By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
Cornel West, a Princeton University professor and leading black intellectual, is harshly criticizing President Obama, a candidate he once supported but now calls “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.”
West, a former Harvard University professor, said during an interview with the website Truthdig posted yesterday that the president has not been true to his race.
“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West said. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white…When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening.”
The White House did not have an immediate comment. West did not respond to messages left at his office.
Republicans have questioned Obama’s origins — to the point where he felt compelled to release his long-form birth certificate to prove he was born in Hawaii — but West also uses Obama’s past to draw into question the president’s racial bearings.
“Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive,” West said. “He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.”
West is a professor at Princeton’s Center for African American Studies and is the author of “Race Matters.” He was a professor at Harvard, but left in 2002 amid quarrels with then-president Lawrence Summers.
West also recounts personal slights — that his phone calls didn’t get returned, and that he couldn’t get a ticket with his mother and brother to the inauguration.
It is not the first time West has raised questions about Obama. Last year, during an interview with NPR, he said he wished the president were more “Martin Luther King-like.”