In response to the Starbucks incident in Philadelphia earlier this month, Dr. Cornel West said that Americans must fight white supremacy “in all of its forms.”
An employee called the police on two African-Americans in a Starbucks store for sitting inside and not making a purchase. The police arrived and arrested the men, who stated that they were waiting for someone to arrive for a business meeting. Starbucks announced that it plans to close all of its stores on the afternoon of May 29 for “racial bias education.”
West was asked for his preferred outcome of the Starbucks incident.
“We’ve got to fight white supremacy is all of its forms,” West replied after a “Save Our Sons: Stop the Killing” and “Condemn Donald Trump” National Black Men’s Convention march and rally organized by former New Black Panther Party Chairman Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice, on Saturday outside the White House.
During his speech at the protest, West urged civil rights activists not to “isolate” white supremacy from capitalism.
“I have the love of God and it empowers me in the midst of all of this nightmare, all of the lies and mendacity, all of the cold-heartedness and mean spiritedness of Donald Trump and his cronies and Wall Street and the military industrial complex and the State Department and the Pentagon. They all go together,” he said. “Never isolate white supremacy from capitalism. Never isolate capitalism from colonialism and imperialism and let us bring our critiques to bear on patriarchy.”
West condemned police shootings of African-Americans, telling the crowd to remember that black police officers can be “trigger happy, too.”
“As vicious as white supremacy is, it’s so deep on the inside of black people’s souls sometimes – that’s not just a matter of skin pigmentation,” West said. “That’s why sometimes we can have some of our black policemen trigger happy, too, because they are part of the same culture of the police departments that think that somehow they can do anything to our young people and get away with it with no accountability, no responsibility, no answerability, knowing they are going to jail. Well, we are simply here to say we know what’s going on.”
West argued that modern “dumbed-down music” is harming the youth in America.
“One of the ways in which white supremacy is able to reproduce itself is to divide us in such a way that we can’t tell the truth to one another and still love one another. We don’t have to agree on everything in order to be in solidarity with one another, especially when we’re focusing on black youth who have been the subject of so much war over and over and over again. Not just an economic war in terms of decrepit schools and indecent housing and unbelievable ways in which they are taught to hate themselves, but it’s also a spiritual war,” he said at the rally.
“Look at the dumbed-down music. Look at the music about titillation and stimulation rather than caring and nurturing. Look at the music that doesn’t allow them to have a sweetness and a gentleness so that they are able to hold each other together,” he added. “And not only that but what Otis Redding talked about, try a little tenderness rather than say my name, say my name, say my name, say my name. Black people have taught the world, after 400 years of being hated, so much about love.”
West named Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and others as examples of musicians who created music with a positive message.
“You’re looking at a Jesus-loving free black man who comes out of the revolutionary wing of the black church, but I can embrace a Muslim like Malcolm X. I can love a Muslim like Silis Muhammad. I can love the honorable Elijah Muhammad. I can love Minister Louis Farrakhan. Why? Because I’ve got enough love in my heart to break my fear. I’m not afraid of anybody. I’m not afraid of any movement. Why? Because I know what I’m about,” he said. “I know what my calling is and that is to tell the truth, and when you’re in love with black people you’ve got to tell the truth about white supremacy.”
West said white supremacy tries to tell African-Americans that black freedom is a “pipe dream, that black history is a curse, that black hope is a joke and that black love is a crime.”
“So when you love black people you ought to get ready to be criminalized. You ought to get ready to be demonized and you can tell the truth about gangsters in the White House like Donald Trump – and I call him a gangster in the name of Jesus because I was a gangster before I met Jesus. I’m just a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities,” he said.
“If we can’t fall in love with Jamal and Latisha on the corner, on the block, in the nightclub, in the prison, in the alley, then our love is just sounding brass and tidily simple,” he added.
West said Martin Luther King Jr. was the “real thing” and he slammed “black elites.”
“I notice, oh Lord, 50 years later I look at so many of our black elites and black leaders and I say, ‘Where did all these moral midgets and spiritual dwarfs come from?’ What happened to their courage? What happened to their love? Where were they when they had the mass incarceration regime? Where were they when you had the drone strikes dropped in Yemen and Afghanistan?” he said.
West told the protesters that there are not enough people like Curtis Mayfield and Nina Simone today.
“They gave all that they had. They emptied themselves. They gave of themselves to enable us, to empower us in the same way. We don’t have enough folk like that today,” he said. “We’ve got folks so obsessed with image and spectacle and money and status that they end up indifferent to and callous to the folk who are catching hell.”