Cornel West, born June 02, 1953, is an American philosopher, author, actor (some of you may know him from Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions), civil rights activist and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America. West, commonly known for his blend of political and moral insight and criticism and his contribution to the post-1960s civil rights movement, focuses primarily on the roles of race, class and gender in America. West pulls scholarly contributions from such varied traditions as the African American Baptist Church, pragmatism and transcendentalism.
West’s father was a civilian U. S. Air Force administrator and his mother an elementary school teacher and eventually a principal. During West’s childhood the family settled in an African American working-class neighbourhood in Sacramento, California. There West regularly attended services at the local Baptist church, where he listened to moving testimonials of privation, struggle, and faith from parishioners whose grandparents had been slaves. Another influence on West during this time was the Black Panther Party, whose Sacramento offices were near the church he attended.
The Panthers impressed upon him the importance of political activism at the local level and introduced him to the writings of Karl Marx. In 1970, at age 17, West entered Harvard University on a scholarship, did graduate school in philosophy at Princeton University, where he was influenced by the American pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty, and after receiving his doctoral degree in 1980, West taught philosophy, religion, and African American studies at several colleges and universities, including Yale University, the University of Paris, Princeton University, and Harvard University.
His books generally combines Christian moral sensibility with a form of philosophical tradtition influenced by American pragmatism. For example, his book Race Matters, West, who resolutely participated in several demonstrations, was always a political activist and an academic, and this created a conflict which led to him resigning from his post at Harvard. His best-known work, Race Matters, a collection of essays, was published exactly one year after the start of riots in Los Angeles that were sparked by the acquittal of four white policemen on charges of aggravated assault in the beating of Rodney King, an African American motorist.
The book discussed the general hopelessness and “nihilism” of African Americans in poverty and condemned African-American leaders for pursuing policies that West believed were thoughtless, narrow-minded, or self-serving. West refers to the United States as a ‘racist patriarchal’ society in which everyday life is classified based on the notion of ‘white supremacy’. He criticizes the whites as being weak in the struggle to gain acceptance for blacks, and thus he argues the 9 11 attack gave the whites an indication into what it means to be a black persons living in the US – feeling unsafe, unprotected, hated, and subjected to random violence.