Oh fuck’s sake, Melissa Harris Perry started the Feud with Cornel West

I have been trying to avoid the particulars of the smear campaign professional Democrats are running against Cornel West, because, as I said before, the Michael Dyson piece that kicked it off is really a by-the-numbers smear, mostly unexceptional but for its self-serious bloat. Far too many people — like the status-conscious phony Dave Zirin, for example — are taking it more seriously than it deserves — or pretending to —  by framing it as a heartfelt and even erudite essay instead of nakedly obvious, score-settling, power-serving hatchet job. To pull apart various elements is to wrongly suggest that any part of Dyson’s piece isn’t rife with malicious dishonesty.

However, the frequency with which Dyson and his fellow careerist vermin are deliberately mischaracterizing and exaggerating West’s alleged excoriation of Melissa Harris-Perry is more than I can bear. It pops up everywhere. In Dyson’s recent Salon interview with the revoltingly disingenuous Joan Walsh, Dyson calls West’s insults “deeply entrenched in sexist language and belief.” Walsh naturally concurs: “It was disturbing. It felt very gendered and very personal.”

Zirin, wrote that West’s comments about Harris-Perry were so “vicious” they “anger [his] blood” and compared them to Muhammad Ali’s extended campaign of racialized insults against Joe Frazier in the 60s. Jamil Smith, Dyson’s editor at The New Republic, called West’s comments against Harris-Perry “hyperbolic vitriol.”

While reading this stuff, you might think you’d heard the story wrong. That West hadn’t simply said that Harris-Perry had become “the momentary darling of liberals…in over her head…a fake and a fraud.” Strong stuff, certainly, but entrenched in sexist language and belief? Disturbingly gendered and personal? Hyperbolic? So vicious that your blood boils?

Amidst all this, um, hyperbole, you might also forget that Dyson himself disclosed in his hit piece that West was reacting to two extremely unflattering articles Harris-Perry had written about West and his colleague Tavis Smiley, one in 2008 and another in 2011. In other words, Harris-Perry started this fight, and brutally so.

In the 2011 piece for The Nation, Perry called West’s remarks about Obama in a Truthdig article, “a self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness” that provides “stunning insight into the delicate ego of the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted.” In the same essay, she introduces talking points that would find themselves in The New Republic four years later — West’s acrimony owes to a grudge over Obama’s failure to provide him with tickets to the first inauguration; “the tiresome repetitiveness with which West invokes the name of his erstwhile Harvard nemesis Lawrence Summers as indicative of President Obama’s failed economic vision;” that West is a privileged elitist whose claimed affinity for the common people is misleading. She calls him “dishonest” and several times suggests he and Smiley are unintentionally hilarious.

The implication is that West is a bitter, anachronistic, increasingly irrelevant hypocrite, whose objections to Obama are rooted less in political conviction than a fragile ego. All of this of course foreshadows Dyson’s  “Ghost” theme. I can’t imagine that any objective person could look at the gleeful nastiness and length of Harris-Perry’s piece and conclude that West’s reply, which came several months later, was in any way disproportional. If anything, it’s muted by comparison. But then we’re not dealing with objective people. We’re not even dealing with subjective people. Or hypocrites. We’re dealing with liars. Professional liars. The worst kind.

Related

Cornel West’s Impermissible Opinions

Michael Eric Dyson’s Hatchet Eulogy for Cornel West

White Supremacy and Magic Paper Part 4: The White Supremacy Difference

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29 Responses to Oh fuck’s sake, Melissa Harris Perry started the Feud with Cornel West

  1. Jacob says:

    “But then we’re not dealing with objective people. We’re not even dealing with subjective people.”

    Amen.

  2. Lorenzo says:

    Of all the smears put out by Dyson’s piece that I’ve seen ricocheting around twitter, the idea that West has some sexist feud against MH Perry seems to have caught the strongest hold. I saw some prominent liberals on twitter dismiss his facebook post since he didn’t “apologize” or “address” his perceived misogyny-ridden comments.

    A lot of people have an attachment to MHP, which is why her being criticized is so self-evidently heinous to them. Having been exposed to a bit of her work, it’s clear that she’s an incredibly skilled and savvy heat vampire. I actually watched a long discussion she did with bell hooks (I was watching for hooks), and it’s scary to see how good MHP is at communicating in a facsimile of radical language. MHP talks extensively about the plight of the poor, with hooks’ words about capitalism and white supremacy rubbing off on her and giving her the cover of radical legitimacy. Having signaled a class-conscious analysis to the target audience, she goes on MSNBC and writes about how Barack Obama is the heir of Malcolm X’s legacy, or about how the Ferguson uprising proves that Obama’s election has heralded a sea-change against American racism. It’s almost chilling to see how effectively someone like MHP constructs a veneer of structural, class-based discourse while counseling service to power.

    It’s clear why the power elite wants someone like her, rather than West, to be channeling black and poor discontent. MHP sees a white supremacist state and argues, contrary to all evidence, that purely symbolic change is working, while West is inconveniently insisting that structural change is needed. It’s fascinating to watch him press that latter point on Letterman and CNN, despite insipid stories about how Obama made Europe cry.

    Thank you for being all over the anti-West campaign, your writing on this subject is invaluable.

    • Tarzie says:

      I wonder if we will ever see the end of this feminism — which is exactly the opposite of feminism — that regards any attack on a high-status woman by a man as sexist, even if the woman has been aggressively vicious. The suggestion is that women are delicate little flowers that can dish it out but can’t take it themselves.

      Harris-Perry is a total snake in just the way you described and her piece against West was as nasty as it gets, the proto-smear for everything that came later. Screw bell hooks for lending her legitimacy. I really have no use for these lefts that hand out passes to the worst kind of interference running liberal riff raff.

      • ks says:

        Well said but I would like to add one important caveat. The protection offered by such a dubious form of feminism is only afforded to certain women. Notice how they never run to the defense of say Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman, et al? In fact, they are usually gleefully participating in the attacks. Now I don’t particularly care for those two either but, the hypocrisy of the people you are describing is telling.

      • Tarzie says:

        Oh definitely. Same with lgbt people. They really pile on conservative closet cases in a way that’s fraught with homophobia. Like Michele Bachman’s husband for instance.

  3. Presumably the May 2011 MHP piece was more generally in anticipation of an upcoming presidential election, just as the 2015 pieces seem to be. There were and are a lot of elbows being thrown by individuals and tag-teams as they fought or fight for a seat at the winner’s table (whatever that looks like – department chairs, think-tank tenures, high-profile media gigs, and money, I suppose). But the subtext or ‘super-text’ or something is surely, still, policing the limits of acceptable public / “in-the-media” discourse.

    If there is thought to be a particular need to rein West in, I would guess, it has less to do with his message pre se, and more to do with the recent spike in mainstream media attention paid to police shootings and protest in the context of black communities. That has raised, however temporarily, the profile of some black voices; and thereby raised the potential for the *Right Kind* of black voices to improve their access to and share in wealth and power. West was standing close enough to the door to be in someone’s way and get a shove in the back. If nobody’s throwing serious elbows at Adolph Reed Jr. or Glen Ford or Bruce Dixon or other articulate, dissenting voices it’s because they’re not “in the way” – and certainly not showing up on Letterman.

    • Tarzie says:

      I am having trouble reconciling “the subtext or ‘super-text’…is surely, still, policing the limits of acceptable public / “in-the-media” discourse” with your suggestion that West’s politics are incidental. It’s a matter of speculation in this particular case, but it’s a historical fact that dissidents most likely to run afoul of the state in the US are Black radicals. I can’t imagine why in a discourse as circumscribed as ours, in which “socialism” and even “the poor” are largely unsayable even by prominent white people, the ruling class would be indifferent to the socialist West’s insistence that poor and working class people be at the center of our politics, that we need structural change, and that class free identity politics is a placating con job that offers the people “in the basement” nothing but symbolism while social conditions worsen.

      You accept that there is policing. Can we agree that West is coloring outside the lines? It would follow then that his politics are an issue. I agree with you that Black Lives Matter is integral — I said so in my first piece — but again I don’t see how West’s politics are entirely separate from concern about “the *Right Kind”* of Black voices. If you’re saying this is all just politically neutral jockeying for the spotlight, with all due respect, i think your understanding of racial politics in the States needs some sprucing up. There isn’t a person involved here that thinks West is going to improve his access to the corridors of power — or diminish theirs — by mixing it up in Ferguson or badmouthing Obama and Black careerism.

      I also reject this personalization of West’s ostracism as being just the happy result of ambitious careerists seeking rewards. The idea that he was simply in some ambitious person’s — Dyson’s? — way minimizes the ruthlessness of a smear campaign firing on all cylinders. Three hit pieces in one magazine. Dyson being shuttled from one softball interview about his piece to another. Now there’s a Jewish group trying to get West banned from a speaking gig at UCLA based on a fabricated quote. That it was published in a pre-election year and parroted many of the same talking points are the only things Dyson’s piece really has in common with Perry’s in 2011, which aimed at discipline not ostracism, and didn’t get around much.

      I take it as a given and presume my readers do that this is all happening to West and not Reed or Ford because only West isn’t safely and quietly ensconced at the margins. I venture that an extremely miniscule number of Black people even know who Reed, Ford and Dixon are.

  4. nomad says:

    If they are not throwing elbows at those guys it’s because they are not celebrities, not as well known as West and hence don’t pose the same degree of threat. He is capable of reaching a wider audience with his subversive message. As the date of MHP piece this character assassination has been going on for a long time. Ever since West spoke out against the policies of Obama. Apart from Tavis Smiley (or along with Tavis Smilley) he is the only nationally prominent black figure to do so. I was so glad he did, because when I first began criticizing Obama myself, shortly before I discovered West’s critique, there was no prominent black figure I could point to support my arguments. They were all, from Oprah to Spike to Maya Angelou, crying with one voice “the leader is great, the leader is good, long live the leader”.

    • RUKidding says:

      We’ve exchanged a few words before re criticizing Obama. I also experienced relief when West began speaking truth to power. It’s unfortunate re Oprah, Spike & Angelou, although I will point out that those three all are wealthy and have achieved fame and power, and no doubt, their identities have changed with the accumulation of money, power, praise, and so forth. Not so shocking that either of those three would stay the course to continue their homage and praise of Obama, sad to say. What would be more surprising is if they actually spoke the truth (well Angelou can’t anymore, but…).

      For all the good that all three have done, they are in the “club” of the wealthy elites, and I don’t see any of them giving it up. As Cornell West pointed out, there is a new Dalit (Untouchable) PM of India, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the rest of the Dalit’s to be lifted up. I could be wrong, but it seems that most who get into these positions of power, no matter what race/ethnicity/gender/etc, tend to be there bc they sold out on some level or another… and are willing to go along to get along to stay in their position of power and remain a member of the “club.” The Cornell West’s are few and far between, and we are witness to what is happening to him!

      • nomad says:

        So true. Funny thing about naming black water carriers for Obama. I could have named almost any famous black person and said the same thing about their worship of Obama. “most who get into these positions of power, no matter what race/ethnicity/gender/etc, tend to be there bc they sold out”. You are so right. You can count the exceptions on two fingers. I have taken to calling this class of collaborating Negroes “Neo-Black.

      • nomad says:

        Angelou is the one that disappointed me the most. A poet. Sensitive. A civil rights icon. Yet the only thing she could find to criticize Obama about was some education issue, I forget which. Now, don’t get me wrong, education is important, but here’s a man starting wars and blowing babies into red mist and the only thing she faulted him for was some relatively minor issue.

  5. RUKidding says:

    Thanks again Tarzie for keeping us up to date on this shameful scenario. Not much to add, except that I found MHP long ago to be duplicitous and deceitful and not worthy of my attention. Well same can be said about anyone on MSNBC. Shame really, but then consider the source. MSNBC is run by a corporation, so to stay there and bring down the big buck$ means brown nosing those at the top. That’s what they do. MHP and her ilk are just the first line of very obvious Left Wing Gatekeepers, even though, it appears that sometimes MHP can gussy herself up enough to appear leftwing or whatever you want to call it.

    No love lost there, but good to have an update. Power & money corrupts as West has so astutely pointed out.

  6. beautifulhour says:

    Mind if I bring something a bit unrelated up? Cornel West’s association with Bob Avakian. I keep talking about it but it really does not sit with me. I understand West wants to want to get out of the establish Left mob without sleeping with the fishes, but associating with BA does not seem right to me. West has good revolutionary credit and is not a Marxist. What does he have to gain from that association? As I recall, @redkahina reacted by saying the RCP aren’t really so bad. She seems to be some variety of Leninist, so I don’t begrudge her that, but don’t agree either. The RCP are toxic. At the very least, Avakian’s new communist manifesto is very poorly written and of no interest to those who are not stockholm syndrome afflicted RCP members.

    • Tarzie says:

      I can’t possibly speculate. Tolerance for tactical alliances varies among lefts. He’s been in alliance with the Democratic Party for years. Surely the RCP isn’t more toxic than the Dems.

      I don’t know enough about the RCP to care.

      • beautifulhour says:

        That’s reasonable. I don’t ally with one ideology/tendency myself (except against dems and greens). As someone feeling out radical milieu it just seems fishy.

    • Goldfish Training Institute says:

      What’s the “association” between West and BA? Didn’t West do one interview/conversation with Avakian? Correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t followed much of West’s recent political trajectory. West was also on Letterman, does it “seem right” that he’s associating with Letterman?

      How do you expect revolutionaries and anti-imperialists to respond to liberal bullshit like “the RCP is toxic,” “stockholm syndrome of afflicted RCP members,” and of course the regularly invoked “Avakian RCP cult?” Avakian’s been at it as a theorist for decades. I don’t agree with some of his approaches or lines of thought, but one thing I agree on is that it will take a revolutionary movement to destroy capitalist imperialism. On this he’s never wavered. Ever.

      And if the “afflicted RCP members” can provide service against the ambitions of U.S. imperialism or in unlinking the American working class and oppressed from pro-imperialist, racist, and class collaborationist positions, or educating them about revolutionary thought, I’m all for it.

      What does the RCP do that is so brazenly defamatory of “the movement?” Is there nobody else guilty of this stuff. Avakian alone stands out as the lone crazed leftist leader brainwashing the cult fanatics at his feet? Even if you accept that it’s some kind of “cult,” so what? Their actions would still have political implications. And if you want to discuss the impotence of the RCP, that’s going to apply to the left and especially the revolutionary left in general.

      Do you see similarities between wanting to marginalize Avakian and marginalizing West?

      • Tarzie says:

        Thanks, GTI.

        Kinda how I feel. I don’t know anything about Bob Avakian, but I take all anti-red smears with a grain of salt. This is the second person to bring this up. Gonna lose my patience if it continues.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        I’d be out of radical politics if I disliked every leader or disagreed with every comrade in leadership I’ve ever worked with, let alone after reading their materials and books. I’m really not sure why the (anti-red) hammer has come down so hard on Avakian, but the U.S. “left” overall won’t subscribe to revolutionary struggle, which Avakian stands by and for. Their way of dealing with that is to crush it, exactly like West is being crushed here.

        At some point it’s just folks repeating the memes – “RCP is toxic,” “Avakian is an egotistical cultist,” or whatever, without even understanding why they are saying it. They were saying it 30 years ago when I began in radical politics, and they’re still saying it. But say what you want about BA – he and his RCP are STILL around with their (marginalized) actions and bookstores, and BA is still churning out his position papers. Other than the Party for Socialism & Liberation and the WWP – what other left active revolutionary groups have managed to stay afloat despite liberal demonization?

        The last time I called out someone on “Avakian is an egomaniac,” their response was that BA and his “cultists” are “scaring people away from socialism.” Yeah, that’s probably the reason socialism isn’t taking hold here. A small cultish organization with a marginalized leader is preventing the working class from finding their consciousness. The unending parade of heinous imperialist and bourgeois crimes has never been enough to truly dissuade the people from bourgeois politics, but let’s blame Avakian!

        If the person who posted the anti-BA+CW post is around, I’d be interested in hearing why the RCP is “toxic” or why shouldn’t CW align himself with anti-caps.

        I’m eagerly awaiting a conversation between Michael Parenti and Cornel West. “Non-Revisionist Marxist Leninist (oh the Stalinism it burns!) meets Black Liberation Socialist.” That would explode more than a few liberal heads.

      • Tarzie says:

        My favorite thing is the “why we lose” diagnoses of alleged radicals. It’s always something insipid that betrays their core liberalism. “Old ideas!” “No sense of humor!” “Defeatism!” “Unrealistic!” “Crackpots!”

  7. Goldfish Training Institute says:

    Also ETA: Parenti has a new book out this month, “Profit Pathology.” I think is the title. Probably not new material for you or your readers, but nice to know Parent is still in the game.

    • Goldfish Training Institute says:

      LOL. Leopards don’t change their spots. They do tend to reveal themselves pretty quickly.

      95% of “leftists” including communists in the U.S. are oriented completely to the agenda of the Democratic Party, whether they realize it or not. Hence they have no trouble bashing reds, beating the shit out of the oppressed and anti-capitalists, and tacitly and even overtly supporting imperialist violence. It is why they will support Keynesian reformist/imperialists like Bernie Sanders and when his pseudo-campaign goes south, these same “socialists and leftists” will corral over to Hillary in the next election which I just read will cost upwards of 2+$ billion to get elected. If that’s not defeatism, crackpot-ism, and old ideas, I don’t know what is.

      • Tarzie says:

        if that’s not defeatism, crackpot-ism, and old ideas, I don’t know what is.

        Well said. So true about how the Democratic Party kills brain cells. It’s pathetic. If you expect more in the way of virtue from radicals than you expect from The Democrats, you’re a Democrat and should just own it.

  8. Hieroglyph says:

    The Baltimore riots were covered by The Guardian (US). During the ‘Live’ coverage – mostly quotes from authority, of course – there was a rather brilliant (unwitting, I presume) image of ‘activists’ helping out the Bloods and Crips gangs enforce the curfew. Gangs who terrorize communities helping enforce the curfew of the corrupt bi-partisan electoral machine, all the while aided and facilitated by well-meaning liberals. I read this and thought of this blog. Can’t imagine why.

    • Tarzie says:

      Wow. I didn’t know about the gangs enforcing the curfew. That’s a lot to chew on. Happy it made you think of the blog.

      • Hieroglyph says:

        http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2015/apr/28/baltimore-freddie-gray-riots-live-updates

        It was so bizarre, I thought that some Guardian staffer was, ah, being imaginative. For further fun, check out 11:23. None other than Montel Williams praises the gangs! I wish I had more details. I suspect the ‘enforcement’ wasn’t of the thuggish variety, but I don’t really know. I guess if known gang-members are hanging around telling you to go home, cautious people wonder about the consequences of staying put.

        It could all be lies. Or some FBI infiltrap, no idea. But the image was for me interesting. I’m not from the US, but it does appear to be a fucked up place from a distance.

      • Tarzie says:

        After your last comment, I went poking around and located some footage from Russia Today. Apparently gangs not only helped enforce the curfew, they also interposed themselves between protestors and police. From what I saw, they used a diplomatic approach, but as you suggest, they are inherently coercive by virtue of belonging to gangs. The same footage showed on gang member attempting to shake hands with a line of cops.

        I don’t know a whole lot about gangs, but I think your image of them may be somewhat inaccurate. I think their main thing is dealing drugs, and most of the terrorizing they do is of other gangs. Not sure, though.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        Interesting little back story on gangs. I’m nervous about gangs aligning with cops though.But injecting themselves between cops and protesters sounds like a black bloc tactic.

      • Tarzie says:

        Black bloc cop protection is news to me.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        It’s a bizarre alliance. It appears to be a clear form of fascism in practice, using outside groups when the ruling class and their enforcers can’t control the pushback.

        There’s probably some self-preservation in there as well. Organized gangs and groups can lose their power and control when communities collectively “break down,” i.e., find their own voices and power!

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