St. Sabina Catholic Church, in Auburn Gresham on Chicago’s Southwest Side, is a cathedral-like edifice with comfortable padded pews and a large mural of a black Jesus. When I arrived there last Sunday in search of a book signing and presentation by Princeton University professor Cornel West, the building seemed nearly empty–until I became aware of the sound of a tremendous, booming voice and thunderous applause. Cornel West had arrived.
Dressed in a three-piece suit with French cuffs and a tie to match, West stormed about his stage area like a furious animal and bellowed in the tones of a Baptist preacher. “One of the reasons I published this text,” he announced, referring to his new memoir “Brother West: Living & Loving Out Loud,” “was because I want it to be acceptable in the age of Obama that there be room for angry black men.” By “anger,” he quickly clarified, West meant “holy anger–righteous indignation against injustice.” In his hour-long speech-cum-drama, West explored with the audience how this indignation has impacted his perspective on daily life in America.
West, a lifelong Christian, began by describing the influence of Christian love on his need to fight poverty and degradation in the black community. “Justice,” West explained, “is what love looks like in public.” While he emphasized that his communal love began “at home,” in the black community, he also said that he found “spillover love” for people of all races and declaimed, “I will never allow black suffering to blind me to the suffering of other people.”
When he moved from his biography to current affairs, West declared his support for President Obama (to deafening applause from the audience) but also expressed a desire to “correct” the president “when he leans toward the strong.” Obama’s oft-noted preternatural calmness makes him, West claimed, “highly acceptable to the white mainstream,” but there remains the need for a vibrant opposition chorus to force the elite toward ending America’s injustices. West closed by voicing his hope that such a union of positive forces can be achieved, as happened in his own life when he was straightened from an early inclination to crime. “In the end,” he said, “[my] book is not about me at all. It’s about me connected to a whole lot of other folks.”