The fabulousness that is Cornel West



From “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” a 2003 Esquire article by Tucker Carlson on an unlikely peace-negotiating trip to Liberia led by Al Sharpton:

Cornel West, the writer and scholar, led the prayer. “Lord, keep us safe,” West intoned as we bowed our heads. “But more important, keep us soulful.”No one looked more soulful than West himself, who was dressed, as always, like a slightly flashy undertaker: white shirt, black three-piece suit, silver pocket watch and chain. He could have been on his way to meet the next of kin. In fact, he was coming from a jazz club. West had stayed in the city until 4:00 A.M. before returning to his “crib in Jersey” (Princeton, New Jersey, where he teaches), then catching a ride to the airport. Along the way, he’d neglected to pack. West boarded the flight for Ghana with two books and a tiny carry-on the size of a woman’s cosmetic case. That was it. He had no suitcases or garment bags or luggage of any kind. Nor did he have any real idea where we were going or how long we might be there. “When are we coming back?” he asked me as we walked down the ramp onto the plane.

Then later, as the group tours the slavery museum at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana:

I was sweating profusely.

Cornel West, I noticed, was not. I looked at him closely as he prayed. Though it was at least 100 degrees in the dungeon, he had not taken off his coat or loosened his tie. (I never once saw him do either.) He had on the same clothes he’d been wearing when we boarded the plane in New York six days before. They looked perfect. There was not a speck of lint or dandruff or dust on his suit. His shoes were shined, the creases in his trousers crisp. His shirt was so white it looked luminescent. The next day I broke down and asked him how, with no change of clothes, he managed to stay so clean. He laughed cryptically but didn’t answer. I began to suspect that I was witnessing some sort of supernatural event, a low-grade miracle. I still can’t think of a better explanation.