Sunday, January 16, 2005

Cornel West: on Martin Luther King's legacy. Read the entire essay here.


In 1946, when the great Eugene O'Neill's play The Iceman Cometh was produced, he said America was the greatest example of a country that exemplifies the Biblical question, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world but lose his own soul?" Artists like Harry Belafonte and Coltrane and Toni Morrison and others have been asking the same question, as the young people say, "How do we keep it real?" When we look closely at jazz, or the blues, for example, we see a profound sense of the tragic linked to human agency. This music does not wallow in a cynicism or a paralyzing pessimism, but it also is realistic enough not to project excessive utopia. It responds in an improvisational, undogmatic, creative way to circumstances, helping people still survive and thrive. How can we be realistic about what this nation is about and still sustain hope, acknowledging that we're up against so much?

When I talk to young people these days, there's a sense in which they're in an anti-idealist mode and mood. They want to keep it real. And keeping it real means, in fact, understanding that the white supremacy you thought you could push back permeates every nook and cranny of this nation so deeply that you ought to wake up and recognize how deep it is.

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