4:36 p.m., Feb. 22, 2011----Cornel West, philosopher, author, professor and activist, urged students to build on the lessons of African American history to reexamine what it means to be human and to support struggles for freedom at home and abroad.
West addressed, challenged and fielded questions from a near-capacity audience of more that 550 students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests during his talk “Restoring Hope Through Living and Loving Out Loud,” held Monday evening, Feb. 21, in Mitchell Hall.
The presentation was part of the University of Delaware Center for Black Culture's celebration of Black History Month. The program began with the reading of an untitled poem by Brooklyn Hitchens, a double major in English and Black American Studies. West was introduced by Arles Wood, an economics major.
The Class of 1943 Professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, West is the author of 19 books, including Race Matters and Brother West: Living and Learning Out Loud, Restoring Hope and Hope on a Tightrope.
West began by celebrating what he described as “a rich tradition by people of African descent in the New World, particularly in the USA.”
“Any time I get a chance to talk about black history, it makes me shiver, it makes me tremble when I think about the level of excellence and courage, resilience and resistance, that long caravan of love,” West said. “It's about wisdom, it's about justice, not just in America, but in the world.”
Citing a line from Plato's Apology with Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” West said he could hear Malcolm X saying in the background, “The examined life is painful.”
“It takes courage to examine who you are,” West said. “It takes courage to examine what is inside of you.”
In urging compassion for human suffering and oppression, West also noted that the English word “human” derives from the Latin “humando,” which means burying.
“That's where the words humility and humanity come from,” West said. “This issue of what does it means to be a featherless, two-legged linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces -- that's who we are. We down in the funk, and there is love and freedom and sublimity in that funk.”
Despite enduring a 400-year history of oppression, which included 80 years under a U.S. Constitution that legalized slavery, and nearly another century of living under Jim Crow apartheid, persons of African descent have chosen to embrace love and not bitterness and revenge, West said.
“Twenty-two percent of Americans in the original 13 colonies were enslaved,” West said. “The same people who were freedom fighters against the British Empire also were slave owners.”
Despite centuries of oppression, West said that those who suffered were able to unleash many voices that described the suffering and kept alive the quest for freedom.
“This was to keep alive the memories of the wretched of the Earth, of those catching hell,” West said. “This is why you have to keep the funk in it.”
West noted that while blacks have broken many of the ceilings of opportunity at the top, many of those at the bottom of the economic and social ladder have been forgotten, and that attention needs to be paid to those suffering from what he called an “oppressive-like level of unemployment.
“We have to have a genuine embrace of humanity with a touch of humility,” West said. “We have to have a genuine love and compassion that embraces every member of the human family.”
The event was cosponsored by the Center for Black Culture, Office of Student Life, Black Student Union, Cultural Programming Advisory Board, Office of Equity and Inclusion, Residence Life, and Student Centers.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photo by Duane Perry