Transcript: Dr Cornel West on CNN, 29 May 2020

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This clip of Dr Cornel West speaking on the George Floyd protests has been circling from Anderson 360’s Twitter, and CNN’s closed captions on it are woeful. They miss a lot of what Dr West was saying, including shortening his list of Martin Luther King Jr, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker to “Martin Luther King Jr., and many others”. So I wrote up a transcript of the clip. If I’ve misspelled or misinterpreted any words, please comment to let me know!

[Video description: Anderson Cooper, a white man with white hair wearing glasses and a suit, in conversation with Dr Cornel West, a Black man with grey hair and beard wearing a suit. They are talking heads in blue boxes on the left of the screen; the rest of the screen is dominated by rolling footage of police in riot gear marching on peaceful protestors. The news banner at the bottom of the screen says “BREAKING NEWS: PROTESTS IN MULTIPLE CITIES OVER GEORGE FLOYD’S DEATH” and “Live CNN”.]

DR CORNEL WEST: –George, where it is so clear, it is a lynching at the highest level, nobody can deny it. And I thank God that we have people in the streets. Can you imagine this kind of lynching taking place and people are indifferent? People don’t care? People are callous? You have just a few people out there with signs? I recall the moments of which during the Reagan years, there was a few of us out there. In the Sixties. You had masses out there. Now you’ve got a younger generation of all of these different colours and genders and sexual orientations saying “We won’t take it any longer”. But you know what’s sad about it though, brother? At the deepest level? It looks as though the system cannot reform itself. We’ve tried Black faces in high places. Too often our Black politicians – professional class, middle class – become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to the militarised nation state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture tied with celebrity status, power, fame, all of that superficial stuff that means so much to so many fellow citizens. And what happens, what happens is we got a neo-fascist gangster in the White House, who really doesn’t care for the most part. We’ve got a neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party that is now in the driver’s seat with the collapse of brother Bernie. And they don’t really know what to do because all they want is “show more Black faces, show more Black faces”. But oftentimes these Black faces are losing legitimacy too! Because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a Black president, Black attorney-general, and Black homeland security, and they couldn’t deliver! You see? So that when you talk about the masses of Black people – the precious poor and working class Black people (poor and working class brown, red, yellow, whatever colour) – they’re the ones who are left out and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless – then you get rebellion. And we’ve reached the point now, it’s a choice between non-violent revolution, and by revolution what I mean is the democratic sharing of power, resources, wealth and respect. If we don’t get that kind of sharing, you’re gonna get more violent explosions. Now the sad thing is, in this neo-fascist moment in the White House, you’ve got some neo-fascist brothers and sisters out there who are already armed, they show up there in the US capital, they don’t get arrested, they don’t get put down. [COOPER talks over him.] You see what I mean?

ANDERSON COOPER: Well that’s the thing. You have these white weekend warriors showing up as if they’re former Special Forces ops, when they’re not, uh, you know busting into the state house, and the President praises those people, and yet everybody else is a thug to the President. He quotes, you know, a white sheriff from the South in I guess it was ’67 or maybe ’68 – I mean that’s, if you wrote that in a movie, people would say there’s no way the President of the United States would quote a Southern sheriff–

DR CORNEL WEST: That’s right.

ANDERSON COOPER: –on the night that a great city in this country is, is seeing, you know, people in the streets? Um, I mean– [WEST talks over him.]

DR CORNEL WEST: That’s exactly right. But keep in mind though, brother, he is being true to himself. He’s being true to himself. He’s saying what he really feels in his soul. You see what I mean? But you see we have to recognise too, because I feel like [stammers] like Tupac Shakur, I’ve got some thug in me, I know I’ve got some gangster in me, and as a Christian I got to fight it every day. What does that mean, that means we have to call people who they are. Neo-fascist thug in the White House called my brothers and sisters in the street “thugs”. So that then the question becomes, how do we keep alive moral, spiritual standards – keep alive, staying in contact with the humanity of all of us across the board – but recognising we’re living in a moment of massive economic capitalist, with this capitalist economy, failure when it comes to delivering the needs. The nation state failure to protect. The criminal justice system failure to be fair, you see. And the only response we have is uh, is Samuel Beckett, my brother: try again, fail again, fail better. Try again, fail again, fail better.

ANDERSON COOPER: [laughs] That’s it? Fail better.

DR CORNEL WEST: Because white supremacy’s gonna be around for a long long long long long long long long time. Don’t get surprised if this happens again.

ANDERSON COOPER: Try again …?

DR CORNEL WEST: Try again. You know you know that this moment in– Try again, fail again, fail better. That’s the blues line of our Irish brother. But, but the question is we must fight. Even in a moment in which we have a failed social experiment, we must fight. And we must have an anti-fascist coalition against what’s going in the White House/Republican Party, we have to tell the truth about the milquetoast cowardly activity too often–that we see among the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and we must be critical of ourselves in terms of keeping alive the highest moral and spiritual standards of Martin Luther King Jr and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ella Baker. And you see that work in the soul of brother George Floyd’s family.

ANDERSON COOPER: Dr Cornel West, I appreciate your time tonight, and um–

DR CORNEL WEST: Love you, brother, you stay strong.

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