Friday, May 10, 2002

Nation watching, prof says

Cornel West calls for dialogue on racial issues

By William A. Weathers,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The solution to Cincinnati's racial problems lies with earnest discussions among residents of all races and economic levels.

        That's the advice of author Cornel West, a nationally recognized expert on race relations, who spoke to a crowd of about 600 Thursday night at the Christ Church Cathedral, downtown.

Cornel West is introduced Thursday before a speech at Christ Church Cathedral.
        “I hope and pray Cincinnati can move toward a substantive dialogue,” he said. “In Cincinnati, you will come together to mediate your difference or you going to slide down the slope to chaos.”

        Those willing to participate in the dialogues, Mr. West said, must have “the courage to think critically, courage to love and the courage to fight for justice. That (earnest dialogue) is what the community needs. That's what democracy is all about — dialogue.”

        He told his audience not to be people who easily engage in criticism on any level but won't ever move to do anything about the object of the criticism.

        The April 2001 riots that placed the Queen City in the national spotlight apparently indicated a host of problems that need to be addressed, Mr. West said.

        “Something tells me Cincinnati was in trouble before April 2001,” he said. “Anytime there a major uprising, it's just the tip of the iceberg.”

        The nation is watching the Queen City to see how it works to solve its racial problems, Mr. West said.

        “You can't talk about racism unless you talk about tears,” he said. “Many of us have been weeping for Cincinnati. Why? Because we are concerned.”

        The Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center allowed all United States residents to experience what victims of racism feel, Mr. West said.

        “For the first time in history, all Americans felt unsafe and unprotected and subject to abrupt violence.

        “Now the whole nation has the blues.”

        Discussing racism with our neighbors and colleagues isn't an easy task, he said.

        “Talking about racism in America is talking about the funk in America,” he said.

        At the start, Mr. West advised his audience that his discussion of racism would be frank.

        “I'm not here to be comforting,” Mr. West said. “And you're here to be challenged.”

        Mr. West, a professor at Harvard University, will join Princeton University's African-American studies program July 1.

        Earlier this year, he sparred publicly with Harvard's new president, Lawrence Summers, over the quality of his scholarship and the college's commitment to affirmative action.

        Mr. West's visit was made possible by the Charles P. Taft Memorial Fund at the Christ Church Cathedral.


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