Cornel West's Challenges for the American Youth
"Diversity and American Democracy." What does this mean? On September 29th, Cornel West tried to answer that question in front of some very young and na ve Syracuse University freshman. As directed by West, the new Arts and Science students read a packet of information and essays that he provided, but which were extremely misleading. Going into the lecture with a negative and stubborn opinion, I was shocked by the intellect and thought process of Mr. West. This brilliant man quoted everyone and everything from the Bible to Walt Whitman and William Fualkner. Then he posed three challenges to us: deal with the wealth inequality in our nation, utilize the relative rules of caring and nurturing, and have the youth of today continue the democratic tradition for tomorrow. All of his challenges are obtainable and realistic goals if the youth of America band together and make some serious changes.
Mr. West's first challenge was to end the wealth inequality, which although extremely ambiguous, is absolutely possible. Mr. West believes in the old clich , "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." Although the government would like to deny such a claim, it seems as though Mr. West is right about this. With the wealthiest people owning all of the property and the businesses, it doesn't give people with fewer resources the opportunity to compete. I doubt that Bill Gates would ever allow any small business competition, even though it would never hurt the billion-dollar monopoly of Microsoft. Gates would just assume that Microsoft has all the technology and finances and that no one should compete with him. West believes that it is "easy to trivialize others suffering." I believe that is what the rich do by not allowing anyone else to join the marketplace at an even playing field. The only way to allow for the poor to gain any financial grasp is to allow them to create healthy businesses and make a profit. The "little mom-and-pop shop" needs to be allowed into the marketplace without companies like Wal-Mart taking away all of the business. The government needs to regulate either the amount of profit or the amount of locations of businesses like Wal-Mart in order to allow other businesses to prosper. For companies that have those same kind of practices, one must ask why they need to make so much money and get them to understand that if they continue to drive the poor people into the ground, then there will be less people to buy their merchandise.
The second challenge that Mr. West posed was one of general caring and nurturing for others. First, let me just say that I think it is absurd that a man with his intellect spends his time worrying about people doing what should be their civic duty, rather than trying to figure out more important issues. It is disgusting that the American people have lost the sense of compassion for others and that it seems like all Americans are just looking out for the almighty dollar. My grandma frequently reminds me that in her youth, people actually looked out for each other and truly cared about their neighbors. I don't pretend to understand why the country has changed so much in the past fifty years, but it has. When a car breaks down on the side of the highway, it is sad to see how many cars pass it by before one of them stops. This same thought process of only small amounts of people caring about the well being of others is shown in all areas of life. People have turned from a more community-oriented mind set to one of self-preservation and growth. However, Cornel West believes that today's youth is starting to retreat back to the days of community by an increased amount of involvement in community service projects. Syracuse University students have taken hold of the surrounding community by such activities as the Bishop Flory Food Bank and Soup Kitchen as well as local tutoring programs. The question now is, will the youth continue in their plight to help support the community and will other communities outside of Syracuse do the same.
West's third concern, the continuing of the democratic tradition, is the most difficult to predict, since it seems that the tradition has been so corrupted in the past few decades. Taking the view of a skeptic youth, I believe that there have been many incidents in history to show that greed and a lack of direction have overwhelmed the democratic tradition. The Vietnam War is a great example because the United States had no reason to get involved with a conflict between France and Vietnam. The United States wanted to play referee and it look how many of our men died in the process. Then with the Watergate scandal, it proved that our most trusted leader, the President of the United States, could not be trusted. The same sort of misuse of power occurred again in the 1980's, with the Iran-contra scandal. The most recent misuse of power occurred just recently with President Clinton and his numerous affairs during his time in public office. Cornel West believes that "the United States has always wrestled with its past mistakes," but it doesn't learn from them. The issue now is that the youth of today don't know where to take the democratic tradition because the only tradition that they have known has been a corrupt one.
The three challenges posed by Cornel West must be addressed by the youth of today in order to make a difference in tomorrow's world. Cornel West believes that it easy to say that the people of the United States can overcome wealth inequality, a lack of caring and nurturing, and a disregard for the democratic tradition, but if the same processes continue to occur, then the leaders of tomorrow may be too overwhelmed to fix the problems. What the United States needs is to begin the rebuilding of humanitarianism today in order for future leaders to have a chance. I agree with Cornel West's optimism because we are both humanitarian enthusiasts, but the skeptic in me wonders if our generation has what it takes to change the thought process of an entire country. Cornel West uses the old saying well when he says, "Only time will tell "