Cornel West

Cornel West

: Photo from Creative Commons / Author of Photo: Adam Walker Cleaveland


* Popular Marxist intellectual; describes himself as a “prophet”
* Highly paid campus speaker and professor at Princeton
* Friend of Louis Farrakhan
* Political advisor to Al Sharpton
* Views America as a nation thoroughly infested with white racism


Cornel West was born on June 2, 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His older brother taught at MIT and worked for IBM, and his father was a defense contractor whose mother had a school named after her.

Early Radical Influences

From a young age, West proclaimed that he admired “the sincere black militancy of Malcolm X, the defiant rage of the Black Panther Party … and the livid black [liberation] theology of James Cone.”

Growing up in the radical 1960s, West became a militant black activist and president of his senior class in high school. At seventeen he was recruited to Harvard, where, as he describes it, he was determined to press the university and its intellectual traditions into the service of his political agendas:

“Owing to my family, church, and the black social movements of the 1960s, I arrived at Harvard unashamed of my African, Christian, and militant de-colonized outlooks. More pointedly, I acknowledged and accented the empowerment of my black styles, mannerisms, and viewpoints, my Christian values of service, love, humility, and struggle, and my anti-colonial sense of self-determination for oppressed people and nations around the world.”

West’s Education & Doctoral Dissertation

West earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1973, his master’s degree from Princeton in 1975, and his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1980. His doctoral dissertation was titled “Ethics, Historicism and the Marxist Tradition.” In the abstract to that dissertation, West wrote:

“I … critically reconstruct the arguments of three major Marxist thinkers–Engels, Kautsky and Lukacs–who, in their own ways, subscribe to the traditional vision of philosophy. I argue that all three adopt moderate historicism in ethics owing to this subscription, and specifically because of their own particular foundationalist conceptions of epistemology and science. I claim that Engels’ teleological quest resembles a Piercian move to preserve the notion of moral objectivity by holding that it amounts roughly to what moral agents will converge to or agree upon in the long run. I claim that Kautsky’s naturalistic quest is similar, though less sophisticated, to a Deweyian move that tries to translate norms-talk into needs-talk in order to avoid moral relativism. Lastly, I claim that Lukacs’ ontological quest is a sophisticated Hegelian move to overcome traditional, especially modern positivis[m], foundationalism in epistemology and science only to arrive at a new form of foundationalism–in science and ethics–in ontological garb. I try to show that these three quests for moral objectivity fail. I try to show that Marx adopts a radical historicist approach to ethics only after a tortuous philosophic journey which leaves him disenchanted and disillusioned with the vision of philosophy as the quest for certainty and search for foundations. I argue that he makes a crucial metaphilosophical move in order to take seriously historical consciousness and the constructionist conventionalism revealed by his political activism. I try to explain this metaphilosophical move in terms of a complex philosophic-theoretic shift in his approach to ethics. The major objective of this essay is to examine, in its various forms, the historicist approach to ethics.”

Professor & Author

After completing his higher education, West went on to become a professor of theology and African American studies at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the University of Paris. His books became required texts in college curricula across the United States, and his work elicited White House invitations and more requests as a speaker, blurb writer, and distinguished guest than any individual could possibly fill.

In a market where genuine scholars have traditionally found it extremely difficult to get an academic monograph in print, West has written more than 20 books published by commercial publishers and edited at least 13. Except for a thin 1993 volume of opinions on issues-of-the-day called Race Matters, which sold some 400,000 copies, none of his books sold sufficiently to justify the commercial support that his work received. They were put into print (according to one of his publishers) as “prestige” publications to bring credit to the house.

West’s first effort was titled Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (1982). This book advocated what one Indiana University publication described as a “socially concerned African American Christianity” drawing from the teachings of Marxism. Then followed, among others, Prophetic Fragments (1988); The American Evasion of Philosophy (1989); The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought (1991); Prophetic Thought in Postmodern Times (1993); Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America (1993); Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America (1994); and Restoring Hope (1999).

In Prophetic Fragments, West writes that his “principal aim” is “to examine and explore, delineate and demystify, counter and contest the widespread accommodation of American religion to the political and cultural status quo.”

West also co-authored several books, including Breaking Bread (with bell hooks, 1991); Jews and Blacks (with Michael Lerner, 1995); The Future of the Race (with Henry Louis Gates Jr., 1996); The Future of American Progressivism (with Roberto Unger, 1998); The War Against Parents (with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, 1998); and The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Century (with Henry Louis Gates Jr., 2000).

Calling for Racial Harmony While Embracing Racial Radicalism

One of the early catalysts for West’s rise into the cultural stratosphere was his plea for racial harmony. As a Marxist black radical he was almost unique in saying that it was not appropriate for other black militants to hate all whites and Jews. Yet he endorsed the radicals grouped around the magazine Race Traitor, which called for the “abolition of whiteness.”

Ties to the Democratic Socialists of America & the Socialist Scholars Conference

In October 1983, West was a New York delegate to the Democratic Socialists of America conference in New York City.

In April 1992, West was a speaker on the What Future for the Socialist Idea? panel sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Michael Harrington Center at the Tenth Annual Socialist Scholars Conference in New York City.

That same year, West was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America Racial Diversity Task Force, whose mission was to find ways of recruiting and retaining more “people of color” into the organization.

In 1998, West chaired the DSA’s African American Commission.

In March 2010, West was the keynote speaker at a Young Democratic Socialists of America conference entitled “Real Change for a Change,” which was billed as a “snapshot of the current socialist movement in the United States.” During his lengthy address, West declared that “socialism has a future.” He added: “We are at a very crucial historical moment. My dear friend [President] Barack Obama, he needs help. He needs deep help. He needs pressure. Organized, mobilized pressure.” Exhorting the crowd not to rely on “messiahs” or “leaders” to lead the way toward America’s transformation into a socialist country, West said the responsibility for that task “falls onto us.”

On March 19, 2011, West was the featured speaker at the Young Democratic Socialists‘ annual Winter outreach conference, titled “Their Crisis, Our Pain: The Democratic Socialist Response to the Great Recession.”

In 2015, West was a contributing editor to the new, DSA-created version of the publication Religious Socialism.

Blaming Jews for Black Anti-Semitism

In “Black Anti-Semitism and the Rhetoric of Resentment,” a 1992 article that West wrote for Michael Lerner’s Tikkun, he blamed black anti-Semitism on, among other things, “the [Israeli] occupation of the West Bank and Gaza” and “the visible conservative Jewish opposition to what is perceived to be a major means to black progress, namely, affirmative action.” “Without some redistribution of wealth and power,” West warned, “downward mobility and debilitating poverty will continue to drive people into desperate channels” that will “produce a cold-hearted and mean-spirited America no longer worth fighting for or living in.”

Supporter & Friend of Louis Farrakhan

In addition, West is a close personal friend to Louis Farrakhan, to whom he refers as “my dear brother.” West served as an advisor and organizer for Farrakhan’s 1995 “Million Man March,” and he has passionately defended Farrakhan against the latter’s critics. West once said, for instance:

“[Many claim that] ‘Farrakhan said Hitler was a great man.’ That’s a lie! He said he’s wickedly great. When he said something about Judaism, he said Judaism can be used as a gutter religion. I’m a Christian, you know that. Can Christianity be used as a gutter religion? Hell yes! Ku Klux Klan, Constantine using Christianity to defend the Empire, Christianity used against women, against gay brothers and lesbian sisters. So first you’ve got to tell the truth about Louis Farrakhan.”

West also laments that Farrakhan has been “so demonized by the mainstream.”

Supporter of Mumia Abu Jamal

In 1995 West was a signatory to a New York Times ad voicing support for cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal, a former Black Panther. Other notable leftists who signed the letter included Noam Chomsky, Roger Ebert, Mike Farrell, Danny Glover, bell hooks, Spike Lee, Michael Moore, Charles Rangel, Susan Sarandon, and Gloria Steinem.

In 2008, West signed a statement circulated by the Partisan Defense Committee calling for Abu-Jamal’s release from prison.

Supporter of Bill Bradley & Al Sharpton

In 1999, in his role as then-presidential candidate Bill Bradley’s advisor on blacks, West encouraged Bradley to meet with Al Sharpton (whose own campaign for a U.S. Senate seat West had supported in 1994).

Marxist & Socialist

West calls himself a “progressive socialist” and has written that “Marxist thought is an indispensable tradition for freedom fighters.”

Supporter of the New Party, a Socialist Coalition

In the 1990s, West was a supporter of the New Party. In fact, the Fall 1994 issue of New Party News listed him as one of the 100+ activists “who are building the NP.”

Years at Princeton & Harvard

West taught at Princeton from 1988 to 1993, at which point he took a professor’s position at Harvard, where in 1998 he would receive the prestigious tenured appointment of University Professor.

Ties to the Black Radical Congress

In early 1998, West was one of 117 black radicals who stepped forth as “Endorsers of the Call” for the formation of the Black Radical Congress, which was now imminent. Other notables on the list included Amiri BarakaAngela DavisLewis GordonJulianne MalveauxManning Marable, and Rosalyn Pelles.

Opponent of the “Global War on Drugs”

In 1998 West was a signatory to a public letter addressed to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, declaring that “the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself.” Other signers included Tammy Baldwin, Rev. Calvin Butts, Rev. William Sloan Coffin, Jr., Walter CronkiteMorton H. Halperin, Kweisi Mfume, and George Soros.

Paying Homage to the Communist Manifesto

West was an endorser of an October 30-31, 1998 Brecht Forum presentation in New York titled “Communist Manifestivity to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto.”

Supporter of Cloward & Piven

On September 20, 2001, West was a guest speaker at a New York City gathering to honor the work of Richard Cloward (co-creator of the Cloward-Piven Strategy), who had died a month earlier. Other speakers included such notables as Barbara Ehrenreich, June Jordan, Gus Newport, Frances Fox Piven, Miles Rappaport, Joel Rogers, Tim Sampson, and Howard Zinn.

Leaving Harvard & Returning to Princeton

In 2001, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers took over Harvard’s presidency and, in a private meeting with West, told him that he (West) was giving out far too many A’s and A-plusses in his introductory class in African-American studies. Summers also exhorted West to devote his energies to writing a serious academic book, rather to the production of rap-like CDs such as the one he recently had released. Moreover, Summers expressed concern that West had taken too much time away from his academic responsibilities by campaigning for presidential hopeful Bill Bradley in 2000. Similarly, Summers in told West in 2002 that the latter was devoting an excessive amount of time to assisting the “exploratory” Al Sharpton-for-president effort now.

West reacted angrily to Summers’ comments, telling the media that Harvard’s President had “attacked and insulted” him with great “disrespect.” In 2002, West left Harvard and returned to Princeton.

Casting America as a Racist, Oppressive Nation

The “disrespect” that West perceived in the Summers affair was, in his view, part and parcel of the extreme irreverence that whites nationwide were wont to direct at blacks. He deems the United States a nation rife with bigotry that finds its expression in an endless flow of affronts and assaults aimed against the black community. He has branded the U.S. a “racist patriarchal” nation where “white supremacy” continues to define everyday life. “White America,” he writes, “has been historically weak-willed in ensuring racial justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks.” This has resulted, he claims, in the creation of many “degraded and oppressed people [who are] hungry for identity, meaning, and self-worth.”[1]

West attributes most of the black community’s problems to “existential angst derive[d] from the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating U.S. society and culture.”[2] He explains that “the accumulated effect of the black wounds and scars suffered in a white-dominated society is a deep-seated anger, a boiling sense of rage, and a passionate pessimism regarding America’s will to justice.”[3] “It goes without saying,” he adds, “that a profound hatred of African people . . . sits at the center of American civilization.”[4]

In West’s view, the 9/11 attacks gave white Americans a glimpse of what it means to be a black person in the United States — feeling “unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hated for who they are.” “Since 9/11,” he said, “the whole nation has the blues, when before it was just black people.”

A vocal opponent of America’s involvement in the War in Iraq, West in a 2005 interview said that the Bush administration was peopled with “hawks” who “are not simply conservative elites and right-wing ideologues,” but rather are “evangelical nihilists — drunk with power and driven by grand delusions of American domination of the world.” “We are experiencing the sad gangsterization of America,” he added, “an unbridled grasp at power, wealth and status.”

In August 2011, during which time violent riots were taking place in Britain, West warned that similar unrest was likely to strike in the United States: “If you don’t treat poor and working people with dignity now, chickens are going to come home to roost later. And it won’t be about love and justice. It will be about revenge, hatred, and then we all go under.”

In October 2011, West said the following about Herman Cain, a black conservative who was seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, and who had said that racism was no longer an impediment to success for African Americans: “I think he needs to get off the symbolic crack pipe and acknowledge that the evidence [of racism] is overwhelming.’’

In the aftermath of the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd — a black man who had died after being abused by a white police officer in Minneapolis — a number of U.S. cities were overrun by violent riots. In a June 1 interview with CNN:

  • West cast the violence as a reaction to many generations of American “militarism,” “poverty,” “materialism,” “racism,” and “xenophobia.” “And what you’re seeing in America is those chickens coming home to roost,” he said. “You are reaping what you sow.”
  • He characterized President Trump as the “neo-fascist gangster in the White House.”
  • He called for a “nonviolent revolution” that would bring about “the democratic sharing of power, resources, wealth and respect.” “If we don’t get that kind of sharing,” he added, “you’re going to get more violent explosions.”
  • He said: “White supremacy is going to be around for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long time, don’t be surprised when this happens again.”
  • He said: “We’ve tried black faces in high places. Too often our black politicians, professional class, middle class become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to a militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture of celebrities, status, power, fame, all that superficial stuff that means so much to so many fellow citizens.”
  • He said: “I think we are witnessing America as a failed social experiment. What I mean by that is that the history of black people for over 200 and some years in America has been looking at America’s failure. Its capitalist economy could not generate and deliver in such a way that people could live lives of decency. The nation-state, its criminal justice system, its legal system could not generate protection of rights and liberties. And now our culture, of course is so market-driven—everything for sale, everybody for sale—it can’t deliver the kind of nourishment for soul, for meaning, for purpose.”


Viewing capitalism as the root cause of these alleged American lusts, the Marxist West declared in that same 2005 interview: “Free-market fundamentalism trivializes the concern for public interest. It puts fear and insecurity in the hearts of anxiety-ridden workers. It also makes money-driven, poll-obsessed elected officials deferential to corporate goals of profit — often at the cost of the common good.”

West’s Ties to Black Liberation Theology & Religious Leftism Generally

West is a proponent of black liberation theology — a variation of liberation theology, which teaches that the New Testament gospels can be understood only as calls for social activism, class struggle, and revolution aimed at overturning the existing capitalist order and installing, in its stead, a socialist utopia where today’s poor will unseat their “oppressors” and become liberated from their material (and, consequently, their spiritual) deprivations. Black liberation theology seeks to foment a similar Marxist revolutionary fervor founded on racial rather than class solidarity. The Christian notion of “salvation” in the afterlife is superseded by “liberation” on earth, courtesy of the aforementioned socialist utopia.

Anthony Bradley, assistant professor of theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, wrote in April 2008:

“West sees a strong correlation between black theology and Marxist thought because ‘both focus on the plight of the exploited, oppressed and degraded peoples of the world, their relative powerlessness and possible empowerment.’ This common focus prompts West to call for ‘a serious dialogue between Black theologians and Marxist thinkers’ — a dialogue that centers on the possibility of ‘mutually arrived-at political action.’ … West … appreciates Marxism for its ‘notions of class struggle, social contradictions, historical specificity, and dialectical developments in history’ that explain the role of power and wealth in bourgeois capitalist societies….”

In 2005 West collaborated with Michael Lerner and Sister Joan Chittister to restructure and rename Lerner’s Tikkun Community as the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), an “interfaith educational and social action organization.” West also became a co-chair of NSP.

As of March 2021, West was a member of the advisory board for the Institute for Christian Socialism.

Supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party & Its Projects

In 2002, West lent his name to the “Statement of Conscience” crafted by Not In Our Name, a project of C. Clark Kissinger’s Revolutionary Communist Party. This document condemned not only the Bush administration’s “stark new measures of repression,” but also its “unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world.”

West also endorsed World Can’t Wait (WCW), another Revolutionary Communist Party project that sought to organize “people living in the United States to take responsibility to stop the whole disastrous course led by the Bush administration.”

Rescinding Support for The Green Party’s Ralph Nader

West had been a steadfast supporter of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election. But after seeing how Nader siphoned votes away from Democrat Al Gore and perhaps cost Gore that election, West in 2004 signed a petition urging voters to back Democrat John Kerry, who stood a reasonably good chance of defeating Bush, instead of Nader, who stood no chance. Other signatories included Noam Chomsky, Phil Donahue, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bonnie Raitt, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Zeese, and Howard Zinn.

Lauding Hugo Chavez in Venezuela

In 2006 West visited Venezuela, which was being transformed into a socialist state by its president, Hugo Chavez. Praising the Venezuelan government — which had nationalized industries, imprisoned or killed its opponents, and openly threatened the United States — West explained that he had made the trip in order “to see the democratic awakening taking place” under Chavez.

On the eve of Venezuela’s presidential election of 2006, West joined Jesse Jackson, Dolores Huerta, and Tom Hayden in writing an open letter to President George W. Bush in which they lauded Chávez’s policy of sharing his “country’s oil wealth with millions of poor Venezuelans.” In a 2010 tweet, West said: “I love that Hugo Chavez has made poverty a major priority. I wish America would make poverty a priority.”

Board Member of the Movement for a Democratic Society

On February 17, 2007, West was nominated to serve on the board of the Movement for a Democratic Society.

Speaker at The Left Forum

In early March 2007, West was a featured speaker at a Left Forum event held at Cooper Union College in New York City.

Fierce Critic of Israel & Apologist for Hamas

In May 2007 West, along with Marxist professor Manning Marable and numerous others, signed a letter drafted by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The letter called for “Black America” to participate in a rally protesting the 40th anniversary of Israel’s “illegal occupation” of the West Bank, and to help “build our country’s support for Palestinian human rights.”

In 2014, as Israel was conducting Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in response to the multitude of rockets and mortars that the terrorist group had been firing from Gaza into southern Israel, West described the operation as “Israeli state terrorism in action and its Jewish racism in motion.” At the same time, West asserted that “[Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal not because he is Jewish but because he has chosen to promote occupation and annihilation.”

West has repeatedly and falsely accused Israel of killing “Palestinian babies.” In an August 12, 2014 interview, for instance, he blasted “a right wing government that allows for the killing of 427 precious Palestinian babies.”

In 2014 as well, West wrote that the crimes of the Islamic terror group Hamas “pale in the face of the U.S.-supported Israeli slaughters of innocent civilians.”

Similarly, in one 2015 broadcast, West spoke of “500 Palestinian babies killed in 50 days” — a highly unreliable claim that had originated with Hamas and pro-Hamas sources during the 2014 Hamas-Israel war in the Gaza Strip – a war that was started by Hamas aggression. As later explained: “Beyond the unreliability of the statistics themselves is the fact that Prof. West takes them out of context and distorts them into a claim demonizing Israel as vicious and ruthless baby killers. Even the questionable sources claiming over 500 innocent children killed, acknowledge that the majority (greater than 65 percent) were neither babies nor toddlers, but minors between the ages of 7-17, used by Hamas as pawns or human shields in the terror group’s war against Israel.  Yet Professor West repeatedly refers to 500 ‘babies’ being killed (presumably because it stirs more empathy and emotion and serves better as a propaganda claim, no matter that it is false).”

In 2017, West lauded the Hamas-inspired Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement as “the last nonviolent effort to try to ensure that the moral character and the human values of a settler-colonial enterprise that has involved itself in expansion and extation [sic], and leading toward … a full-fledged apartheid.”

At daybreak on October 7, 2023 — which was the major Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah — the Islamic terror group Hamas carried out a massive, multi-front, surprise attack against Israel, firing thousands of rockets from Gaza into the Jewish state, while dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the Israeli border in a number of locations by air, land and sea. The attack had been planned in conjunction with officers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, along with agents of three other Iran-sponsored terrorist groups. “In an assault of startling breadth,” reported CBS News, “Hamas gunmen rolled into as many as 22 locations outside the Gaza Strip, including towns and other communities as far as 15 miles from the Gaza border. In some places they gunned down civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response.” By October 8, at least 600 Israelis had been killed and 1,800 wounded, making it the deadliest day Israel had seen in decades. Moreover, Hamas took hundreds of Israelis hostage, including dozens who were American citizens, and moved them to the Gaza Strip. The terrorists also paraded Israelis’ mutilated bodies in Gaza, to cheering crowds of Palestinians. By October 19, the official casualty toll in Israel had reached more than 1,400 dead (including at least 32 American) and 4,500 injured.

On October 28, 2023, West, denouncing Israel’s military response against Hamas-dominated Gaza, marched in a pro-Palestinian rally while holding a banner depicting “Zionism” as a snake, a common antisemitic image. He also delivered a speech at that same event, saying:

“Let the word go forth here and now, that we stand with our [Palestinian] brothers and sisters and siblings dealing with unbelievable assault and attack, genocidal on the one hand, but 75 years of it [since the creation of Israel in 1948], and we still stand tall, they still stand tall, ’cause any time, yes, any time everyday people straighten their backs up they’re going somewhere, because folk can’t ride our back unless it’s bent, and we are standing in solidarity. […]

“Don’t let any of these mainstream folks try to manipulate you and say you hate Jewish brothers and sisters — you hate an Israeli occupation! You hate an Israeli genocidal attack on our precious siblings, Palestinian siblings in Gaza! … And some of us will be faithful unto death! Just like those in Gaza [are] faithful unto death!”

On November 11, 2023, West spoke at a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rally in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, where he again addressed the recently erupted Israel-Hamas conflict. Asserting that as a black man, he was a member of a people who historically had “dish[ed] out love warriors and freedom fighters every generation” despite having been “terrorized, traumatized, and hated” for “400 years,” West proudly declared that “we stand in solidarity with anybody who’s occupied, anybody who’s subjugated, anybody who’s exploited.” Lamenting that Israel’s “genocidal attack” against Gaza had thus far resulted in “10,000 dead [Palestinians including] 4,000 precious children,” he added: “We loathe, we hate, a vicious Israeli occupation. We loathe, and we hate a vicious siege against Gaza.” West further condemned the “American empire” and the “cowards in Washington, D.C.,” for their unwillingness to agree to Hamas’s call for an immediate ceasefire.

Opposing U.S. Military Base in the Czech Republic

In July 2008 West was a signatory to an open letter addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice protesting the proposed installation of a U.S. military base in the Czech Republic. The letter trivialized the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and accused the U.S. of fomenting a new Cold War with Russia. Other signers included Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.

Ties to Barack Obama

In 2008 Senator Barack Obama named West to his presidential campaign’s Black Advisory Council. West was not only a great admirer of Obama, but also of Obama’s former pastor and longtime spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Editorial Board Member with Dissent Magazine

In 2009, West served on the editorial board of Dissent magazine.

Supporter of Occupy Wall Street

In 2011, West supported the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement.

Accusing Police of Widespread Racism

In September 2011, West and Carl Dix issued a statement accusing police forces nationwide—most notably in New York City—of routinely subjecting blacks and Latinos, merely because of the color of their skin, to violations of “the part of the [C]onstitution protecting people from unreasonable search and seizure.” In an impassioned call to action, West and Dix solicited the support of all those who were “sick and tired of being harassed and jacked up by the cops” and of having their “humanity … routinely violated” for racial reasons. Most notably, the pair objected to the use of “stop-and-frisk” policing practices, which they described as “illegal” and “unconstitutional.” Out of this effort by West and Dix, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network was formed.

In October 2011, West joined Revolutionary Communist Party founder Carl Dix and other activists in issuing a statement demanding that the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” crime-fighting program be discontinued—on grounds that it targeted nonwhite minorities in disproportionate numbers. On October 21, 2011, Dix and West were among 30 people arrested for participating in a mass act of civil disobedience at an NYPD Precinct. In October 2014, West and Dix again collaborated in calling for a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.

Suspecting That the U.S. Was Responsible for 9/11

On September 11, 2013, West was in Washington, D.C. to speak at an American Muslim Political Action Committee rally organized to condemn “the lack of transparency and questions plaguing 9/11, steady erosion of domestic civil liberties, drone policy and the very dire effect of these on of plight of American Muslims here at home, and Muslim communities globally in the scope of U.S. imperialism, and the modern face of resistance to unmanned aerial surveillance and warfare.” One speaker after another at this event promoted conspiracy theories suggesting that the World Trade Center towers had collapsed due to controlled explosions and doubting that an airplane had actually crashed into the Pentagon. When West was asked to give his views on the matter, he replied:

“I just don’t know. My hunch is that I think that bin Laden certainly had something to do with it, and so I try to listen and raise questions and allow them to engage in their investigation, but I haven’t spent as much time as they have. But at this point, I’m still uncertain. I think there might be a possibility, but my hunch is that [with] bin Laden’s…definitive investment he must have had something to do with it. But the thing is, what they express is a profound distrust in the government and a profound distrust in the government’s intelligence, and I have that distrust, too, so I’ve got to be open-minded.”

Advisory Board Member for Peace Action

In 2014, West was an advisory board member with Peace Action, along with such fellow notables as Christine Ahn, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Julian Bond, David Cortright, Thomas Gumbleton, Frances Fox Piven, and Pete Seeger.

Condemning the Mass Incarceration of Black Youths

In September 2014, West was a guest speaker at “Growing Up Locked Down,” a three-day Juvenile Justice Conference presented at The New School in Manhattan by Justice League NYC. This event featured workshops and panels that addressed subjects ranging from the state of childhood incarceration to the media’s reportage on the issue. Another noteworthy speaker was Harry Belafonte.

Criticizing President Obama for Failing to Denounce “White Supremacy”

In a June 2015 appearance on CNN television, West criticized President Obama for allowing himself to be too “scared and intimated” to truly confront “white supremacy.” Said West:

“You can’t talk about wealth and inequality, you can’t talk about education, you can’t talk about massive unemployment and under employment and you can’t talk about drones being dropped on people in other parts of the world, without talking about white supremacy and its ways in which it operates. It doesn’t have to be overt. The president is right about that. But too many black people are niggerized. I would say the first black president has become the first niggerized black president….

“A niggerized black person is a black person who is afraid and scared and intimidated when it comes to putting a spotlight on white supremacy and fighting against white supremacy. So when many of us said we have to fight against racism, what were we told? ‘No, he can’t deal with racism because he has other issues, political calculations. He’s the president of all America, not just black America.’ We know he’s president of all America but white supremacy is American as cherry pie.

“We’re talking about moral issues, spiritual issues, emotional issues. White supremacy has nothing to do with just skin pigmentation, it has to be what kind of person you want to be, what kind of nation we want to be. Democrats and Republicans play on both of those parties in terms of running away from the vicious legacy of white supremacy until it hits us hard. Thank God for Ferguson. Thank God for the young folk of all colors. Thank God for Staten Island and fighting there. Thank God in Baltimore, now the precious folk in Charleston.”

A Powerful Figure in the Democratic Party

In 2016, West supported Bernie Sanders for U.S. President. That same year, Sanders used his influence to secure, for West, a major role in formulating the Democratic Party’s platform for the election campaign.

Ties to “Refuse Fascism”

In 2016 as well, West was a key “founding initiator” of the organization Refuse Fascism.

Return to Harvard

West returned to Harvard in November 2016, taking a non-tenured position as Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, jointly appointed at the Harvard Divinity School and the Graduate School of African and African-American Studies.

Demanding That Harvard Divest from Israel

West was a featured speaker at a February 2020 event entitled “Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine,” which called on Harvard University to “disclose direct and indirect investments in companies complicit in human rights abuses towards Palestinians,” and demanded that Harvard “divest all direct and indirect holdings in these companies.” The calls for these divestments were based upon the premises that “Palestinians [in the Middle East] live under apartheid,” and that the “recent ‘peace’ plan proposed by the Trump administration legitimizes [Israel’s] occupation of Palestinian land and restricts 4 million Palestinians to mere slivers of land simply because they are not Jewish.”

In early 2021, West speculated aloud that Harvard University had denied him tenure because of his history of criticizing Israel and supporting the Palestinians. “This is my hypothesis,” West said, “because given the possibilities of why they would not be even interested in initiating a tenure process, what else it could be?”

Resigning from Harvard Because of Its Alleged Lack of Support for Palestinians

On June 30, 2021, West submitted his letter of resignation from Harvard University’s Divinity School, writing, in part: “How sad it is to see our beloved Harvard Divinity School in such decline and decay. The disarray of a scattered curriculum, the disenchantment of talented yet deferential faculty, and the disorientation of precious students loom large.” He noted that when he had taken an untenured position in 2016, “with a salary less than what I received 15 years earlier,” he had hoped that he would be able to finish out his career “with some semblance of intellectual intensity and personal respect.” “How wrong I was!” West lamented. “With a few glorious and glaring exceptions, the shadow of Jim Crow was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity.” “[T]o witness a faculty enthusiastically support a candidate [West] for tenure [and] then timidly defer to a rejection based on the Harvard administration’s hostility to the Palestinian cause was disgusting,” West wrote. “We all knew the mendacious reasons given had nothing to do with academic standards.” “When my committee recommended a tenure review — also rejected by the Harvard administration — I knew my academic achievements and student teaching meant far less than their political prejudices,” he added.

Supporter of Unrestricted Abortion Rights

On May 2, 2022, Politico reported that an unidentified individual had leaked an initial draft majority opinion, written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in which the Court had decided to strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. “No draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending,” said Politico. Whereas Roe had guaranteed federal constitutional protections for abortion rights, the new ruling would return responsibility for those rights to each individual state. In response to the Court’s decision, West signed a May 2022 statement issued by Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, a Revolutionary Communist Party front group, which demanded a right to “abortion on demand and without apology.”

Announcement of 2024 Presidential Campaign as a Democrat

On June 5, 2023, West announced that he was running as a 2024 presidential candidate on the People’s Party ticket. The People’s Party was founded in 2017 by Nick Brana, a former campaign staffer for Senator Bernie Sanders. “I have decided to run for truth and justice, which takes the form of running for president of the United States as a candidate for the People’s Party,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “I enter in the quest for truth. I enter in the quest for justice. And the presidency is just one vehicle to pursue that truth and justice.” “Neither political party [Democrat or Republican] wants to tell the truth about Wall Street, about Ukraine, about the Pentagon, about big tech,” West added.

Additional Information

As of 2023, West was a member of the Black Alliance for Peace, an entity with close ties to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

West once served as a contributing editor of Sojourners magazine.

West has served as a Fellow with the Sanders Institute.


  1. Cornel West, Race Matters (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), p. 20
  2. Ibid., p. 27
  3. Ibid., p. 28
  4. Ibid., p. 106

Additional Resources:

No Light in His Attic
By David Horowitz
October 11, 1999

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