Cornel West is back.
And with his newest book, Black Prophetic Fire: In Dialogue With and Edited by Christa Buschendorf—a series of conversations about the exemplars of the black prophetic tradition against racial and economic injustice—West reminds us why he remains one of the best-known, most controversial and most important public intellectuals of our time.
Over the past decade, West has occupied a unique role in American intellectual life. The former Harvard University professor—he now teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City—and best-selling author co-hosted a radio show with PBS’ Tavis Smiley and has, in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 election, emerged as one of the president’s most outspoken critics.
Prophetic Fire articulates West’s fundamental critique of President Obama. “With the black middle class losing nearly 60 percent of its wealth, the black working class devastated with stagnating wages and increasing prices, and the black poor ravaged by massive unemployment, decrepit schools, indecent housing and hyperincarceration in the new Jim Crow, the age of Obama looks bleak through the lens of the black prophetic tradition,” West argues. “This prophetic viewpoint is not a personal attack on a black president; rather it is a wholesale indictment of the system led by a complicitous black president.”
These are words of fire, and West deploys them with a passion and zeal that, at its best, recalls the activist spirit of Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, the figures profiled in his book.