Cornel West’s ‘Prophetic Fightback’

Professor Cornel West. Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva.

2 min read

In August, Cornel West stood arm-in-arm with clergy members in Charlottesville, Va., singing “This Little Light of Mine” while white supremacist groups spat at them and shouted racial epithets.

Just weeks later, the Harvard Divinity School Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy recalled the courage he witnessed there, and how courage alone is not enough in the fight against hate.

“I saw great courage in the eyes of my neo-Nazi brothers and sisters in Charlottesville when they stood in front of us and spat, and called names and racial epithets. I saw a lot of courage blazing in their eyes; unbelievable determination; a willingness to live and die,” West said. “But we need more than just courage. We need spiritual and moral dimensions that are tied to that courage. We need fortitude. We need greatness of character. We need magnanimity.”

On Aug. 29, West delivered Harvard Divinity School’s Convocation address to the newest students to enter HDS, as well as hundreds of other people from the School, University community, and public who gathered on campus to hear him speak.

Titled “Spiritual Blackout, Imperial Meltdown, Prophetic Fightback,” West’s speech protested the normalizing of mendacity, the naturalizing of criminality, and rewarding of indifference.

“In this moment of spiritual blackout and imperial meltdown, begin with a critical historical inventory. Who are you really? How do you situate yourself in relation to traditions,” he said.