September 2021September 2022School of Diplomacy News

A Community Conversation with Dr. Cornel West

Sophia Alicea
Staff Writer

On September 15, Hackensack Meridian Health Theater in Redbank, New Jersey, hosted American debater, philosopher, and author Dr. Cornel West in their Community Conversations series. 

The forum examined the American philosopher’s outlook on justice, race, and the dangers of populism in a growing society. The evening commenced with a gospel performance, the first indication that the theological basis of West’s leading theory of “Racial Conditionedness” would build from gospel into a commentary on race and populism.

Dr. Cornel West is an accomplished author, most known for his New York Times best-selling works Democracy Matters and Race Matters. He is also an avid lover of jazz, literature, political theory, and philosophy. West’s affinity for knowledge becomes evident when examining his history. He is the former Professor of Public Philosophy at his alma mater, Harvard University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. Furthermore, he worked as a professor at Princeton University, where he received his master’s degree and his doctorate in philosophy.

West opened his speech with the claim that justice is what love looks like applied in public. This set the tone for his trademarked philosophical concepts rooted in theology. The theological and philosophical claims made by West when introducing his opinions on race, justice, and institutions were that the materialistic implications of race as a historical concept are flawed. Race is an abstract concept: the ‘flesh’ has nothing to do with graciousness. This is where the historical and cultural conception of black people became the focus of the conversation; the observed concept of grace by Black people is not a result of skin color, but of spiritual and moral greatness. 

West’s perception of justice is derived from the idea of what it means to be human and embrace human goodness. He repeatedly asked the audience to think, when reflecting on racism, what kind of human should one be? He stated that, of his morals regarding the U.S. justice system, he would rather be in court than a coward. How one goes about overcoming skepticism to reconnect with the truth is what it means to regain justice in a divided society. 

West’s main argument regarding the relationship between graciousness and race is the historical graciousness of African American people in the United States. West reminded the audience of the graphic and brutal sufferings African American people endured, leaving the air of the hall still. Capitalizing on the silence of the audience, West honed in on the beauty of African American people putting themselves into the realms of academia, fine arts, and government to fight for a world that accepts all.

Dr. Cornel West’s work is reflected in his talk, entertaining the audience with his charisma and genuine concerns regarding the hyperpolarization of races in the United States. One of the greatest takeaways of Dr. Cornel West’s speech was when he addressed a 13-year-old boy in the audience from New Jersey. The young boy asked Dr. West, “how can I be kind to people who hate my color?” Without hesitation, Dr. West reminded the boy that justice is what love looks like applied in public and, if one has love in their hearts, then justice will follow through. 

Overall, Dr. West’s application of his theory of “racial conditionedness” remains pertinent in the realms of community involvement, theology, and philosophy, imprinting onto those who will listen that prejudice exists where hate is allowed. If a divided country is to come together again, it must be done in the name of intersectionality and removed from bias, regardless of skin color, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation. West’s stance was firmly rooted in Baptist philosophy. His message had tangible impact on the audience.

Image courtesy of Bernd Schwabe

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