Cornel West calls Obama the ‘Black face of the American empire’
In an excerpt from his upcoming book, titled 'Black Prophetic Fire,' the controversial Union Theological Seminary professor claims that President Obama’s ascendancy represents a large shift of African-American leaders enmeshing themselves with the political establishment. As a result, West argues that Obama’s presidency has made it harder for African-Americans to criticize US policies which continue to make their lives difficult.
“The unprecedented historical symbolism of the first Black president has misled many if not most Black people to downplay his substantial neoliberal policies and elevate his [and his family’s] brilliant and charismatic presence,” West writes in the excerpt, which was published online by Salon.
West went on to pan Obama for policies that he claims benefit Wall Street, as well as for failing to take action on issues that affect the poor and minorities.
“The Obama presidency has been primarily a Wall Street presidency, drone presidency, mass surveillance presidency unwilling to concretely target the new Jim Crow, massive unemployment, and other forms of poor and Black social misery,” he writes. “His major effort to focus on poor Black men was charity and philanthropy — not justice or public policy.”
Additionally, West blasted the media for failing to cover stories that affect poor and minority communities, such as mass incarceration and wealth inequality.
“The central role of mass media, especially a corporate media beholden to the U.S. neoliberal regime, is to keep public discourse narrow and deodorized,” West writes. “By ‘narrow,’ I mean confining the conversation to conservative Republican and neoliberal Democrats who shut out prophetic voices or radical visions. This fundamental power to define the political terrain and categories attempts to render prophetic voices invisible.”
In an interview with Democracy Now, West elaborated on his critique of Obama’s foreign policy, comparing his legacy as a Nobel Peace Prize winner to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“In the end, Barack Obama commits war crimes in Somalia and Yemen, commits war crimes in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” West says. “And Martin Luther King Jr. tries to keep the spotlight on the war crimes, to keep track of the innocent children who were being killed, the innocent men and women who were being killed. So you get a major clash.”
“And that’s why I tell my young brothers and sisters, when they walk around with this little sweater of Martin, Malcolm and Barack Obama, I say, ‘Please. That’s like Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan and Pat Boone.’ He’s a very different tradition. We love Brother Pat, but he doesn’t belong on that shirt. And Barack Obama does not belong on that shirt.”
Notably, this isn’t the first time that West has called Obama a “war criminal.” He last did so in August, when he said that drones have killed hundreds of innocent children and accused Obama of “facilitating” the deaths of innocent Palestinians through his support for Israel.