The two say they want to address the urgency of the civil rights movement happening right now.


Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Kim Brown. As we stand here at the midpoint of 2020 of what has already been a tumultuous year, it’s so important that we take moments to memorialize, observe, reflect, and analyze all of the things that have our society, and by extension, our world in a state of flux right now. And that is exactly what The Tight Rope hopes to achieve. It’s the brand new podcast hosted by professors and doctors Tricia Rose and Cornel West, and their inaugural episode features an in-depth and revealing conversation with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Let’s take a look.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Our identity is about trying to do best by everyday people and knowing right from wrong. You cannot allow your identity to be subsumed with this superficial political identity of red or blue or this tribe, this, that, and the other.
Kim Brown: They join us here today to talk about this new venture, what caused them to create this new media platform and what they aim to achieve and who they hope to talk to over the course of its life. We are so honored and so glad to be joined with Tricia Rose and Cornel West today, professors and doctors. Thank you all so much for being here.

Cornel West: Same to you.

Tricia Rose: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Cornel West: Thank you, indeed. Indeed.

Kim Brown: Well, I had the opportunity to check out the premiere episode of The Tight Rope, where the two of you sit down with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a very revealing and in-depth interview. But before we get into what that conversation was like, I wanted to ask you guys, first and foremostly, why now? Why is now a good opportunity for academics and media personalities such as yourself to create a podcast in this time? Professor Rose, we’ll start with you.

Tricia Rose: Yeah, sure. Well it’s always a good time to have an in-depth conversation with Cornel West. So there’s never a bad time for that. But I also think right now there are a number of issues that are extremely pivotal. There’s an urgency to the social justice movement and the crisis that’s created by anti-black racism and capitalism and all of the other crises that we’re facing, environmental issues and so on. There are a lot of pundits, but there are not many, many people who sit and think and read on these issues at length. We want to create space for guests who can really shed really deep light, but we also want to create space for a broader conversation on African American history and culture generally, which we both share experience as teachers and writers for many years. We think the conversation needs expanding. We think it needs enrichening and deepening and we’re happy to be in conversation and be able to do it. I think those are some of the main reasons that we felt both why now and why what we’re doing, right? Why this and why now?

Kim Brown: Cornel-

Cornel West: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Kim Brown: Many would say that this is overdue for you and Tricia to have your own space to discuss these issues. Clearly we see you featured on television programs and in other people’s platforms, but at this time I think many people are going to be quite ecstatic to see and come in to tune in to hear directly from the two of you.

Cornel West: Well, that’s very kind of you say. I mean, for me, it becomes first, just a matter of being able to revel in Sister Tricia Professor Rose’s brilliance and her genius. And by genius I mean this geniality, this largeness of mind and heart and soul, and bringing it all together, locating it in the best of both the black tradition in particular and the highly progressive tradition of humanity as a whole. To be able to allow those traditions to come through us so they can affect the younger generation, they can affect others in such a way that they get fortified in the name of an intellectual integrity, in the name of a moral compassion, in the name of a political solidarity across national boundaries, across class, across gender to hit white supremacy, predatory capitalism, US Imperial status, head on as well as hidden homophobia and transphobia. So we’re basically having a good time and trying to be a force for good at the same time.

Kim Brown: So let me ask you guys, who is this podcast for? Whose ears are you trying to capture and eyes are you trying to capture with The Tight Rope?

Tricia Rose: Well, I think, I mean, our main purpose is to reach as many people who want to engage on the issues that are interesting and important to us. That crosses a political spectrum. It crosses a racial class, gender, orientation, dimensions. It’s meant really not for any one group of people. Now, the people who I would say we’re not trying to be in direct conversation with are people who want to feed off of a one position versus another position and we’re going to fight, bring these two so-called oppositional positions, which is a binary fiction usually anyway, and create a lot of unnecessary, uninteresting, unnecessary and unproductive hostile exchange. We’re just not really interested in that. We’re interested in intelligent disagreement, of reflective, thoughtful agreement, disagreement, conflict, as long as it’s meant for real serious conversation. But I would say that kind of context is something we’re not particularly interested in. So everything else, I say, is fair game. I don’t know, Cornell, if you agree, but-

Cornel West: That is true. Absolutely. No, but see Sister Tricia and I, we’re so deeply rooted in the black musical tradition that says lift every voice. It doesn’t say lift every echo. We’re not just extensions of an echo chamber. We think for ourselves. We laugh for ourselves. We love for ourselves. We struggle for others through ourselves. We are grounded in those who came before, the best of what came before, but we’re trying to unleash this Socratic energy, critical energy, and then the moral energy, the prophetic energy. In that sense, if we’re able to really ascend as high as we’d like, we would hope the people’d have a little semblance of Tammi Terrell and Marvin and the others. The real thing.

The Ashford & Simpson stamp on the culture. That’s what the Rose West stamp is trying to be. Can we keep that stamp? So when you finish listening to us, it’s like, “I didn’t agree with everything, but ooh, that was so real and I felt it in my heart, mind and soul. So let me go on and run a little bit and be better and think better and act more courageously.” Ooh. At that point we would have done what we supposed to do.

Tricia Rose: Yes. Yes, indeed. I couldn’t agree more. That’s right.

Kim Brown: Well, Dr. West, if you straighten your hair, you might look like Nick Ashford if you give it a shot.

Cornel West: Well, not with-

Kim Brown: Tricia could be Valerie Simpson. It would be perfect.

Cornel West: Brother Nick is so much more handsome I could ever be, but I’m working on it. I’m working on it. I definitely don’t have his genius. I don’t have his genius, I can tell you that.

Kim Brown: It seems to hang on. I was just listening to that the other day.

Cornel West: It seems to hang on. Ooh, I was just listening to that, too.

Kim Brown: That’s right. That’s the jam. Come on now.

Cornel West: That’s the jam. That’s right.

Kim Brown: Well listen, the first episode interviewed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and I had the opportunity to preview this episode and I was truly blown away. I mean, I confess I did not know much about her beyond her political rise to Congress and a little bit about her background, where she worked as a waitress and as a bartender. But this conversation you guys had with her was so incredibly revealing, talking about her family dynamic, the way that she was raised, the extent that her parents sacrificed in order for her to have access to a quality education, and then the road her own academic career took, which brought her to this point where she is now in Congress. It was very illuminating. Tricia, when you spoke with her, what was the thing that really jumped out about her that you previously did not know?

Tricia Rose: Well, there was so much. I mean, I’ll try to limit it to a couple of key highlights, but I think the overall experience I had was just how much coverage there’s been of her and how little coverage there’s been of her at the same time, right? That we see the same thing over and over and over again. We hear the same kind of narrative and we see the same kind of pitting certain members of Congress against others and the narrowing of the framework of her humanity to fit a box of understanding around what the political framework should be. So the first thing was just the experience of looking at someone that I thought I had a sense of what motivated them or what they were about and realized I had no idea. So that was the general picture. But I think most specifically I was really taken by a combination of her commitment to her family that was much more nuanced than normally… When people normally easily say, “I love my parents. I want them to respect and love me.”

But that she had a very close relationship with her father that was very powerful and politically much more complex and sophisticated. Her description of him as a jokester who tells off-color jokes, a regular working man who sneaks off and reads philosophy, right?

Cornel West: That’s right.

Tricia Rose: That kind of description was very moving to me. I mean, I could go on and on, but those were two of the things that I was just blown away by.

Kim Brown: And Cornell, you related to the Representative by referencing the way that she was raised, her religious background, a combination of Pentecostal and Catholic through the lens of being Puerto Rican, especially being raised in the Bronx, but also spending quite a bit of time in Puerto Rico. How does those sense of cultural understandings come through that? It’s almost like Negritude, right? The way that black people relate to each other, even if we don’t know each other personally, but that goes by extension to our Latin and indigenous brothers and sisters as well.

Cornel West: But I mean, one thing that Sister Tricia and I attempt to do, and it’s already a blow against white supremacy, when you just assume the rich, deep, complex humanity of black people or brown people or indigenous people or Asian people, and that’s how we proceed. So we started with Sergio. We started with Blanca. That’s dad. That’s mom. What has gone into the shaping of her? And then we went back to the Puerto Rican backdrop of Pedro Flores and Rafael Hernandez and Albizu Campos and Julia de Burgos and all of these towering figures that shape her Puerto Rican tradition in New York. And then we discover, lo and behold, Howard Thurman comes in part to the rescue when precious Sergio dies at 45 years old when she was an undergrad at Boston University. How would Thurman, mentor of Martin Luther King Jr, close friend of a giant named Benjamin Mays, inseparable from the music of Mahalia Jackson, who gives the eulogy at Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral, it’s Howard Thurman, that Thurman that she talked about, who has a center at Boston University, that came to her rescue.

And then she’s off to Africa. Again, as Tricia said, all of those hundreds of interviews they’ve had of our dear sister, putting her in one little narrow niche, one little truncated label, one little parochial category, rather than allowing her rich humanity to overflow. How true it is for black and brown and indigenous peoples every day of our lives in America. Thank God that she was able to come to a site and just let it all hang out and overflow, and it was a beautiful thing.

Tricia Rose: That’s right. Yeah.

Kim Brown: Listen, having watched this episode, I don’t think you guys are going to have a problem attracting an audience among like-minded people who affiliate themselves with left and leftist politics and radical thought. My question is, you both as academics, how can you reach the people in the streets who also have these ideas, though they may not have so much the formal education behind workers rights, but people, even sans college education, know that they’re being oppressed? And they do understand the systems that do oppress them, though they may not use academic language. For people who might tune in and be like, “Oh, Professor West and Professor Rose. This might be a little over my head,” how can The Tight Rope relate to the everyday person, in your opinions?

Tricia Rose: Well, I mean, there are a few things I’d say there. One is that we are not bringing a consistent diet of academic speech, number one. Number two, I think people are incredibly smart and they are often underestimated, and I really think that people will let us know if we’re off the mark and not comprehensible. I hope they hold us accountable, right? If we don’t make sense to our own family members, right, then we shouldn’t really be trying to talk to the public too much. I think we’d both be comfortable with being held accountable. But I also think we’re not bringing ideas from the ivory tower to tell everyday people what to do. We’re trying to be in a conversation with people bringing what we can bring to the table. It’s like if you want to start a good fire, you need dry wood, right? You need a safe environment. You need good fire, right? You need a number of things.

We just bring in an ingredient to the table to make sure that we create and participate in the things that are already going on. So I guess, I think the fact that we’re both professors and so on and so forth, we’re hoping brings an asset without bringing what could be a liability, right? I mean, I think that’s the rub. And also we have other guests you’ll see coming up that are amazing, and very few are academics. We’re not in the business of interviewing our own profession.

Cornel West: That’s true.

Tricia Rose: We’re in the business of talking to people from all walks of life, whether they’re athletes or poets or artists or activists, politicians, so on and so forth. While we’re having a deeper conversation, it’s not an inaccessible conversation, right? I mean, I don’t know, Cornell, if you wanted to say more about that.

Cornel West: I appreciate that question because it’s very important that people understand that we believe in respecting people and when we respect people, we communicate with them. Now Sister Tricia, she is a masterful teacher in the classroom or in the public square. She’s an eloquent speaker in the classroom as a lecturer or in the public square. And she and I are fundamentally devoted to the notion that if you speak to people’s hearts and touch their souls, then nothing you say is going to be above their heads or beyond their minds. And we learn that from our musicians. We learn that from our artists. And we learn that because we are humbled by what we’re trying to say and we are respectful of those to whom we are speaking. We’re trying to touch hearts. We’re trying to touch souls. We’re trying to unsettle minds. And so in that sense, I don’t think they’ll have anything to worry about in terms of the language that flows from our hearts and minds and lips to them on The Tight Rope.

Kim Brown: People absolutely recognize the truth when they hear it. So what can we expect? You came out the gate with an amazing conversation with AOC. What are some of the other conversations we can expect in the future with The Tight Rope?

Tricia Rose: Well, I mean, I’ll just mention a couple of things. We have a lot of great things coming up. I mean, it’s been amazing. One in particular, we did a terrific interview with basketball legend Isaiah Thomas. I don’t even want to tell you anything about it because I want people to see it when it comes out from the beginning, but suffice it to say that his life and his childhood and what he shared with us is so much more important than even his own legendary athletic talents and abilities and awards, right, and his championships. What that show and what others will, I’m sure Cornell will mention a few others, but what that show and the other shows are revealing is that there really is very little space, particularly for people of color, but not only people of color, people who want to share the lived experiences of everyday people of color and their histories and contexts, whether they’re celebrities or not, right?

That meaningful, humanized kind of sharing and learning and exchanging, that’s a place we want to be. That’s a place we would tune into, and that’s the place we’re hoping to set a tone for providing for everybody. So, Isaiah Thomas was one amazing episode. But I don’t know, Cornell, if you want to share any other tidbits. I don’t want to give it all away. I was going to give one.

Cornel West: No, we don’t want to give it all away, but there is a genius named Rapsody who engaged in such a high quality dialogue and reflection with us that is worth noting. I think that people will love what she has to say as well as be challenged by it. As well as be challenged by it.

Tricia Rose: Yeah. So yeah, we have artists, athletes, intellectuals, politicians.

Cornel West: Intellectuals. Politicians.

Tricia Rose: It’s meant to be, exactly, a range of people.

Kim Brown: Good. I wanted to get the both of yours, a quick take before we wrap up. In terms of where we are right now, we’re dealing with a global pandemic that is ravaging black and brown America. We’re also dealing with tremendous political uncertainty as we have an election upcoming where the incumbent president is posturing as though he may not leave the White House even if he loses and is also trying to discourage voter participation by undermining mail-in voting, which is probably going to be the predominant way in which people participate in the election because of the pandemic.

We are in the middle of this and it’s so hard to see what the end will look like. How would you guys categorize or how would you even describe this moment in history where we are right now? Because it definitely feels unique. Obviously we are not the first generations to endure struggle and not the first generations to fight back, but this feels so distinct from places that we have been in past. How would you sum it up? I’m so sorry to even cheapen it in that way. How can you sum up 2020? It’s so crazy. But I did-

Tricia Rose: You’ve got 30 seconds!

Kim Brown: Right? Give me 30 seconds, Professor Rose. How would you categorize it?

Tricia Rose: I have one thing and then I’m going to let Cornell take us out on that because this is directly in his fantastic wheelhouse. The very quick thing I would say is that the production of chaos produces so much distraction and fear that it encourages us to take our eye off of what’s consistently going on, right? And so the hallmark of what I see is a series of shock waves that are constantly being produced and manufactured that are designed to distract us from the takeover of American institutions by a neofascist and by destroying and dismantling the possibility of a multiracial democracy, right? So to me, it’s using that shock and chaos. That the continuity. So the goal here is to recognize that shock, but to try to keep as centered while to stay on that tight rope, right? To stay as centered as you can in the face of it. But Cornell, you go ahead. I’m sure you have something far more helpful.

Cornel West: No, no. You have said it so powerfully as you always do. But I think for us on that tight rope, it’s a matter of trying to fortify yourself so that you focus on a moral integrity that leads you toward a solidarity with all of those who are struggling, because we happen to find yourself in a US empire that’s wrestling with spiritual decline and moral decay with a predatory capitalist project in which it’s money, money, money with the greed at the top dictating, shaping the destiny of the nation. And yet these everyday people, in the language of Sly Stone, coming together concerned about justice, concerned about love, concerned about freedom. And we got to keep that focus on integrity and solidarity with the love of everyday people, the solidarity with oppressed people here and around the world, and then swing and see how far we can go.

Kim Brown: Badang. We’re going to leave it right there. I’d like to than you both.

Tricia Rose: Yeah. Now you know my life.

Kim Brown: Right?

Tricia Rose: Just leave it right there.

Kim Brown: Dr. West be throwing the mic down. Bam. It’s over.

Cornel West: We salute you, Sister Kim. We salute you, Sister Kim. You’re a force for good.

Tricia Rose: Thank you. These were great questions-

Cornel West: You’re a force for good. Absolutely.

Tricia Rose: … and they’re right on the heart of where we are.

Cornel West: Right on what we’re trying to do. Absolutely.

Kim Brown: I’m so glad and I’m so excited for your project. On behalf of you two, two shiny new podcasters out here joining this media landscape. It’s called The Tight Rope. It is a podcast hosted by Trisha Rose and Cornel West. You can find it everywhere where your podcasts are located, so definitely check it out. The first episode with AOC, phenomenal. You will definitely learn a lot from it. Professors and doctors, thank you guys so much for being here. I can’t thank you enough. I’m so excited about your project.

Tricia Rose: Thank you, Kim.

Cornel West: [crosstalk 00:23:55].

Tricia Rose: It was great to be with you.

Cornel West: Thank you. Thank you so much. God bless you.

Kim Brown: And thank you all for watching The Real News Network.

Kim Brown

Kim Brown has been covering national and international politics for over 10 years and has been a sought-after voice on issues on race and culture.