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A review on the Book "Restoring Hope" by Dr. Cornel West

By       Message Herbert Calhoun     Permalink
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These discussants as well as others in the book generally agree that if our history has taught us anything, it is that democracy itself is nothing if not a rich platform for action, not just a platform for endless calls for hope - whether that hope is full, empty, or audacious. Democracy also is not for the faint-hearted or the perpetual wishful thinker, the slackers, fence sitters or the free riders. In short, democracy is not for those scared to engage in committed and difficult actions. And the forces of racial evil, inequality and injustice, our constant adversary, as the contributors to this volume make so clear, are not in the business of just "harvesting empty or audacious hope" as their only program to roll back as many of the gains we have make towards a fair society with equal justice for all. To go along with hope, they also have in their toolbox, a robust "action program," one designed to defeat equality and justice. And so far, they are succeeding admirably. Is Mr. Obama's hope forever going to be the Progressives' only action plan? Where are the foot-soldiers for that change we can believe in?

Although this book was written in 1997, we can still see how prescient it was. The asymmetry, between the Republicans' "hope plus action," and now 15 years later, Obama's "hope without action," is so glaring that it screams at us from beneath this veil of empty mourning, singing, marching, camping out, praying and wishful thinking, to do something -- anything! And as quiet as it is kept, one of the most important allies of our adversaries' action program is to constantly encourage us (their adversaries) to do nothing: that is, but mourn, sing, pray, march and like good Christians are wont to do, call on God for more hope? And then when we have finished mourning, singing, praying, marching and hoping, they want us to do it again.   And, incredibly, we do? None of these discussants agree that that is a winning strategy, no matter how much hope we can muster.

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This cultural leitmotif for non-action has been repeated so often that it is imprinted on our fore heads in the same way that the scars of Selma bisect John Lewis' head. Now every time I see a fat black woman solemnly singing a gospel like Mahalia Jackson, I get mad; because I know that that is just a Pavlovian calling card for more non-action, the ultimate black symbol of retreat, a cue to "tuck your tail and run back into the Church in order to receive another dose of hope." Maybe, just maybe that is why "we" are constantly retreating and "they" are constantly advancing forever on the attack   -- and in the process why are still racking up victory after victory as they roll back all our gains?

Mr. Belafonte, who leads off this book of interviews, is one of my heroes; and whenever he speaks, I believe that the world must stop and listen. His wisdom and experience about this country run so deep and are so profound that they never miss the mark.   It is true as he says that today we have more blacks and minorities with titles who don't give a damn about the black or minority conditions than we have ever had before. I can name a few of them: Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, John Yoo, Linda Chavez, Clarence Thomas, Ed Perkins, Herman Cain, and Barack Obama -- as the ones that immediately come to mind. These people did not fight in the trenches of the Civil Rights movement, or for justice and equality, they just waited around, to help pick up the pieces, and pick them up they did.

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They are the "living legacy" that provides the current weak and brittle foundation of what we refer to as American multiculturalism.   But that vessel is empty, only put out on "Front Street" for "show" to outside company. There is no reality in it, because it has yet to be filled with any meaningful content. And in this regard, I agree with Mr. Belafonte's recollection of Dr. King's last conversation with him, that with our collective moral cowardliness as a nation, especially on the issue of race, blacks have "integrated into a burning house." Amid all the destruction and confusion of a nation run by moral cowards, black culture has been neutered; it has lost its cultural base; its vitality, lost young people to the "entertainment culture;" and the churches, our only solid institution, have been transformed into "cash-and-carry" mega-dollar enterprises. Mr. Belafonte is right again when he says that we have not just lost our culture and our vision, but we have also lost our moral authority and even a great deal of our humanity.

Dr. West is another of my heroes. He is that rare mixture of existentialism and Christianity, a so-called self-described, Chekhovian Christian. As he did in this book, it is important for West to continue to allow the existentialist side of his being rise to the fore, and allow his Christian side to slowly recede further into the background. For he knows as well as any one, that hope -- whether Christian hope or existentialist hope -- is not a program. But rather than say that to us straight up, he sometimes finds himself mimicking Obama and pushing an empty and impotent framework made up of hope slogans, and then he tries to pawn that off on us like Obama does? Yet, in his own life, Dr. West is not waiting around for hope in the next dimension. In fact, his life is filled with profoundly committed existentialist action programs such as the Obsidian Society. Why then, like Obama, is he constantly selling these "wooden nickels" made of false hope, these "hope Wolf tickets," when what we really need is the same kind of committed confrontational action that he himself engages in?

Is action instead of hope not what Democracy was made for, and demands of us? Indeed, if hope were a program, then black people would already be "riding high" and way ahead of the game because despite all the despair in our communities described in this book, there are no more hopeful people on earth than American black people; no group of Americans more committed to the hope of a fair and just democracy than we black people.   We do not need to incessantly be encouraged to continue to be hopeful, it is a natural part of our DNA, how else could we have survived this racist continent for 400 years without it? Why then are so many people, Dr. West included, still singing the "Obama hope song" and advocating more and more hope instead of what we really need, which is more and more committed (and where necessary) confrontational action? We need to be able to do in the streets what the Republicans are able to do in the back rooms off of Wall Street. We need more actions forcing politicians to respond to our concerns, including Mr. Obama?

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Plus, now that we have in the White House, the self-declared world champion of all hope: our first mulatto President, the ever slippery, Mr. Barack Obama, we have seen where his audacious brand of hope has led us black people: directly back to the future, back to yet another cycle of mourning, singing, praying, marching and hoping. Am I the only one who notices that he only shows up in Irish bars --even goes to Ireland to do so? I am still "hoping" to see him arrive one day in one of the many black bars in the inner city black ghetto? I don't recall reading where the Irish voted for him at the rate of 95% in the last election. Nor did I see him there during black History month? [Hope on ... huh?]

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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)

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