Is the Attack on Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry’s Article Criticizing Prof. Cornel West Due to Male Academic Cronyism?

Beneath the Spin * Eric L. Wattree

Is the Attack on Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry’s Article Criticizing Prof. Cornel West Due to Male Academic Cronyism?
It is a curious yet instructive phenomenon watching Black male academics rush to the defense of Dr. Cornel West after he called President Obama a “Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs.” They also stood by when West went on to say that “Obama has a certain fear of free black men.” They said that it was perfectly legitimate for West to comment on the political environment as he saw it. But when Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, West’s female colleague, indicated that West’s comment “smacks of birtherism,” they recoiled in shocked horror. How dare she publicly attack her colleague in that manner? They accused her of being motivated by either soar grapes or professional envy.  Hmmm, ok. But tell me, what makes Cornel West more sacrosanct than the President of the United States?
The fact is, anyone who considers West’s remarks toward President Obama merely an objective and scholarly critique of the political environment needs to go back and take a refresher course in both freshman English and forensics. The comments directed at President Obama by Cornel West was nothing short of a racist and petty personal tirade by a woefully presumptuous and undisciplined mind.
His comments were not only less than constructive and nonspecific, but they were also saturated with unsubstantiated personal attacks against the president. They were, indeed, Palinesque in both nature and intent. Thus, his behavior was both unprofessional and disrespectful to not only President Obama, but the office of the president itself. Then when you take into account that there is ample evidence that he was motivated by what he, in his own words, considered a personal slight, then combined that with his close association with Tavis Smiley - who is also smarting from what he considered a personal slight by the president - it is more than reasonable to view West’s behavior as the irate petulance of an embittered ego maniac.
On the other hand, Prof. Perry couldn’t avoid attacking West’s character, because it was his character that was at issue. So the fact is, Prof. Perry’s criticism of West was the more legitimate. Considering West's behavior, Prof. Perry's remarks constituted a detached and clinical assessment of the facts.  Her position was reasoned, specific, and substantiated with undeniable facts, while West’s criticism of Obama was reckless, overly broad, and filled with gross and unsubstantiated generalizations.
Yet, in his article, Melissa Harris-Perry’s Attacks on Cornel West: Melissa, Are You Hiding Something?, Dr. Boyce Watkins says,
“One of the interesting things about all the criticism being thrust at Professor West is that much of it presumes that Cornel is attacking President Obama for personal reasons. There are rumors that he is angry that he was never invited to the inauguration, or that he felt dismissed because the administration won’t return his phone calls. There is no end to the reasons that people are coming up with to explain why Professor West has done what he’s always done, which is to advocate for black, brown, poor and working class people.”
But the “rumors” that Dr. Watkins speak of are not rumors at all. West is quoted as saying the following:
“I used to call my dear brother [Obama] every two weeks. I said a prayer on the phone for him, especially before a debate. And I never got a call back. And when I ran into him in the state Capitol in South Carolina when I was down there campaigning for him he was very kind. The first thing he told me was, ‘Brother West, I feel so bad. I haven’t called you back. You been calling me so much. You been giving me so much love, so much support and what have you.’ And I said, ‘I know you’re busy.’ But then a month and half later I would run into other people on the campaign and he’s calling them all the time. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. He doesn’t have time, even two seconds, to say thank you or I’m glad you’re pulling for me and praying for me, but he’s calling these other people. I said, this is very interesting. And then as it turns out with the inauguration I couldn’t get a ticket with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration. My mom says, ‘That’s something that this dear brother can get a ticket and you can’t get one, honey, all the work you did for him from Iowa.’ Beginning in Iowa to Ohio. We had to watch the thing in the hotel.”
And further, I don’t see how the fact that Prof. Perry worked down the hall from West at Princeton has any bearing on this matter. If Dr. Watkins is suggesting that she had an ulterior motive, what evidence does he present to support that claim? Absolutely none. That makes it clear that Watkins is stretching for an equivalence that’s just not there. On the one hand, Prof. Perry presents direct evidence from the mouth of West himself that clearly substantiates her position that West felt slighted by the president, which ultimately led to his reckless behavior. While on the other hand, Dr. Watkins doesn’t present a shred of evidence leading to the conclusion that Prof. Perry had an ulterior motive for her criticism of Dr. West. The only thing he presents is gross speculation and vapors.
I’m not surprised at all that Dr. West has engaged in such reckless behavior. His fixation on personal affectations suggests the vanity of an undisciplined mind. And apparently I’m not alone. Syndicated columnist Stanley Crouch pointed out in the “Daily News that “serious black intellectuals privately dismissed West many years ago as no more than an academic loudmouth with a good show business game.”
But with respect to Dr. Boyce Watkins, I am indeed shocked to see a respected scholar engage in such sloppy thinking. His article suggests the following syllogism: All dogs have fleas. My cat has fleas. Therefore, my cat is a dog. What kind of logic is that?
Thus, at the risk of being presumptuous, I’d like to pass on to both of these gentlemen a piece of advice that was given to me by the very demure Ms. Immel in my freshman English class many years ago, and I quote: “Eric, if you expect to survive this class, every time you make an assertion, I expect you to start backing it up with compelling facts in the very next sentence, or no later than the following paragraph.”
That advice has served me well over the years, and it seems to me that you might benefit from it as well.
Eric L. Wattree
Citizens Against Reckless Middle-Class Abuse (CARMA)
Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everyone who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.

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Comment by Eric L. Wattree on May 26, 2011 at 8:41pm
Boyce Watkins May 26 at 6:24am  Report
To say that I had no evidence of Melissa and Cornel's beef is wrong - it's well documented that the AA studies department did not support her promotion. Secondly, Cornel makes it clear that his disappointment about the inauguration tickets has nothing to do with his concerns about the administration.

So, it sounds like people are up Obama's butt to the point that they don't want to look at the facts behind Cornel's remarks, they just want to discredit him.....wrong brother, you got to get some facts. I know for a FACT that the department did not support Melissa, and being denied a promotion is far more serious than being denied inauguration tickets. So, if anyone had a reason to be personal, it was Melissa.

This political Obama cheerleading has got to stop.
Comment by Eric L. Wattree on May 26, 2011 at 8:27pm
Eric Wattree May 26 at 12:27pm   
Bro. Watkins,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my piece. I just watched your video (which I liked, by the way, for its total lack of arrogance), and I intend to devote a second article to your response.

You were totally correct in indicating that since none of us are clairvoyant, and we can't get into the heads of either West or Perry, we're not dealing with pure facts here. But lacking facts, as in court, we must deal with the preponderance of the evidence. In that regard, while you indicate that Perry MIGHT have been motivated by a resentment toward West due to the circumstances you outlined, she never, at least to my knowledge, engaged in a public rant over the fact that she thought that West slighted her like West did with respect to Obama. So there's a clear and compelling difference there, which places the preponderance of the evidence on her side.

And with respect to being an Obama cheerleader, ironically enough, you convinced me of the folly in that during his campaign. I heatedly disagreed with you at the time of our discussion, but due to my respect for your opinion, I later reassessed my position and came to the conclusion that you were right. In fact, I have since developed an entire philosophy on the subject and I've been pushing that position in several articles every since

You see, I’ve long since recognized that I don’t corner the market on either knowledge, wisdom, or intellect, so I don’t have a vested interest in always being right. I’d much rather walk away from a debate more knowledgeable than to simply gain bragging rights any day. So I don’t have a dog in these fights. I’ve come to understand that to some extent, we’re all so full of shit that the whites of our eyes are brown, so I look at our political environment, and the world, like I’m watching an ant farm. That way, I hope to keep my personal pile of shit in check.

So the fact is, I’m far from an Obama cheerleader. Next week you may find me defending Cornel West if I find that he’s being unfairly attacked. So the best way for me to describe my motivation is as a soldier on bullshit patrol.
Comment by Eric L. Wattree on May 26, 2011 at 8:08pm

Thank you, AJea,


Dr. Boyce contacted me this morning, and I expect to discuss the matter with him further very soon.  But essentially, this is what he had to say:


Comment by AJea L on May 26, 2011 at 6:54pm

Mr Wattree, you have done masterful and yomans work here sir. Thank you!


I think your question is fair, and your conclusions reasonable.


I find it interesting that this conversation still "swirls" around the  messenger and no critical examination of the message. The apparent nuance of the unsatisfied conditions and concerns of poor folks keeps slipping through the cracks. I think we all can agree that President Barck Obama was swept into office on a wave of expectations. Some real, some imagined. In my view -as more congenial than Dr West's harsh birther style critique- President Obama is 'not' Candidate Obama.


That ole' time religious doctrine that states "the exercising of charity should 'begin' at home is the case I felt Prof, West was working to articulate. So as he spouted some flashy high-priced Princton words that regular working folk do not use, the real value and importance in his message was completely over-shadowed. And as such, reduced his bona fides of being able to credibly speak to the very issue that requires attention.


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