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The Table Video

Cornel West

How the Oppressed Respond to Oppression

Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary / Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
August 12, 2015

Cornel West on how the oppressed can respond to oppression with integrity, honest, decency, and courage. “As a Christian, I do hate the deed and love the doer. But I don’t like the doer. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.”


All right, here’s my question number one. How can the oppressed disagree civilly with their oppressor and why should they?

Well I would say that the question is how does the oppressor respond to oppression with integrity, honesty, decency and courage. So as a Christian I do hate the deed and still love the doer but I don’t like the doer. [laughs] [audience claps] Oh no, no, no, no, no. So but it depends on what the context is. If there’s a context in which there’s a pubic space where the oppressed can enter without humiliation or being disrespected then that’s wonderful.

If the oppressed enters that public space and is still disrespected over and over and over again, then we’re moving toward a serious clash and conflict. Because we begin to exhaust, just like Mandela in South Africa, right. They explored every possible non violent option available. Then in 1957, Mandela says we’re finding the spear of the nation. And we’re gonna arm struggle, but its an arm struggle against property.

Now I think that’s very interesting, even in Baltimore, its easy. Look at the respond of the attack on property versus the attack on human beings. [audience claps] You see, it’s just like, oh my God, this is out of control, this is the worst thing. I’m like wait a minute, this brother just got shot. This brother just broke his back, wait a minute.

But somehow we’ve got to make sure that the tears of the mothers of these sisters or the daughters and sons who are shot or mistreated by the police have the same status as the tears of the police’s wives when the police are killed. So in the presidency, brother Obama upset me. He’d been upsetting me for a long time. [laughs] A long time, God bless him.

Don’t go there, Cornell, I know.

You get the President comes out and calls these brothers and sisters thugs and criminals. [audience laughs] And I said to myself, well wait a minute. If you want to talk about criminals, you can start with Wall Street in 2008. [audience cheers and claps] How come Holder didn’t prosecute one Wall Street executive.

You want to talk about criminals, you can talk about drones and what happened on the killing list. So in that sense, let’s be broad in our conception, but by using that kind of language, it makes it difficult to stay in contact with the humanity of the folk even when they’re doing the wrong thing. But the violation of property for me just doesn’t have the same status. I’m with Mandela, do you agree with this, in terms of property versus human life?

Oh there’s no question to me, human life matters much more.


Yeah. I also, I’m not too happy with Obama myself.

For good reason, for good reason. Indeed, indeed.