ever told to leave the area. In fact, police welcomed them into the pens to hold a celebration after the peaceful, lawful, permitted rally goers were violently forced out.
+3 # Diane_Wilkinson_Trefethen_aka_tref 2017-08-23 16:04
@Depressionborn - a CREDIBLE source for any of those right wingnut claims would be nice. Otherwise, your rant can be safely filed under "Lunatic".
-18 # rprichard 2017-08-22 04:22
There were many eloquent clergy lined up singing "This Little Light of Mine" in Charlottesville . Of course the only one of them who gets the leftie spotlight on RSN is Cornel West.

The reason we're in this nightmare is because the professional left media has been taken over by shock jocks like Cornel West and Bernie Sanders who pitch their we-must-reinven t-the-wheel-NOW books and otherwise commercially self-promote by tearing down everybody in the Democratic Party with a real chance of winning and governing. A couple of generations haven’t ever heard realistic progressive analysts.

Recently Cornel West was given an entire segment of Bill Maher's show to acknowledge his role in enabling the Trump presidency by cynically selling the false equivalency of Hillary and Trump. Bill Maher all too kindly tried to coax West into taking the opportunity to reboot. He refused over and over again to even discuss the damage he did. It's a sickening tragedy that the professional left media is hell bent on continuing to let him and the other shock jock bookselling Pied Pipers pretend to be progressives.
+6 # laborequalswealth 2017-08-23 14:10
A pack of white American males born after World War II, i.e. THE most privileged group of people in planetary history. And even then they are FAILURES.

But instead of "manning up", admitting they are losers and trying to do something about it, they blame the LEAST POWERFUL PEOPLE in our society instead of the most powerful who are SCREWING ALL OF US.

What a bunch of whining, cowardly, useless bums.

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