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Cornel West Says Neoliberalism Has Failed Us

“We live in one of the darkest moments in American history,” Cornel West begins his new introduction to the 25th-anniversary edition of Race Matters, published on December 5, 2017. West, a philosopher, political activist, and one of America’s most provocative public intellectuals, wrote Race Matters a year after the LA race riots, which left more than 50 people dead and more than 2,000 injured in the spring of 1992.

But while West told me he was on the “edge of hope” when the book first came out, he believes that the outlook on racial relations in America is even bleaker now. Rather than citing President Trump as the problem, West calls him a “sign of our spiritual bankruptcy.” He is equally critical of President Obama, who West cites as a symbol of the neoliberal establishment, especially when it comes to his Wall Street bailout and drone strikes.

I spoke with West, currently a professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University, about why he thinks that Obama’s ascension should not be seen as a culmination of Malcolm X’s activism, the role of race in Trump’s election, and his feelings about the American flag. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

When you wrote Race Matters, it was a dark time in terms of what was happening with black Americans after the LA race riots. Now it’s 25 years later. Did you expect things would improve? Are you surprised by where the country is, in terms of racial relations?

History is always open-ended––unfinished and incomplete. I was hoping that we would be able to move in a much stronger direction that tilts towards empowering the weak and vulnerable in our society, but we’ve moved in the exact opposite direction. I was at the edge of hope when I wrote Race Matters 25 years ago. I have even less hope now, which means we just have to fight that much more intensely. There’s a sense in which hope is as much a consequence of action as it is a cause of action.

As things become more hopeless, we have to fight more intensely because of issues of integrity, honesty, decency, truth, justice. You have to choose ways of being in the world, even when it looks as if you have very little chance of being victorious at the present moment. ...

Read entire article at JStor