The Washington Post

Cornel West on Obama is no better than a birther

Challenging the president’s progressive credentials in that Truthdig interview, West slammed the president as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.” And then there was this:

“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West said. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. . . . When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening.”

“Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive,” West said. “He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.”

The Nov. 16, 1995, Daily News front page. (Daily News)

At an opening reception for the new Washington offices of the National Action Network last night, the Rev. Al Sharpton addressed all this without mentioning West by name. “[I]f you’re trying to achieve something you’re strategic,” he said. “If you’re just trying to play to get some cheap applause then you just vent, holler, scream and go back home.”

Sharpton urged African Americans to hold Obama accountable but not in a way that undermines him. “I’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “We had the first black mayor of New York, David Dinkins. And we got mad every time he went to a non-black event and we pouted until some of us didn’t vote, he lost and we got eight years of Giuliani.” He went on to say, “We fought to have a real president,” Sharpton told me. “We want him accountable, but we don’t want him to be accountable to us any differently than anyone else so that it’d be used against him and us.”

“There are those that are not capable of getting their head around the fact that [Obama is] the president of the United States and that he has to deal with that and deal with every constituency group that way,” Sharpton continued. “Many of them are so caught in their own insecurities and egos, there’s no strategy. You’re dealing with a climate that [Obama’s critics] would even question his birth certificate, what would make you think that if he wrote out a ‘Black Agenda’ from him that they would accept that from him? That’s absurd.”

And what about the charge that Obama isn’t black enough? “First of all, who’s saying that? And who defines what is black enough?” Sharpton asked before rattling off a list of things Obama has done or is attempting to do in the areas of education, poverty and unemployment that have helped Americans, blacks in particular. “So, from black farmers to black colleges, a lot is being done,” he said. “More needs to be done. But, again, I think that there are those that have gone in the industry of being the blacks against Obama rather than trying to help the black community.”

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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