West On Black Intellectuals And Liberal Magazines

My profile of Cornel West and Tavis Smiley's Poverty Tour will be in the print edition of next month's print edition Prospect, but I was having a conversation with Jamelle yesterday that reminded me of a portion of the interview with West I thought was interesting but didn't make it into the final piece. 

Prominently white, liberal and progressive magazines, like your magazine, I love brother Paul Starr and Kuttner, very close. But predominatly white magazines, the relation to black intellectuals has always been one of trying to get more, embrace more and so forth, but not always successful. The Nation magazine with sister Katrina, same way. And you end up sometimes recruiting certain black intellectuals who themselves are much less focused the things that Kuttner's concerned about, and more concerned with their careers in the white context that allows them to be more visible. So they come at highly visible black folk who have already paid their dues, who have already gone through Hell and high water and have sustained their commitment. It's a dynamic that's rarely talked about but it's very real.

I didn't have much time left so I just moved on, but I was kind of struck by West's bluntness in telling me to my face that my magazine hires carrerist crabs in a barrel who just take shots at those really making a difference. He didn't name any names so it's hard to know exactly who he's talking about here (Melissa Harris-Perry at The Nation? John McWhorter at TNR? Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic? Me? Whig Superstar Jamelle Bouie? It's not like there are that many black folks at liberal magazines...)

Anyway I came away from the experience thinking that for all their flaws, West and Smiley are doing something valuable, but you'll have to read about that in the next issue. 

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