Talk on race, democracy ‘gives hope’

Talk on race, democracy ‘gives hope’

By Maggie Cassidy

American individuals need to form their own personal identities, Dr. Cornel West said in a lecture at Blackman Auditorium Thursday night.

“There’s no future of American democracy without raising those questions about what it is to be human,” said West, a professor of religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University and the author of 17 books. His latest book is “Race Matters.”

Hundreds of students from Northeastern, Boston and the surrounding region attended the lecture, along with professors and community members who turned out to hear West’s ideas on race, oppression and democracy. His theories, which he has formulated and expressed since the 1970s, stem from Baptism, transcendentalism, socialism and pragmatism, he said.

“When I hear people like him speak, he gives hope,” said DuJuan Chowning, a freshman communications major. “Especially being a minority in an institution where there’s not a lot of faces that look like me, he gives me hope to keep on pushing and to strive for greatness. To see someone up there who speaks so profoundly, it lets you know that you can accomplish something.”

West urged the audience to “locate yourself in a narrative larger than you” and ask questions like, “What kind of human do I want to be?”

He said these questions were especially important during “serious times” in places like Boston, where killings – particularly among minorities – are on the rise.

He also spoke of the “246 years of social death known as American slavery” and the disadvantages the time period caused for many blacks today, saying some racial problems still exist.

“White supremacists intimidate [minorities] so they remain deferential to the powers that be,” he said, a process he termed “niggerization.”

But he urged the repressed not to give up hope, saying hope is the key to the “deniggerization” and independence of the black community. He suggested minorities express themselves through new outlets like hip-hop, and applauded artists like Erykah Badu and Talib Kweil for using music for deep messages, not just good beats.

“He didn’t try to downplay our youth,” Chowning said. “He didn’t try to say that it’s bad – he embraced it, but incorporated stuff from the past to let us know we’re OK.”

Lassandra Smith, a freshman business major, agreed with Chowning.

“I love how he acknowledged the greatness of hip-hop and how much of a genius Nas is,” she said, referring to this year’s Springfest concert headliner.

West distinguished greatness from success, and said democracy cannot survive on the latter alone.

He said success is “too narrow and limited” to thrive on, and pointed to figures like Ghandi, Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman as examples of greatness saying even though they were “broke as the Ten Commandments,” they served causes bigger than themselves.

“He talked about democracy, about the reality in America,” said freshman Randell Dauda, a criminal justice major. “It’s not just about being black or about the past, but he talks about things going on right now.”

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