[A] compelling blend of philosophy, sociology and political commentary. . . . One can only applaud the ferocious moral vision and astute intellect on display in these pages. Michiko Kakutani,
The New York Times
"As moving as any of the sermons of the Rev. Martin Luther King, as profound as W.E.B Du Bois's
The Souls of Black Folk, as exhilarating in their offering of liberation as James Baldwin's early essays." David Nicholson, The Washington Post Book World
"Exciting . . . illuminating. . . . West's thinking consistently challenges the conventional wisdom [and] confronts the reader with profound and unsettling insights." Robert S. Boynton,
"Cornel West is one of the most authentic, brilliant, prophetic, and healing voices in America today. We ignore his truth in Race Matters at our personal and national peril." Marian Wright Edelman
In eight brief but powerful essays, West, director of Afro-American Studies at Princeton, delivers innovative analyses of our nation's racial dilemmas. West is insistently moral, criticizing racial hierarchy and black leaders who cannot transcend race to fight for ``fundamental social change.'' Though he does not spare black liberals, he more harshly criticizes ``new black conservatives'' who in his view ignore the damaging cultural force of black sexual and military images as employed in advertisements and mass media. Exploring black-Jewish relations, he suggests that the moral voices in black America have been drowned out, and in ``Black Sexuality,'' takes on what has long been considered a taboo subject. These essays, none written in the first person, can have an air of detachment: when West calls for a ``politics of conversion'' to fight black nihilism, his best example comes from Toni Morrison's novel Beloved; when he criticizes Malcolm X for having ignored the culturally hybrid character of black life, he proposes the figure of ``jazz freedom fighter'' as one who could ``promote critical exchange and broad reflection.'' But West is more healing visionary than historian. These essays, most of which first appeared in such magazines as Dissent and Z , solidify his position as one of the nation's leading public intellectuals. 40,000 first printing; paperback rights to Vintage; BOMC selection; QPB featured selection; author tour. (Apr.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this collection of essays, many of which have previously appeared in journals, West, the director of Afro-American studies at Princeton and the author of several books, including Prophetic Fragments ( LJ 3/1/88) and Breaking Bread with bell hooks ( LJ 12/91), addresses a number of issues of concern to black Americans: the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict; Malcolm X; Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill; and black street life. These topics are all timely yet timeless in that they represent the continuing struggle to include African Americans in mainstream American political, economic, and social life without destroying their unique culture. West's essays have the feel of a fine sermon, with thought-provoking ideas and new ways of looking at the same old problems. They can be quickly read yet take a long time to digest because of West's unique slant on life. Already well known in scholarly circles, West is increasingly becoming more visible to the general public, and this book should make his essays more accessible to a greater number of people. Recommended for all types of libraries.-- Anita L. Cole, Miami-Dade P.L. System, Fla.
YA-Thought-provoking essays that address a number of controversial issues of concern to African Americans. West analyzes such subjects as nihilism in black America, the crisis of black leadership, affirmative action, black-Jewish relations, sexuality, and the legacy of Malcolm X. His writing style is scholarly and sparse-he does not waste words, and his prose is easy to read. Yet his viewpoints are radical and passionately felt. He is not afraid to speak frankly and, while he presents many criticisms, he also offers many solutions. Not everyone will agree with his point of view, but if one of his objectives is to make readers at least think about the problems he has dissected, then he has succeeded admirably.-Pat Royal, Crossland High School, Camp Springs, MD
Reprint of a 1993 work, with a new (4p.) preface. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Only a few years ago, West's nonacademic publications most frequently appeared in small, left-leaning journals; his work in the "Nation" perhaps came closest to the "mainstream." But times have changed: the title essay appeared in the "New York Times Magazine" in August 1992; other essays are reprinted from "Dissent" and from Toni Morrison's "Raceing Justice, Engendering Power. "West left Yale to teach religion and head the African American studies program at Princeton; he addresses more than 100 off-campus meetings and conferences each year. West's positions--on "racial reasoning," nihilism and rage in black America, black sexuality, and the critical role of spiritual and existential considerations in shaping a "prophetic pragmatism" which has the potential to resolve our persistent racial dilemmas--remain radical. But events of the 1990s have broadened the audience for this eloquent voice, which reflects the impact of the black church and the Black Panthers as well as academic training in Near Eastern languages and world religion, philosophy, and literature. Humanistic readers with respect for many cultures will want to explore more fully West's penetrating analysis of just how and why Race Matters.
Cornel West is one of the most recognized of American
public intellectuals. His message of social liberation, rooted
deeply in the black Baptist tradition, strikes a chord among an
audience of lay readers and academics because it is equally intellectual
and accessible. And because of its inherent humanism, it
crosses racial and cultural lines as well.
Race Matters, West asks for a renewed engagement on the
question of race and presents a bracing call to action to establish
a new framework from which to discuss the issue. West believes
race represents a dire paradox for the nation: either America recognizes
the common humanity of all of its citizens, acknowledges
its spiritual impoverishment, and overturns a political environment dominated
by image rather than substance, or it risks the unmaking of the democratic order.
Ours is a crisis, contends West, that evolves in large measure
from the predominantly market-driven American way of life. The
attendant emphasis on individuality and competition renders traditional
black communal life ineffective and leads to the denigration of black people.
This situation, West explains, creates not just a social and political crisis
in the black community, but a deep existential crisis as well:
Under these circumstances black existential angst derives from
the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars
inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating
U.S. society and culture. These beliefs and images attack black
intelligence, black ability, black beauty, and black character daily
in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.... The accumulated effect
of the black wounds and scars suffered in a white-dominated
society is a deep-seated anger, a boiling sense of rage, and a
passionate pessimism regarding America's will to justice.
Thus, centuries into the African American experience, more
than one hundred years after the abolition of slavery, and decades
after the major battles of the civil rights movement, race, contends West,