Cornel West sparks spirited discussion about democracy at Dartmouth on 25th anniversary of ‘Race Matters’
According to Valley News, Dr. Cornel West and other activists came to Dartmouth’s campus as part of a celebration of the twenty-five year anniversary of the release of arguably West’s most important sociological text, Race Matters. During this celebration, West engaged in a spirited debate about the nature of humanity living in a dark and unfamiliar time.
“You ought to expect darkness and bleakness because that’s the kind of human beings we are,” West argued. “But we always have the capacity to spread some form of steadfast love, some form of loving kindness to the vulnerable, and to do it in such a way that we still can have a smile on our faces.”
The conversation soon turned to politics, and specifically whether or not American democracy has failed. Kimberlyn Leary, associate professor Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.C. Chan School of Public Health said that the promise of democracy has often been touted for its potential to change or transform, but that transformation remains elusive.
“This is the ideal, this is the goal, we’re falling short and what can we do instead?” Leary continued, “It seems now, at this particular moment in time, that this is an increasingly empty call, as though the expectation that democracy could stand for something, that it is a goal is now more sharply in question than perhaps at other times.”
West, in his response to the prompt, characterized democracy, particularly American democracy, as a “relative failure” remarking that “It’s a process and it moves forward, moves back,” before commenting that it has really only been within the last 150 years that America has tried to include women and Black people in its political system.
However, Leary, who in addition to being a professor at the mentioned institutions also works as a clinical psychoanalyst, says that hope is a powerful motivator:
“When enough time goes by, it’s not uncommon for (a patient) to try out a bit of hope. And the hope isn’t necessarily for transformation, it’s just for another go at it, another bit of strength, another effort,” Leary explained. “And that always feels precious whenever it happens.”
West also believes deeply in the transformative power of hope, as he noted using an illustration of watching a sick loved one battle a sickness:
“Hope is a form of love, which means that if you love your mama and she has every chance of making it, you’re not making utilitarian calculations of some kind of cost-benefit analysis as to whether you’re with her every minute, pushing every second because you love her,” he said. “You hold out hope until the full closure sets.”
Dartmouth also attempted to broach the issue of race relations on campus, and Reggie Williams, a 1976 graduate of the university, sparked that conversation by saying:
“I love Dartmouth more than anyone in this room because Dartmouth is the reason that I’ve enjoyed so much individual success, [But] “I’m embarrassed about the Dartmouth Review. I’m embarrassed about Dinesh D’Souza… As much as I love this place, there’s parts of it that totally give me the chills.”
West remarked that nearly every college needs to reckon with their own histories of racism before responding to Williams’ comments:
“The worst of Dartmouth is as American as apple pie… And the best of Dartmouth is as American as apple pie.”