Penitentiary Rules In Effect :: My Thoughts On Dyson’s Ghost of West

Penitentiary rules in effect. Don’t Panic– Kevin Gates


I suppose it was around 10pm or so on the East Coast time segmentation that the Twitter updates regarding a particularly scathing essay from one public intellectual to another began to traffic my timeline on April 19, 2015. I typically attempt to avoid arranging my thoughts or placing my body between any combating parties, especially those armed to the teeth with personal anecdotes. Being that it was Michael Eric Dyson of Pro. Rap-A-Lot fame bemoaning an attack from Cornel “I Came To Get Arrested” West, I allowed my Self the leniency of indulgence.


The Ghost Of Cornel West


The essay is fairly lengthy at twenty-one pages compiled in pdf format. Worded with an air of the erudite, and even more so designed with tangents that forces the reader to weave through subway system-like contours of Pro. Rap-A-Lot’s obvious inability to get straight to the point. The piece courses and winds through the early days of Cornel West’s academic career, his publishings, West’s hypocrisies, and it even routes through a not so brisk journey through Dyson’s own, if you let him tell it, humble beginnings in academia. In fact, the piece, if this analysis were written by a more poetic writer, could have easily been also compared to not a subway, but one of those expensive monster roller coasters that attempt to tear your heart out with its upside down spins. In the end of the ride, I was left wonder where I should go pick my check up for those hours spent pouring over the writing of an individual apparently well-read, but not so well aware that his audience has long grown weary of adults bantering like high school teens over their favorite comic book hero in terms laced with gravitas borrowed from their favorite philosophy texts.


The writing envisions Cornel as the playboy scholar that measures his Blackness in prophetic terms while conveniently hiding the ruling for others to use. The writing frames Obama as the misunderstand political genius who courageously confronts West while professionally trained members of one of the world’s most top-heavy militaries work as his bodyguards. Professor Anthea Butler would condense her thoughts on the two men in engagement in a Twitter update by stating,”This thing between Dyson and West is like Pac and Biggie to the Tenth Power.”



I would have to write that is it more like Nas and Jay-Z to maybe the square root of negative one power.


However, my thoughts on the piece as a defense of Daddy Barry, a reduction of West to two-bit hustler, and Dyson’s own need to present himself as the voice of academic Negro USA are clouded by the sheer disconnect of the words to what will the piece– and most pieces published directly to the internet and promoted heavily on social media– and the audience. The magnitude of US Black hegemonic worship pores through the page eliciting a response from this writer in wonder,”Just how much of Black America is defined by the standards of Whytes, liberal, progressive and other?!”


Dyson details a litany of names of Black academic luminaries defined by standards I can only sum up as, many years spent hard coding their worldviews with those of privileged Whyte Americans and allowed to appear on stages as the voice of Black folks. Sure, that might be unfair. I do think that West is extremely privileged as a Black man(any person, really) that can sacrifice a job paying professional athlete level salary to pursue(well, anything really) his art. Yes, I do believe that West went to St. Louis, Missouri with the intent to be arrested for the world to see. I base this belief on West’s own words when he states,”I came to be arrested.” I also know from a very trustworthy source that West also marched alongside protesters and organizers directly involved with the Mike Brown Forever Movement, as well as the parents of police murdered, Von Derrit Droop Myers, in an action where the campus of St. Louis University was occupied for the span of a week or more. Does this make West less of a rich, privileged, possibly opportunistic person?


Maybe not, but I at least understand West in terms more suitable for a discussion with today’s working class Blacks who are the defining elements of what Black is. I still think that West’s decades worth of Marxist scholarship is rendered questionable(me being nice) in light of his cowtowing to Jay-Z. Yes, I do agree, in the space of capitalist thought, Cornel West acts and responds in a way that makes it difficult to merge his scholarly text with. Yet, even with all this, Dyson’s words reek of an essentialism that says to be a Black public intellectual one has to have paperwork from massa. The “Blackness” that Dyson seems to be defending is one that does see Tupac as a prophet even when being dismissive of him, in the least, will consider Biggie a prophet in reaction to hearing or reading Tupac being called one.


Dyson is so far removed from the discussion of “Blackness” that he still believes his rap recital rhetoric is a persuasive device amongst young people sacrificing their youth to put their bodies in the way of already murdered peers and the murdering police. Dyson is so far removed from “Blackness”, that he fails to understand that those same people that marched with West with a military style cavalcade in the backdrop to literally take over one of Missouri’s highest ranking universities were not asking themselves, “Where is Cornel West?”


They were, however, asking,”where is President Obama? Where is the guy I stood for hours in a line to vote for? Where is the guy that sold me all that hope when I need to cash that shyt in for some real justice?”


Let me close this out, y’all.


I refuse to defend a grown man that I am not personally and intimately aligned with. Whatever fictive kinship obligations I still hold with regard to race, it ends at a certain bottomline. Especially when scathing attacks are involved. However, with that drawn line is the application of Black Media Trust that informs me to be weary when anyone in the media is using “Blackness” as a barometer for credibility. There is no “Blackness”. There are only humans forced through slavery to wear the label and to make due with it as they see fit while sojourning through life as humans. For a man whose claim to fame is the ability to recall hip hop lyrics while waxing philosophically from his Georgetown digs to defend a man whose claim to fame is being “Whyte” enough to be the first Black president who cannot be the first Black president once in the office by attacking another man’s “Blackness” and place in the minds of those that are identified as “Black” is beyond the usual internet folly most of us have grown accustomed to. And then to use personal conversations to do it, I can actually almost overlook that given the magnitude of the ridiculousness of the context and agenda subscribed.