Stephanie Twitty, Monique Taylor, Sharon West and Dr. Calvin Kelly, board members of the YMI Cultural Center, present West with a pencil drawing of the 1893 YMI. Photo by Megan Kirby.
Author and political philosopher Cornel West discussed the role of race, gender and class in America before a full house at the University of North Carolina Asheville’s Kimmel Arena on Wednesday night.
“I got two and a half hours of sleep last night, which is twice as much as what I’m used to,” West said as he began his lecture. “So, I’m going to take my time tonight. We’re going to have a good time as we wrestle with some very difficult issues.”
Drawing on themes from the writings of Socrates and W. E. B. Du Bois, the Bible and blues music, West called on his listeners to examine American and international issues such as economic disparity, social inequalities, marketization and what West said is an increasing fixation on material wealth.
“All of us as human beings have to decide who we are in relation to integrity, honesty, decency and a sense of virtue,” West said. “It cuts across political ideology. It cuts across culture and color and civilization.”
West studied at Harvard University before receiving his Ph.D at Princeton University, the first African American to graduate from Princeton with a Ph.D in philosophy. He is an American Book Award winner whose most recent book, co-authored with Tavis Smiley, is called The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. He has been a guest on numerous television programs including The Colbert Report and appeared in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Along with Smiley, West hosts a radio program called “Smiley and West.”
The talk was sponsored by the university’s Department of History, the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor, Thomas Howerton Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Dean of Humanities and the Office of Multicultural Student Programs.