Joan Walsh Savages Cornel West

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Cover of "Brother West: Living and Loving...

Cornel West's tirade against Obama has irked much of the liberal media, largely it seems because West framed much of his critique in terms of race. Writes Joan Walsh of Salon.com:

The most tragic thing, to me, about West's meltdown was the way he tried to frame it as a universalist defense of poor and working-class people -- who in fact haven't gotten enough help or attention from this too-close-to-Wall Street administration -- but then somehow descends into personal attacks on the president as "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats." If that wasn't bad enough, West claims Obama's problem is that he is afraid of "free black men" due to his white ancestry and years in the Ivy League.....

Give Brother West credit for consistency: On MSNBC's "The Ed Show" Tuesday night, he repeated his criticism that Obama is too close to "upper-middle-class white brothers and Jewish brothers."

Oh no, the Jews again. Haven't we been here before?

It has become fashionable in middle class intellectual circles to pretend that skin color and racial background doesn't matter any more in America, and anyone who brings it up is living either a racist or living in a time warp. West is not allowed to bring up race when it comes to Obama because it isn't polite to do so, and liberal intellectuals are not comfortable with the idea that race still defines much of American politics.

While it is fine for Walsh to dismiss West's attack on Obama because she doesn't like listening to racial politics, the reality is that the Princeton professor speaks on behalf of a significant segment of black America dismayed at Obama's seamless integration into the institutions responsible for structural poverty and racial discrimination.

Personally, I still like to believe that Obama has a long game up his sleeve, that his ability to mingle with "upper-middle-class white brothers and Jewish brothers" is a tactic to mask subtle shifts in government policy that will result in substantive change somewhere down the line. Whether this turns out to be true or not remains to be seen, but West is right to criticize Obama because so far we have not seen much of the change he based his campaign on. There have been victories, no doubt, but for many languishing in poverty, joblessness and crippling debt, the long game seems awfully slow.

We can pretend that "upper-middle-class white brothers and Jewish brothers" are not massively overrepresented in government, and that policy isn't framed largely in their interests, but you only need to look at the statistics to see how much race still matters in America.

As an upper middle-class-white, Jewish brother, I can attest that life isn't so bad for me and my kind. And until I've lived as a poor black man, I will refrain from dismissing the racially tinged lens through which Cornel West still sees America.

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