Black News

News Flash: Dismantling Cornel West is Not the Same as Confronting Poverty and Mass Incarceration

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World

As we enter into the second term of President Barack Obama, we find that the end of the election allows us to continue the conversations that seemed practically intolerable before Obama was reelected.  The black community is becoming ground zero for a battle of wills between those who expect President Obama to acknowledge an increased degree of black suffering and those who feel that Obama has no obligation to the group that gave him 93% of their vote.  The man who has voluntarily placed a bull’s eye on his forehead is Dr. Cornel West, who seems to be unable to “just get over it” when it comes to racial inequality.

I find it interesting that there are so many among us who will criticize Cornel West for speaking out on poverty and mass incarceration by saying that he’s only mad because he didn’t get inauguration tickets.  So, rather than seeing if poverty and mass incarceration are actually a problem, some of us are blinded into allowing a  focus on Cornel’s inauguration tickets to excuse us from addressing critical problems that are facing our communities.  That just doesn’t make any sense, and shows the lengths to which even seemingly intelligent individuals like Melissa Harris-Perry will go in order to avoid defending the indefensible.

Whether Cornel is or isn’t upset about the tickets has nothing to do with the fact that black people continue to be incarcerated and born in poverty more than any other group in the history of the United States.  Sometimes, when faced with an inconvenient truth, we find that it’s easier to kill the messenger than it is to actually deal with the message. Poverty and mass incarceration are VERY REAL and destroying the black family in America. It’s time to elevate the conversation.


This week, I met with Father Michael Pfleger, a respected pastor and extraordinary activist on the South Side of Chicago.  Father Pfleger and I spoke for nearly three hours about the challenges that exist within the black community.  One of the points on which we agreed is that poverty, violence and mass incarceration continue to worsen, even as we celebrate the condition of the Harvard-educated black aristocracy.  Another thought that came to mind is that we must address the collective self-esteem problem which leads African Americans to feel that we should give 93% of the vote to a political party that barely says a word about the struggles our community continues to endure (Gay and Hispanic people refuse to accept such blatant disrespect).


The bottom line is this:  We must suffer in silence no longer.  Also, battle lines must be laid out clearly between those who care about poverty/mass incarceration/violence, and those who do not.  The same way that whites have the right to complain about 7 percent unemployment, blacks have an even greater right to complain about 14.3% unemployment.  The racist rhetoric which claims that black people don’t have jobs because we are too lazy to work is directly contradicted by the woman who found that her job offers skyrocketed when she pretended to be a white woman on  Nearly every study in America says that African Americans are more likely to go to  prison, even for the same crimes, and our children are more likely to be born into poverty.  It is white supremacy and ignorance that leads us to believe that we all randomly decided to lead horrible lives.


The day for cosmetic politics must come to an end, for symbolism will not pay the bills.  Also, we must continue to speak up on anyone within black leadership who has been compensated into silence, being forced to pretend that conversations on gay marriage are as important as discussions of the prison industrial complex.  In fact, I dare President Obama or his evil sidekick Valerie Jarrett to even use the words “Prison industrial complex” in public.  Their ignorance toward black suffering and the prison/poverty holocaust is no less damaging than what happened in Germany during World War II:  At that time, millions of Jews died because people did not have the courage to do what was right, and today, millions of black families are destroyed (with too many youth dying in the streets) because mothers and fathers have been placed behind iron bars.


Cornel West didn’t cause these problems and neither did President Obama.  But the difference is that one man has billions of dollars in African American tax money available to help solve these problems, and the other one does not.  If the president and his team do not wish to address these issues, then they should give us our tax money to let us address these problems ourselves:  Taxation without representation is entirely unacceptable and represents a blatant violation of our civil, constitutional and human rights. We must speak the truth about America during this second-term, for it makes no sense that our lives have become markedly worse under the first black president in history.  Barack can do better than that.


Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.
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