I feel two things at the same time: terrified and melancholy, and I think in both domestic and foreign affairs it’s frightening–the altercations, the agenda. There have been other frightening moments, but the melancholy that I feel now is about a country like this with the best shot in the world, that a country like this with a certain kind of plenitude and intelligence and ambition and generosity and some history from which to learn, could, indeed, throw it all away and become the worst parts of its own self.
Cornel, I see you sitting here nodding and frowning, but what is curious to me is that whenever I read you, as well as talk to you, and as clearsighted as you are and as aware as you are of these difficulties, you always seem to be something I used to be but no longer am, optimistic. And since I’m rapidly losing that quality, maybe just because of age, I wanted to ask you why.
Cornel: I’ve always viewed myself as a person with a deeply sad soul but a cheerful disposition. So that when you say you feel terrified and melancholic, that describes my situation too, but it’s just that I always believe that struggle and the unleashing of moral energy in the form of moral outrage can make a difference no matter what the situation is. And it may have something to do with just having a blues sensibility, a tragic orientation, a sense that no matter how mendacious elites may be, they can never extinguish the forces for good in the world. And if that’s true, then they’re mighty but not almighty.And in some ways that’s a characterization of just being black in America, it seems to me. Since 9/11 all Americans feel unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hatred, and that’s been the situation of black folks for 400 years. In that fundamental sense, to be a nigger is to be unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hatred. And now the whole nation is niggerized, and everybody’s got to deal with it. And I think we’re at a moment now in which a blues nation has to learn from a blues people.