Category Archives: race

What Kind of Mind Is This?

From New York magazine’s profile of/hit piece on Cornel West:

He famously reads for two or three hours before bed, and he has astonishing recall. Even in casual conversation, he uses ‘every intellectual resource at hand,’ says Obery Hendricks, who is now a visiting Bible scholar at Columbia University. In private-study sessions with West at Princeton, Hendricks remembers, ‘He was able to seamlessly incorporate black vernacular, black music, with the deepest Western philosophical thinkers. Once we were talking about jazz, and he extemporaneously wanted to talk about the similarities between bebop and a particular moment in the Italian renaissance. I thought, What kind of mind is this? I couldn’t believe it.’ West’s protégés describe seeing themselves, under the tutelage of their mentor, not as intellectual piece workers, toiling in small antechambers, but as heirs to a great, broad tradition.



I posted the below quote as a comment over at A Conversation on Cool but it got deleted. Does the very act of thinking about the racial history and connotations of cool make white people uncomfortable?

Cool is all about trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. It’s about living on the cusp, on the periphery, diving for scraps. Essential to cool is being outside looking in. Others – Indians, immigrants, women, gays – have been “othered,” but until the past 15 percent of America’s history, niggas in real terms have been treated by the country’s majority as, at best, subhuman and, at worst, an abomination. So in the days when they were still literally on the plantation they devised a coping strategy called cool, an elusive mellowing strategy designed to master time and space. Cool, the basic reason blacks remain in the American cultural mix, is an industry of style that everyone in the world can use. It’s finding the essential soul while being essentially lost. It’s the nigga metaphor. And the nigga metaphor is the genius of America.

Donnell Alexander

Read the whole thing.

Related reading: Norman Mailer, “The White Negro” (1957)

Michael Jackson (1958–2009)

Michael Jackson

My favorite Michael Jackson era was the era after the Jackson Five and before Thriller — the era when it looked like he was going to make it, and become a man. We used to worry about that when he first started out. Post-pubescent but pre-adolescent, we were cynics even then, and I remember people saying, ‘Yeah, but what’s going to happen to him when his voice changes?’ Well, it never really did. But there was a time when the child star re-emerged as just another teenager on the make — when Michael Jackson was not an icon but simply a performer trying to keep up with the times and make his own adjustment to the death of soul music and the rise of disco. There was a time when Michael Jackson was just a really good-looking black guy, who could really dance and could really sing. And when you see him in that period, right before Off the Wall, there’s an ease that he never had before, and never recaptured. It’s startling to see him, not freakily precocious or precociously freaky, but simplyof his time, nothing more and nothing less. In the videos he made for Off the Wall, he looks princely, the way that JFK Jr. did, an American royal gliding through the obligations of his own royalty.

Tom Junod