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Cornel Ronald West
Cornel Ronald West (born June 2, 1953) is an American philosopher, academic, social activist, author, public intellectual, and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The son of a Baptist minister, West received his undergraduate education from Harvard University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1973, and received a Ph.D from Princeton University in 1980, becoming the first African American to graduate from Princeton with a Ph.D in philosophy. He taught at Harvard in 2001 before leaving the school after a highly publicized dispute with then-president Lawrence Summers. He was Professor of African American Studies at Princeton before leaving the school in 2011 to become Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He has also spent time teaching at the University of Paris.
The bulk of West's work focuses on the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their "radical conditionedness." West draws intellectual contributions from multiple traditions, including Christianity, the black church, Marxism, neopragmatism, and transcendentalism. Among his most influential books are Race Matters (1994) and Democracy Matters (2004).
West is a frequent media commentator on political and social issues. He often appears on networks such as CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Fox News and PBS and programs such as Real Time With Bill Maher, and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.  From 2010 through 2013, he co-hosted a radio program with Tavis Smiley, called Smiley and West. He has also been featured in several documentaries, and made appearances in Hollywood films The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, also providing commentary for the films. He has also made several spoken word and hip hop albums, and has been named MTV's Artist of the Week for his work.
West was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and grew up in Sacramento, California, where he graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. His mother, Irene (Bias), was a teacher and principal, and his father, Clifton Louis West, Jr., was a general contractor for the Defense Department. Irene B. West Elementary School in Elk Grove, California, is named for his mother.
As a young man, West marched in civil rights demonstrations and organized protests demanding black studies courses at his high school, where he was class president. He later wrote that, in his youth, he admired "the sincere black militancy of Malcolm X, the defiant rage of the Black Panther Party [...] and the livid black theology of James Cone."
In 1970, after graduating from high school, he enrolled at Harvard College and took classes from philosophers Robert Nozick and Stanley Cavell. In 1973, he graduated magna cum laude in Near Eastern languages and civilization. West credited Harvard with exposing him to a broader range of ideas, influenced by his professors as well as the Black Panther Party. West says his Christianity prevented him from joining the BPP, instead choosing to work in local breakfast, prison, and church programs.
In 1980, West earned a Ph.D. from Princeton, where he was influenced by Richard Rorty's neopragmatism. The title of his dissertation was Ethics, historicism and the Marxist tradition, which was later revised and published under the title The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought.
In his late-20s, he returned to Harvard as a W. E. B. Du Bois Fellow before becoming an Assistant Professor at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. In 1984, he went to Yale Divinity School in what eventually became a joint appointment in American Studies. While at Yale, he participated in campus protests for a clerical labor union and divestment from apartheid South Africa. One of the protests resulted in his being arrested and jailed. As punishment, the University administration canceled his leave for the spring term in 1987, leading him to commute from Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was teaching two classes, across the Atlantic Ocean to the University of Paris.
He then returned to Union for one year before going to Princeton to become a professor of Religion and director of the Program in African-American Studies from 1988 to 1994. After Princeton, he accepted an appointment as professor of African-American studies at Harvard University, with a joint appointment at the Harvard Divinity School. West taught one of the University's most popular courses, an introductory class on African-American studies. In 1998, he was appointed the first Alphonse Fletcher University Professor. West utilized this new position to teach in not only African-American studies, but also in divinity, religion, and philosophy. West left Harvard after a widely publicized  dispute with then-President Lawrence Summers in 2002. That year, West returned to Princeton, where he helped create “one of the world’s leading centers for African-American studies” according to Shirley Tilghman, Princeton's president in 2011. In 2012, West left Princeton and returned to the seminary where he began his teaching career, Union Theological Seminary. His departure from Princeton, unlike his departure from Harvard, was on good terms and he remains an emeritus professor at Princeton.
The recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees and an American Book Award, he has written or contributed to over twenty published books. West is a long-time member of the Democratic Socialists of America, for which he now serves as an honorary chair. He is also a co-founder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. West is on the advisory board of the International Bridges to Justice.
In 2008, he received a special recognition from the World Cultural Council.
West is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and its World Policy Council, a think tank whose purpose is to expand Alpha Phi Alpha's involvement in politics and social and current policy to encompass international concerns.
In 1995, The New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier charged him with opportunism, crass showmanship, and lack of scholarly seriousness. Wieseltier specifically dismissed West's books as "almost completely worthless" because, he said, they are "noisy, tedious, slippery ... sectarian, humorless, pedantic and self-endeared." Nonetheless, West remains a widely cited scholar in the popular press.
West appears as Councillor West in both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions and also provides the voice for this character in the video game Enter the Matrix. In addition, West provides philosophical commentary on all three Matrix films in The Ultimate Matrix Collection, along with integral theorist Ken Wilber.
He has made several appearances in documentary films also, such as the 2008 film Examined Life, a documentary featuring several academics discussing philosophy in real-world contexts. West, "driving through Manhattan, . . . compares philosophy to jazz and blues, reminding us how intense and invigorating a life of the mind can be." He also appears in conversation with Bill Withers in the Bill Withers documentary, Still Bill.
West has made frequent appearances on the political talk show Real Time with Bill Maher.
A character based on West and events in his career appeared in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode Anti-Thesis, significant for introducing the recurring villain character Nicole Wallace.
In May 2012, West guest-starred in the sixth season of the American television comedy series 30 Rock, "What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?".
On the musical front, West recorded a recitation of John Mellencamp's song "Jim Crow" for inclusion on the singer's box set On the Rural Route 7609 in 2009.
In 2010, he completed recording with the Cornel West Theory, a hip hop band endorsed by West. He has also released several hip-hop/soul/spoken word albums. In 2001, West released his first album, Sketches of My Culture. Street Knowledge followed in 2004. In 2007, West released Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations, his third album which included collaborations with the likes of Prince, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Andre 3000, KRS-One, and the late Gerald Levert. West appeared on Immortal Technique's song "Sign of the Times", which appeared on the 2011 album The Martyr. In 2012, he was featured on Brother Ali's song "Letter to My Countrymen", which appeared on the album Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.
West has called the U.S. a "racist patriarchal" nation where white supremacy continues to define everyday life. "White America," he writes, "has been historically weak-willed in ensuring racial justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks." This has resulted, he says, in the creation of many "degraded and oppressed people hungry for identity, meaning, and self-worth." West attributes most of the black community's problems to "existential angst derive[d] from the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating U.S. society and culture."
In West's view, the September 11 attacks gave white Americans a glimpse of what it means to be a black person in the United States—feeling "unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hatred" for who they are. "The ugly terrorist attacks on innocent civilians on 9/11," he said, "plunged the whole country into the blues."
West was arrested on October 13, 2014, while protesting against the shooting of Michael Brown and participating in Ferguson October, and again on August 10, 2015, while demonstrating outside a courthouse in St. Louis on the one-year anniversary of Brown's death.