LOVE AFFAIR WITH RACISTS
One of the instructive anomalies revealed in West’s self-portrait is how much of his love is directed towards figures whose racial and religious malice are their defining features. The black theologian James Cone is introduced in West’s bluesman patois: “I remember going with my colleagues to a conference at Yale. It was a big-time gathering of the most celebrated theologians in the world. When I walked into that hall with my brothers — James Cone, Jim Washington and Jim Forbes — man I felt like we were the Dramatics walking on stage at the Apollo.”
James Cone is the founder of “black theology,” a racist creed built on such canonical sentiments as this: “Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man ‘the devil’”; and “What we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.”
But a hater like Cone is far from anomalous in West’s circle of friends. As an undergraduate at Harvard, young Corn was elected co-president of the Black Student Association, in which capacity he invited prominent speakers: “At the top of my list was Imamu Amiri Baraka, a seminal man of letters, a revolutionary black nationalist and a mesmerizing poet. I had the high honor of introducing him.” Amiri Baraka, a.k.a. LeRoi Jones, was also by then a notorious black racist, gay-basher (“Most white men are trained to be fags. For this reason it is no wonder their faces are weak and blank . . . ”), and anti-Semite (“Smile jew. Dance jew. Tell me you love me, jew. I got something for you now, though. . . . I got the extermination blues, jew boys”). These rancid statements are absorbed and disappear into the jive ecumenical miasma of West’s “thought.” All that matters to West is that his “brother” Baraka is a fellow progressive at war with imperial America and its “white supremacist” masters.
By the early Seventies, when West tendered the invitation to Baraka, the Harvard community no longer had the moral intelligence to be appalled by such a gesture. When the event took place, the malice-drenched “poet,” Baraka, actually turned on his host, attacking him as “a two-bit Eurocentric wrong-headed boot-licking pseudo-Marxist slave to Western thought.” And West just stood there with the indomitable gap-toothed smile that was to become the signature of his public persona.
West then spent several decades wooing the racist Baraka until he became a family friend, so much so that, in the service of this friendship, West campaigned for his son when he ran for elective office in New Jersey. By this time, despite hateful attitudes that would have made Baraka a social pariah had he been white, he was the recipient of prestigious grants from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations, had won the PEN/Faulkner Award, was a professor at Rutgers, and had been appointed poet laureate of New Jersey. All these accolades were signs of the cultural breakdown that was making possible the success of figures like West himself. Baraka was eventually defrocked as professor and poet laureate after going a bridge too far by writing the poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which blamed 9/11 on the Jews. The author of Brother West fails to mention any of these details. A progressive like West, secure in his own sense of himself as a prophet of the just and the good, does not feel the need to explain his adulation of a bigot, so long as the bigot is black and therefore “oppressed.”
Another troublesome visitor to Harvard during Corn’s undergraduate years was a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, the black supremacist church of Elijah Muhammad. As West reports, “We black students were curious, eager, and excited to see what George X, the minister representing the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, had to say. We packed the hall.” The warm reception afforded by Harvard students to an emissary from a racist cult was another index of the ominous cultural turn America was taking. The so-called Honorable Elijah was the prophet of a religion in which white people were described as “blue-eyed devils” and said to be the invention of a mad scientist named Yacub who created them 6,000 years before in an experiment that went awry. Their blood was allegedly diluted during the mishap, causing a melanin deficiency that made them morally defective. The crackpot Muhammad prophesied a coming Armageddon in which God would destroy the white devil race and bring to an end the problems that white people had created, which according to him were the source of all human suffering.