Dr. Cornel West spent two hours on Joe Rogan’s podcast in early August, where he discussed the origins of hip hop, the greatest Russian short story writers and the United States’ “original sin” of decimating its indigenous peoples.
When the conversation turned toward the dynamic of tragedy and comedy, the scholar and political activist dipped into his decades of philosophical and theological study to illustrate the shortcomings of two particular philosophers.
“Jesus never laughed, and Socrates never cried,” West said.
West will bring more of that insight with his lecture, “The Fight for the Soul of America,” the first lecture of the University of Montana’s President’s Lecture Series for the 2019 school year at The Wilma, Wednesday Aug. 28.
The President’s Lecture Series brings 10 speakers each year to UM to speak about important topics Past speakers include David Brooks, Vandana Shiva and Cheryl Strayed.
West, an activist, author, educator and icon in the Black community is a graduate of Harvard and became the first African American to earn a Ph.D in philosophy from Princeton University. West published “Race Matters” in 1993. The bestseller came out one year after the Los Angeles riots, which were sparked by the acquittal of four police officers who were charged with assaulting Rodney King, an unarmed black man.
The “litmus test for American democracy,” he wrote in the book’s preface, is “how broad and intense are the arbitrary powers used and deployed against black people.”
Real democracy, he wrote, has only been in practice in the United States since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965, West wrote.
Despite West’s support for Democratic candidates, he was known for criticizing former President Barack Obama for his use of drones in the Middle East and Joe Biden for his past support for segregationist senators to oppose bussing, which would cause schools to stay segregated.
He is also known for his thoughtful and sometimes heated debates on CNN, Fox News and “Real Time with Bill Maher” about presidential candidates, President Donald Trump and racial justice.
Elijah Fisher, pursuing a master’s in acting at UM, said he will be attending the lecture because West is a leader in the black community.
“That was enough to have me interested because there is such a huge lack of black leadership in this community,” Fisher said.
The President’s Lecture Series speakers from 2014-2016 were almost all white males. Out of 20 speakers, three were white women and just one was a woman of color. Fisher said he is concerned the speakers brought to UM don’t reflect the U.S. as a whole.
He said it is tiring to explain to white people why this representation is so important.
“There’s whole research papers, books, presentations on why it’s important,” he said. “So my short answer: it just is.”
The next President’s Lecture Series guest will be “There There” author Tommy Orange, who will speak in the Dennison Theater in October.
The lecture is free and open to the public Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at The Wilma.