Cornel West Reconsiders President Obama Professor Cornel West confesses that he's having second thoughts about President Obama. In an interview with Playboy, he said he wished the president were more "Martin Luther King-like." West is also concerned about the lack of love and respect he sees between people, particularly where race is concerned.

Cornel West Reconsiders President Obama

Cornel West Reconsiders President Obama

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Cornel West at the Time 100 Gala in 2009 in New York. Evan Agostini/AP hide caption

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Evan Agostini/AP

Cornel West at the Time 100 Gala in 2009 in New York.

Evan Agostini/AP

Professor Cornel West confesses that he's having second thoughts about President Obama.

In an interview with Playboy, he said he wished the president were more "Martin Luther King-like."

West is also concerned about the lack of love and respect he sees between people, particularly where race is concerned.

"Love and trust and justice, concern for the poor, that's being pushed to the margins, and you can see it," West tells NPR's Tony Cox.

The culprit? Greed, says West, manifest in the actions of players on Wall Street, "our televisual culture that's obsessed with superficial spectacle" and the education system "where the market model becomes central."

TONY COX, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Tony Cox in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

Cornel West is one of America's most outspoken public intellectuals. Never one to shy away from controversy, he has been a leading voice on politics, race, culture and religion. He is a published author, a frequent guest on the talk-show circuit and as a musician has collaborate with the likes of Terence Blanchard and the Cornel West Theory, which is a group of hip-hop musicians.

This month, West is the featured interview in Playboy magazine, where he talks about the presidency of Barack Obama, the lack of love and respect between people, especially where race is concerned, and also the sad state of academia.

Cornel West joins us shortly, but we also want to hear from you today. If you'd like to talk to Cornel West about race in America and the presidency of Barack Obama, give us a call, our number is 800-989-8255. The email address is And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Cornel West joins us now from studios at Princeton University, where he is Class of 1943 Professor in African-American Studies and Religion. Cornel West, welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.

Professor CORNEL WEST (Class of 1943 Professor in African-American Studies and Religion, Princeton University): Always a blessing to be here, and I salute you, my dear brother Tony. You're doing a wonderful job.

COX: Why, thank you. I appreciate the compliment. Let's begin with this, Cornel, if we might. You talk a lot about the lack of love. You say there is a lack of available love in black America. What do you mean by that?

Prof. WEST: Well, I think it's true in the society as a whole. We have a market-driven society so obsessed with buying and selling and obsessed with power and pleasure and property, it doesn't leave a whole lot of time for non-market values and non-market activity so that love and trust and justice, concern for the poor, that's being pushed to the margins, and you can see it.

You can see it in terms of the obsession on Wall Street with not just profits but greed, more profit, more profit. You see it in our television culture that's obsessed with superficial spectacle. You see it even in our educational systems, where the market model becomes central. It's a matter of just gaining a skill or gaining access to a job to live in some vanilla suburb, as opposed to becoming a critical citizen concerned with public interest and common good.

It's a spiritual malnutrition tied to a moral constipation, where people have a sense of what's right and what's good. It's just stuck, and they can't get it out because there's too much greed. There's too much obsession with reputation and addiction to narrow conceptions of success.

And when I talk about love, I'm talking about something that's great, though, brother. I'm talking about something that will sustain you. It's like an Aretha Franklin song, brother, or a Coltrane solo or Beethoven symphony, something that grabs you to the gut and gives you a sense of what it is to be human.

That's what we're more and more lacking, and it's very sad. It's a sign of a decline of an empire, my brother.

COX: Well, you know, I've got to ask you to help me now because I want to stay with you, and I want to make sure the audience stays with you, too.

Prof. WEST: Yes, absolutely.

COX: So that we can digest all of that that you have said.

Prof. WEST: Indeed.

COX: Let me ask it in this way, then: Are you suggesting by your comments that black people, black folk in this country, are relating to these issues of the economy and poverty in a completely different way than everyone else?

Prof. WEST: Well, I think in the past, we have. I mean, we look at the legacy of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells and Ella Baker, Malcolm X and Martin King. We have, and part of the struggle now in the age of Obama is how do we keep alive the legacy of Martin King?

I know my dear brother, President Obama, has a bust of Martin King right there in the Oval Office, but the question is are is he going to be true to who that Martin Luther King, Jr., actually is? King was concerned about what? The poor. He was concerned about working people. He was concerned about quality jobs. He was concerned about quality housing. He was concerned about precious babies in Vietnam, the way we ought to be concerned about precious babies in Afghanistan and precious babies in Tel Aviv and precious babies in Gaza.

Martin King was fundamentally committed to the least of these. Of course, he was a Christian soldier for justice from the 25th chapter of Matthew.

And so more and more black folk tend to be well-adjusted to Obama's presidency, but does that mean they're well-adjusted to injustice? Because we don't hear our president talking about the new Jim Crow, the prison-industrial complex.

We don't hear our president talking about the need for high-quality jobs for everybody, giving it priority, not just giving a speech in Detroit. That's fine, but speaking to Tim Geithner, speaking to Larry Summers. When are you going to make jobs, jobs, jobs a priority rather than Wall Street, Wall Street, Wall Street a priority? That's what I'm concerned about.

COX: Have you communicated with him personally?

Prof. WEST: Well, I'll tell you, I had not talked to my dear brother since the Martin Luther King gathering in South Carolina, and very briefly Super Tuesday. But he did come and make a beeline to me after his speech on I think it was Thursday morning in Washington, D.C. I hadn't seen him for two and a half weeks, and he made a beeline to me, though, brother, and he was deeply upset. He talked to me like I was a Cub Scout, and he was a pack master, you know what I mean?

I said, well, my mother and father raised me right. I respect my dear brother, but I don't like to be demeaned and humiliated in that way, and I didn't get a chance to respond to him. And I hope maybe at some time we can. But it was very, it was a very ugly kind of moment, it seems to me, and that disturbs me because then it raises the question for me: Does he have a double standard for black critics as opposed to white critics?

Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, a whole host of brilliant, courageous critics say all kinds of things, and he treats them with respect. They get invited to the White House. I say the same thing, he talks to me like I'm a Cub Scout.

I dont like that. It raises the question, too, is, you know, how many black folk need to be sacrificed for his campaign and his governance...

COX: I'll tell you what...

Prof. WEST: ...going all the way back to Jeremiah Wright and Tavis Smiley and Van Jones and even Shirley Sherrod and maybe even Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel. We're going to see what his response is.

I think he's in a very, very delicate situation, and he has to watch himself. He's on a tightrope in terms of how he proceeds politically.

Now, I'm praying for him to stay on the tightrope because I want to fight his right-wing critics. I want to down I want to ensure they don't lie about him. I'm sure they don't demonize him, and too much of that is going on. So I don't want my critiques to be in any way confused with the right-wing critiques, even though I'll fight for the right wing to be wrong in that regard. I want him to know...

COX: Now, Cornel, let me jump in. I apologize.

Prof. WEST: Oh, Jesus loves a free black man, though, brother. I'm not going to put up with being disrespected.

COX: I understand that, and I appreciate it, and I respect what you are trying to say. I just want to let a couple of our listeners jump in on the conversation.

Prof. WEST: Absolutely. I'm sorry to go on so long, but I get fired up.

COX: I understand. But just remember, we want to try to hear from some people as much as we can.

Prof. WEST: Absolutely.

COX: We're going to start, as a matter of fact, with Dean(ph) from Cincinnati, Ohio. Dean, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. Welcome.

DEAN (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. I am a high school English teacher who has been really fortunate to work in a very thoughtfully integrated school here in Cincinnati called Clark Montessori.

And we are a public, urban school. I'm heading in a different direction now, towards educational leadership, and I just want to get Dr. West's perspective on how he thinks American public schools might become thoughtfully reintegrated now that Brown versus Board of Education has essentially been overturned.

COX: Thank you for that call. What about that?

Prof. WEST: Oh, I appreciate that. Of course, I was just in Cincinnati last night, working with my dear brother, the genius Bootsy Collins, there at the Freedom Center with brother Tavis and the other we had a magnificent time there at the center, as well as for the concert with Erykah Badu. And we had a great time in Cincinnati.

And I think that when we talk about education I was also blessed to talk with my dear brother Arne Duncan. I had never met him, the secretary of Education. We had a wonderful talk. And I had told him quite explicitly education is a right, it's not a race to the top.

It's a matter of ensuring that the least of these, the lowest ones in achievement, are targeted so that they're already losing, and if a race to the top generates new losers, they lose again. We've got to target them even as we come up with creative and innovative ways. And that's a both-and. It's not an either-or.

So I told brother Duncan I could work with him in Cincinnati. Like so many other cities, we know that so many of our schools, when it comes to public schools, are still de facto segregated racially. It has to do with residential segregation. It has to do with James Crow, Jr., which is at work, de facto rather than legally so that some of the integration is taking place among more and more well-to-do.

When it comes to our precious poor children of all colors, maybe disproportionally in percentage black and white and red, but all colors, yellow as well as white, we need to push toward integrated schools. But most importantly, we need to target the schools that are not performing, trying to get parental involvement, trying to get more resources, trying to convince our young people that they ought to be invested not just in skill acquisition but in education, what we try to do at Princeton, which is to really motivate one's heart and mind and soul to learn how to critically examine oneself to become a courageous, not just a fit into an unjust status quo, a courageous maladjusted person to injustice, maladjusted to mediocrity.

COX: Let me ask you before we take another call because, you know, you have been a part of Harvard, Princeton and Yale, among others, and that certainly is an Ivy League triumvirate. Do you think at times, ever, Cornel West, that your position in academia has in any way isolated you from what I will call just the regular, day-to-day folks and the problems that regular, day-to-day folks go through?

Prof. WEST: Well, I appreciate the question, brother. One is that I am a regular, everyday person, you know what I mean. I feel that wherever I am, I really am.

I love the academy in terms of the life of the mind and the world of ideas. I also love the streets. I love the churches and mosques and synagogues. I love the trade union centers. I love the community centers. I speak regularly at prisons and so forth.

So I like to be multi-contextual, which is much more important than being multicultural. You have to be able to move from one context to the next. I want to learn something from my atheistic brothers and sisters, even though I'm a Christian. I want to learn something from my right-wing brothers and sisters, even though I'm a progressive. I want to learn something from the elderly, even though I'm middle-aged or tilting toward the elderly. I want to learn especially something from the youth. That's why I spend a lot of time in hip-hop studios.

COX: There's a lot more we want to talk to you about, including I'm going to put this to you before we go to the break and then come back and talk about it in more detail afterwards because there was an editorial today, Cornel West, in the Los Angeles Times, written by a guy name Gregory Rodriguez, a columnist. And he says, and he's one of a number of people who are beginning to say, some people of color, as well, that it's time to end affirmative action because it could lead to a white backlash.

And my question to you is going to be whether or not you think it is time to end affirmative action, but hold on with your answer.

We'll talk more with Cornel West in just a moment about his second thoughts on President Obama, about race, about affirmative action, about the Tea Party and about plenty of other subjects.

If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-989-8255. That email address is I'm Tony Cox. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Tony Cox.

Cornel West is our guest today. He is professor of African-American studies and religion at Princeton, University, author of "Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud."

One of the issues that came up in his interview in the most recent issue of Playboy magazine: the Tea Party. Tea Party folks, this is a quote now, are not crazy people, according to Cornel West. They're just misguided.

They are deeply conservative people who see the corruption of government. They are right about that. But they react by being anti-government. They are wrong about that. They see the need for individual initiative and entrepreneurial possibility. They're right about that. But then they affirm a corporate agenda and don't realize corporations are a big part of the problem, end quote.

We'll talk more about those comments in a moment. We've also posted a link to excerpts from that interview at Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And if you'd like to talk to Cornel West about race in America and the presidency of Barack Obama, give us a call, our number 800-989-8255. The email address: And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Now, we have some calls we're going to get to in a minute. Dana(ph) from Cape Cod, hold on, I see you. I'm coming back. But first, I want to get you, if I can, Cornel West, to talk about this thing that Gregory Rodriguez wrote in the L.A. Times today.

Senator Jim Webb wrote about the very same thing a couple of weeks ago, suggesting that, all right, affirmative action had its place and its time, and both its place and its time are passed. What do you say?

Prof. WEST: No, I think he's wrong. I think in some ways, it's about 15, 20 years late, that the white backlash has been in place. Part of the challenge of the Barack Obama campaign was to try to neutralize that white backlash, and of course, he was masterful in doing that.

But the white backlash has been at work for a long time. It's been part and parcel of the Republican Party for the last 25 years or so, and it's been highly successful up until Barack Obama was ingeniously able to come up with strategies to deal with it.

But the problem is not just affirmative action, though. The problem is poor people, working people and their children, and affirmative action for the most part doesn't even apply to them.

We're talking about a prison-industrial complex. We're talking about a war on drugs that's generating unprecedented levels of incarcerated folk. We're talking about dilapidated housing. We're talking about joblessness and underemployment.

These are issues that go so far beyond affirmative action that we're talking about $55 billion invested in Afghanistan and $73 billion next year, but a debate about a $4 billion Race to the Top program for education.

There has to be, as Martin King noted, a revolution in priorities, a revolution in values and a revolution in vision. We've got the wrong vision, the wrong values, the wrong priority, and as the great prophetic figure Marian Edelman Wright puts it, we have been AWOL when it comes to poor people and poor children.

COX: Let's take a call.

Prof. WEST: We've got to hit it head on.

COX: We've got three, and we'll start with Dana in Cape Cod. Dana, thank you for holding on. You're on the air. What's your comment?

DANA (Caller): Well, thank you very much. I say take a lesson, NPR. I'm so grateful to finally hear someone who is not afraid to call for critical inquiry into the free market. It seems like in violation of its mission statement, NPR worships the free market as God.

And my second point is that if anyone could bring me back to Christianity, it's Dr. West. He's a very amazing man. He's so full of love and astute remarks and such, and I'm surprised that you actually have him on today.

COX: Well, he's been on before, as a matter of fact. Dana, thank you for that call. Since there wasn't a question, necessarily.

Prof. WEST: He was very...

COX: Cornel, yeah, let's go to some young people. This is a young white man calling from Glen Wood, Colorado, I believe it is. Jeremiah(ph), welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JEREMIAH (Caller): Hi there. My name is Jeremiah. I'm a 24-year-old white male from Colorado. Am I on?

COX: Yes, you are on.

JEREMIAH: Okay. My point, all I wanted to say, because I'm young, I just want to say that I think the world, with the technology moving the way it is and the connectedness, the globalization, the global economy, we are really looking at a global future here. And I think that the youth, speaking for myself and everybody I know, being connected so well, I don't want to say that there is a racial tension and that there isn't a lot of problems, but I think that there is a certain sense of at least with myself that we really can change things and have things the way we want them.

There is no set way of being. We can make things the way that we want them to be. They can be changed, you know, and I just think that technology and I don't know. I just want to kind of throw out that message of hope with young people, that we really can create.

I feel that, and I know a lot of people, a lot of other young people like myself, you know, call it idealistic, call it naive, whatever. I think it's realistic, working with what the problems that we really, actually have if we really want a real future, if we really actually want to survive and, you know, be together and take care of each other, we can have a future that nobody could have possibly imagined.

And I think that thinking like that is the kind of revolution that we actually need, you know, in working with the bureaucratic kind of systems that we actually have in place today.

COX: Jeremiah, thank you very much for the call. You know, I want to ask you, Cornel, in response to what Jeremiah mentioned because while what he says sounds really good, and I know that there are a lot of people who are hearing him who are like yes, I feel that.

At the same time, there are others, particularly in the white community, who have also spoken out in a way that suggests that there is a great deal of fear on the part of whites about what the future holds, particularly as it relates to where black people and Latinos are going to ultimately wind up in this country. Is fear, is that the big problem?

Prof. WEST: I think it's true that fear is very real. The question is what do you do with fear. My dear brother, Jeremiah from Colorado, I think he's right to talk about technology, but we have to acknowledge it's the people who use the technology.

If the people are not courageous, if the people are not compassionate, if the people dont recognize there's a national emergency in the nation when it comes to jobs, when it comes to education for working and poor people, if the people dont recognize that these issues are issues of national security in the same way that national security issues are debated about Afghanistan and Iraq, all the technology in the world doesn't mean that much if people are cowardly, intolerant, myopic, shortsighted and in some ways bigoted.

We all have to wrestle with those kinds of issues. It's about courage. It's about organizing. It's about telling the truth, allowing suffering to speak and being honest and candid about those in power.

We live in a society now where big business and big finance are so thoroughly have such a thorough stranglehold on big government. Even the Tea Party brothers and sisters, these are right-wing brothers and sisters feeling weak and impotent.

Well, you know what? Sometimes I feel weak and impotent, but I try to be courageous. I try to be all-embracing enough that I dont scapegoat the most vulnerable. I look at the most powerful, not just in government but also corporate elites and financial oligarchs on Wall Street.

The Tea Party people are wrestling with fear and impotence. We all are. They just have the wrong direction. They have the wrong energy. It's not moral enough. It's not concerned with the poor enough. It's not concerned with working people enough.

But I resonate with their impotence. Sometimes I feel impotence, too. That's why I put on some Curtis Mayfield and John Coltrane and Aretha Franklin sometimes.

COX: And listen to that. Here's some emails, a couple of them, and then we'll take another call, all right? Here's the first one. This comes from Kate(ph) in Racine: How can you keep your criticism from being used by the right wing from using it as an easy way to attack the president? Second...

Prof. WEST: Well, no, we need to say something about that one, a crucial question.

COX: All right, then, go ahead.

Prof. WEST: A crucial question. I worry about it all the time. I just don't want the fear from the right to be used by the Obama administration to silence critics. We have to be willing to tell the truth because we're trying to speak about conditions that are being rendered invisible in our prisons and schools in the hood and so forth and so on.

But of course the right wing can use anything, and we have to make it very clear and I make it very clear that my love for the president in terms of protecting him and respecting him but also correcting, now all three of those are crucial, and if I can do all three, then the right wing can use it whatever they want, and I'm just clear where I stand, over against them but also critical when the president leans toward the strong, rather than the weak.

COX: Here's another call from Jason(ph) in Orlando, Florida. Jason, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JASON (Caller): It's a pleasure to speak to you, Dr. West.

Prof. WEST: It's a blessing to talk to you, my brother.

JASON: Thank you. I've got two very brief points I'd like to get your opinion on. With this immigration law in Arizona, you seem to hear and see mainly Hispanics who are up in arms about it, but maybe not in Arizona, but as the law is possibly adopted in more states, there are states with large concentrations of African immigrants and Caribbean immigrants. And I was wondering how you think that that will increase the already discriminatory nature that there is towards blacks in the country?

And my second point, question, is: Over time when things have happened to blacks in this country, we've mobilized, whether that's black Americans and blacks from other countries, with what seems like little help from other minorities in this country.

And as the start of the - after 9/11, you started to see Middle Eastern's -Middle Easterners were discriminated against, and now you are seeing Hispanics who are discriminated against, mainly due to immigration laws and such. And I was wondering if you think if they would helped us back then in some of our efforts, would we have, in turn, help them now and made the effort that much larger and basically taking it to another level?

COX: Jason, thank you.

JASON: Thank you again.

COX: Thank you, Jason.

Dr. WEST: Wonderful questions, wonderful questions. Well, one is I think it's a matter of principle as opposed to just interest. That's why I can't stand this phrase about I don't have any permanent enemies, any permanent friends, only permanent interests. I can't stand that. It's a matter of principles. What kind of integrity, what kind of morality do you have?

That's why Reverend Jessie Jackson, Brother Tavis Smiley, myself, Brother Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, just last week with him celebrated 100 years of magnificent struggle. We were all there at the historic gathering, dealing with immigration in Washington, D.C., a few months ago. So you have a black presence in a largely brown movement. It's very important that we support each other, based on principles. This is a history of Jewish brothers and sisters going down the Gutbucket, Mississippi and supporting the struggle against apartheid.

This is what it is for Asians to be part of - support affirmative action, even though it may be against their interest, but they feel it's a matter of justice. I think of Brother David Kim(ph) and others who'd make that stand; Matt Briones and others who'd make that kind of stand as Asians. It's very important. If we can't get back to principles and integrity and it's reduced just the interest of calculation and Machiavellian manipulation, we are in deep trouble.

COX: I have a question for you that comes from Sally(ph) in Missouri. I think it's Cowgill, Missouri, if I'm saying it - interestingly. It is difficult to take seriously the ideas of love and equality from a man who chooses to publish those ideas in a magazine dedicated to the objectification of women. What about that, Cornel West?

Dr. WEST: Uh, Playboy Magazine?

COX: Yes, sir.

Dr. WEST: Well, the sister has a point. I mean, Playboy has a long history of high-quality interviews along with the objectification of women, and so I think she does have a point there. I don't think that the words are necessarily nullified. It's just that that context is something you ought to be suspicious of.

Now, it's true that in reading an interview, I have a little critique of the objectification of women in a magazine that is perceived to doing that. So that I think she's on to something. The problem is, is that, you know, the evil is so ubiquitous in terms of objectification of all of us, that one can say that almost about any TV and even radio show. I mean, look at the evils that were complicitous with. And so yes, I appreciate that, but we have to be self-critical even in context that we might be critical of, even as we - our pieces appear in it.

COX: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

One of the things - before we take another phone call - actually, let's do that first. Let's take this phone call because this is Brian(ph) calling us from Buffalo, New York. Brian, you're on TALK OF THE NATION, welcome. You have a question?

BRIAN (Caller): Hello. Yes, I'm actually calling from Buffalo, Wyoming. My name is Brian Webb(ph), and I just want to say how thrilled I was to hear that the doctor is going to be on. Dr. West, I think you're an amazing, amazing man. I certainly hope that you will run for office one day. I would love to see you up there.

So my question is that there's no doubt that we're having an energy crisis. And I was wondering what your views were on alternative energy and what way do you think the country should go as far as dealing with the energy crisis, sir?

COX: Brian, thank you very much for that call, and you're right. It is Buffalo, Wyoming, and not New York. I need to get my glasses cleaned. What about that, Cornel?

Dr. WEST: Well, I appreciate the kind words from our brother in Buffalo there, and we're certainly at that energy crisis. I was sorry to see the bill seemingly dying in Congress, that Leonardo DiCaprio and others had come together. In fact, I was blessed to be part of a commercial, pushing for this energy bill, but we've been unsuccessful. We ought to try again. I think in the end, you know, we're just addicted to oil. We've got to overcome that addiction, and we need some serious accountability of big oil, because big oil, like so much of big businesses, has just colonized our government, colonized the regulatory agencies so we can't impose any kind of accountability on them. And we end up pushing ourselves over the brink. Here, I think, Tom Friedman is right, and I think that we have to - we have to have a serious public dialogue to try to shift public policy in that regard.

COX: You know, Cornel, you talk a lot about the importance of giving back and making a difference. What do you do to give back and make a difference?

Dr. WEST: Brother, I try to, in my own fallible way, speak the truth. The condition of truth, is to allow suffering to speak. Which means attend to suffering of the least of these, of the orphan, the widow, the poor, the working people, the gay brother, the lesbian sister, the transgender, the black people. Of course, I'm black, so, you know, I'm again with black folk, but it's a love that spills over to vanilla suburbs and red reservations and brown barrios and yellow slices.

And knowing that, you know, you're going to fail, you try again and fail again, fail better, as the great Samuel Beckett used to say. And you're trying to just leave the world a little better. So in giving back, it's not a chore. You see, I have fun. I have a whole lot of fun in trying to serve others and just keeping it funky, trying to keep it real, trying to ensure that we are able to be ourselves and get beyond these deodorized discourses and deodorized spaces that put on masks. And try to just be true to ourselves, whoever we are, but willing to grow, even as we're true to ourselves.

COX: I've got a final question for you, and because you are so eloquent and loquacious, I need to put a clock on you for your answer on this (unintelligible).

Mr. WEST: Yeah, I'm sorry. I talk too much, brother. I appreciate it. I appreciate it.

COX: The clock is, you know, sacrosanct here at NPR, so we can't fool around with it. We haven't talked much about you personally. So really briefly, what kind of teacher are you? I'm trying to imagine sitting in one of your classrooms, keeping up with your lecture. What kind of teacher are you?

Prof. WEST: Well, one, I'm the most blessed person in late modernity. I have a mother, Irene; a father, now dead; Cliff, a brother, Cliff; and two sisters, Cynthia and Cheryl. I got a son, Cliff; and a daughter, Zatune(ph). And they make me the happiest person in the world.

And as a Christian, I got something the world didn't give me, the world can't take away, so I find joy that can never be reduced to anything. So I come into classroom on fire. I'm on fire for learning. I'm on fire for education, a paideia in the deepest sense of paideia, trying to get young people to shift from the superficial to the substantial, the shift from the bling-bling to letting freedom reign in their minds and hearts and souls. And that's from Shakespeare and Dante, and Toni Morrison and Chekhov, and Steven Sondheim on -toward a Coltrane and Curtis Mayfield.

COX: You hear that music now, don't you?

Prof. WEST: I hear that music.

COX: You know what that means?

Prof. WEST: It sounds good, doesn't it? It sounds good, it sounds good, my brother.

COX: The lecture class is coming to a close...

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: ...for today, ladies and gentlemen. Cornel West, professor of African-American studies and religion at Princeton University. Thank you so much, Cornel.

Prof: WEST: Thank you so much. Stay strong.

COX: Coming up on the Opinion Page, Professor Andrew Hacker argues that higher education in this country is broken. Stay with us. I'm Tony Cox. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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