Acontroversy – With Cornel West on the Problem of Black Suffering 1-8
Channel: Sherman Jackson
File Size: 14.10MB
Good afternoon Assalamualaikum
and welcome to the Carl field center for equality and cultural understanding. Here at the center, we strive to empower members of the university community as they seek to learn about self understand the breadth of cultural and social differences among us and build the skills needed to create and lead a more just world. My name is mckeeva clay, and I'm the director here at the center. And I'm delighted that you all were able to join us today for what promises to be a very thought provoking conversation between two of the world's greatest thinkers on issues of race, politics, and religion. One our beloved teacher, preacher, scholar and activist, Dr. Cornel West.
And also our guest, scholar and author and somewhat of a homeboy Philly native Dr. Sherman Jackson from the University of Michigan.
At this time, I'd like to extend my thanks to the co sponsors of this program. First, the Office of Religious Life The Muslim Life Coordinator.
So have Sultan, the Center for African American Studies, the Muslim Students Association, the black student association, and the department and program in Near Eastern Studies. I would also like to say a special thank you to my right hand colleagues at the center. I hope they're in the room. Both Dr. Christie Agha Woo, who is our program coordinator, Christy.
And also my right hand administrative assistant, Antoinette Richardson is probably running around making sure everything is okay at the last minute. Thank you so much for your work. And I'd also be remiss if I didn't acknowledge our students, both the students who work very closely with the Office of Religious Life, specifically, the students who are working with Salhab on this program, and also our student fellows. Finally, I've mentioned Scilab a couple of times I'd like to thank so I have my colleague, who is the coordinator for Muslim life and the Office of Religious Life who's only been here about a year. And he's already shaking things up at Princeton, and I'm so pleased to have had
the opportunity to work with so Hab. And thank you for introducing this program. And Dr. Sherman, to me who I who I didn't know Dr. Sherman Jackson. So thank you for your leadership, and for bringing all of our campus partners together. So at this time, I'll ask so apt to join me so that he can introduce the program more fully, thank you.
Welcome everyone, As Salam aleikum,
I would like to begin today's event by thanking mckeeva. And the wonderful staff here at the coral fuel Center for hosting us this afternoon.
The Muslim Life program in the Office of Religious Life, the chief organizer for this historic event was created nearly two years ago with the objective of meeting the spiritual and religious needs of the of the growing Muslim population on campus, and also to serve as an intellectual and educational resource for Islam and Muslim cultures.
So it is with this latter objective, that we come here today to hear these two great scholars
before us or two great scholars of religion and race, engaging one another in such a public forum for the first time.
Dr. Jackson, on our right comes to us from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he is professor of Islamic law and theology.
Dr. Jackson is also the author of numerous works, including Islam and the problem of black suffering.
is this if you haven't seen it yet, and outside for a booksigning after the event, and it serves as the inspiration for this conversation here today.
Dr. Cornel West needs no introduction, especially for those of us from Princeton University. Dr. West is from Princeton University's Class of 1943, a professor in the center of for African American Studies, and one of the country's leading intellectuals. His books include the bestsellers, race matters and democracy matters. And his recent memoir, brother West, living and loving out loud.
The structure of our event will begin with brief reflections on the topic of the problem of black suffering from our two esteemed professors, first with Dr. Jackson and then with Dr.
West. And Dr. Jackson, Dr. Wells will exchange two questions each between themselves to get the conversation started. And finally, there will be an opportunity for the audience to participate and to engage in this conversation by asking questions. During the question and answer period, there'll be a mic that will be set up on the on this side in the middle. And on the right side, there'll be people holding the mic. And so after, after the initial period is done, and we move into question and answer, then just come up to the mic. So whoever comes up first, we'll take one on the side, one on the side. And you'll be fair.
So without any further ado, we begin our conversation with reflections from Dr. Sherman Jackson, thank you.
Well, thank you very much. So hey, and everybody for affording me this opportunity to come here. And to exchange ideas with my my dear brother, Cornel West, who has done so much over the years to inspire and instruct us all. I also want to thank you all for coming out. And I want to thank Princeton University, for affording us the opportunity to come together in this safe space, and talk about a topic that is of utmost important, utmost importance in these times in which we live. You know, at the University of Michigan, I teach a course entitled, Introduction to Islam, and in the introductory lecture to that course, often tell my students that I don't teach this course as a
constituent of Middle East Studies, but as a constituent of American civics. The Muslim community now in America is a thriving community, and it is one that is integrated into the community. And that
will go on to become an important part of that community. And it's important for us as Americans to be able to come together and exchange with Muslims come to understand them, as well as have Muslims understand others. And so I thank Princeton University for affording us this opportunity to come here this afternoon to attempt to do to do that, just that.
I've been told that I have about 15 minutes to flecked on the on the topic of, of suffering.
And I'm assuming that the whole point of limiting limiting it to 15 minutes is so that we can be more provocative than we are exhaustive. So some of my remarks may be a bit abbreviated. But hopefully we have time in the question and answer period to ferret some of them out. I want to begin by saying that
given the constraints of time, I'm willing to defer any comments about issues having to do with what they call metaphysical suffering, earthquakes, hurricanes, acts of God, to the question and answer period. I want to focus in my remarks on suffering not as an aspect of nature or acts of God. But as a seemingly endemic dimension of social political reality. I want to talk about suffering that comes as a result of the acts of human beings. The second thing I want to note is that my focus is not well, my concern is not with individual acts, or incidents that might inflict suffering on us, but but rather on sustained regimes of suffering, what I have referred to in other context as regimes of
normalized domination, there's a difference between the suffering that I might experience were you telling me that to my face, I wasn't attractive? I probably would. My feelings would probably be heard. And I would, I would suffer from that kind of a comment. But I think that there's a fundamental difference between that and living in a society where in the forces that monopolize the means of defining beauty define me as an attractive and that is a kind of suffering that I want to talk about a talk about today. Now, it's insane, it's exceedingly important to note that the difference between suffering on the one hand and struggle on the other is paramount. I think it's
really important for us to understand the difference between these two, to struggle is to recognize reality as one's point of departure, but to refuse to surrender to that reality as a representation of the ideal, or of all that can be those of us who equate struggle with suffering, routinely end up on a mission to avert
We all struggle in the name of averting all suffering. Ultimately, this only reinforces and strengthens the very forces that promote our suffering. For ultimately, suffering can only be overcome through struggle, often against this or that external enemy, but always against the enemy that lurks within. Now, let me say a word about the more precise terms of suffering that I've been trying to allude to here. Of course, in the plain sense of the of the word suffering refers to, or at least relates to an earned physical, psychological, or emotional pain and deprivation. For me, however, the problem with this kind of the understanding of suffering is that it's a bit too
Because the fact of the matter is that unless we possess the means for which we can normalize this pain, and deprivation and raise it beyond critique, suffering, in this sense, will almost always be opposed. That is to say, unless you are able to put me in a position where I can accept either through your arguments, or through having internalized this by osmosis by living in a particular kind of society, that I deserve to be in this position, or I deserve to be in that inferior status, either within my society or within an interpersonal relationship. unless you can convince me of the propriety of this, I will oppose it.
My concern is with the kind of pain and deprivation that accrues to my getting entrapped in false ideals.
And by that, I mean that I get entrapped in ideals that tend to translate or transform the reality that I experience
as if it were the ideal. In other words, I am made to see reality as if it is the best that things can be as a result of which I am disabused of all of my incentives, to even strive to produce a better world, or to come to terms that might enable me to live the kind of dignified existence that's important for me to live. And I think it's very important here, that this whole attempt, or this whole process of denying us the incentives to struggle against injustice, against unfairness against bias and prejudice, this is a kind of suffering that I think has become much more efficient, given the means that we have in modern times to produce and disseminate ideas, images, and, and
reputations about each other. I'm reminded, in fact of the comments of the French scholar, da de Bourgh, who talks about the degrading of the human faculty of encounter, that is to say that we are sold, we are so affected by the images that we internalize, that even when you and I are sitting together, and we are talking to each other, I cannot see you, I cannot feel you, I cannot actually experience you. Because all those images that I've internalized have degraded my faculty for human encounter. And so we end up not even being able to relate to each other. And this ultimately, I think, has a tendency to heighten the ability of the powers to be to enlist us in regimes of
domination, and was the domination itself is raised beyond critique. That is to say, we are so normalized to these forms of domination that we can't even man critiques against it. This is the kind of suffering that I'm interested in here, here today. Now
think it's important as well, in this capacity, that one of the reasons
why it's so important to confront, this particular mode of, of domination or suffering, is because it tends to feed on itself. That is to say, I live in a society where all the means of producing the standards and the images by which I'll be judged as a human being, are monopolized by someone else. As a result of which I do not get to contribute to the criteria and on the basis of which I'm going to be judged in society. And in that context, whatever respect whatever didn't