An Inclusive Litany

11/23/01

The Harvard Crimson reports that in a Kennedy School lecture, professor Cornel West said that "America has been 'niggerized' by the terrorist attacks," comparing subsequent national anxieties to African Americans' long history of coping with terror and death. "West drew some of his strongest crowd reaction when he expressed a slight indignation over politicians' sudden infatuation with spending in the wake of the attacks," reports the Crimson. " 'Sounds an awful lot like reparations to me,' West said to shouts of 'Amen!' from the crowd. 'I didn't think America was into reparations.' "

Professor West was originally scheduled to talk about hip-hop culture, about which he presumably has much to say since he released his very own... unusual rap album called "Sketches of My Culture," which he identifies on his website as "in all modesty... a watershed moment in musical history." On one of that album's tracks, he calls for a moratorium on the N-word, advice he obviously fails to heed. A sample rap from the album: "Time gets interwoven to refrig and / or oven with variance coming after centuries of scientific observation. Heliocentric puts specific comprehension to circular flow with mass bind of mind velocity."

Mr. West later made the news when he complained bitterly of being criticized in a private meeting with Lawrence Summers, Harvard's incoming president. Summers chided West for his involvement in extra-academic pursuits, not only the rap CD but also for his involvement heading up Al Sharpton's exploratory effort to run for president. Summers encouraged West—one of the most highest-paid Harvard professors despite his growing reputation as an intellectual lightweight—to produce a major academic work, one that would be more likely to be reviewed in academic journals than in the popular press. Also, Summers took West to task for giving out too many A's in his introductory class in African-American studies, an inflationary trend for which Harvard is well known. Naturally, these criticisms were interpreted to have racial overtones, with most of the members of the African-American studies department threatening to move to Princeton, and it was not long before Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton offered their special assistance in resolving the dispute. Sharpton, in particular, threatened to sue Harvard for damaging his presidential hopes. As often happens in these situations, Summers apologized for offending West, also offering a long-awaited-for ritual endorsement of affirmative action.

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