‘Race Matters @ 25’: Celebrating Cornel West’s Classic Text

The July conference brings scholars and activists together at Dartmouth to honor West’s work.

In July, Dartmouth is convening more than a dozen prominent scholars, artists, and activists to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the publication of Race Matters, Cornel West’s seminal analysis of race and democracy in America. The conference runs Friday, July 13, through Sunday, July 15, in Moore Theater at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard Divinity School and one of the country’s most recognizable voices for social justice, will participate in the conference throughout the weekend, including Sunday’s roundtable discussion, from 1-4 p.m.

Race Matters, a collection of essays aimed at a popular audience, was a bestseller when it was published in 1993. At the time, West was already known as prolific scholar and social critic. But the book—one of more than 20 that West has authored—made his ideas accessible to a broader public. New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani wrote that the book “directly takes on some of the most volatile issues facing American society today, and for the most part, it does so without mincing words. … one can only applaud the ferocious moral vision and astute intellect on display in these pages.” 

A quarter-century on, the ideas West outlines in Race Matters are still urgent, says Barbara Will, associate dean of arts and humanities. “In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, West’s message could not be more relevant or more necessary,” Will says. “We see this conference as having significant national resonance.”

The conference begins with opening remarks from 4-6 p.m. on July 13, in Moore Theater, followed by a reception on Baker Lawn (rain location: Hanover Inn Grand Ballroom). Saturday includes panel discussions on “Cornel West and His Intellectual Genealogy,” “Black Prophecy in a Transnational Context,” and “Race Matters Then and Now.” Sunday begins with a panel on “Why Race and Racism Matter Now More Than Ever.” The conference concludes with a Sunday afternoon roundtable featuring West.

Panelists include retired NFL linebacker Reggie Williams ’76, award-winning journalist Lisa Armstrong, Haverford College President Kimberly Benston, Emmy-nominated composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, and prominent scholars in health, gender studies, African and African American studies, history, philosophy, comparative literature, and theology, including, among others:

  • Eddie Glaude, the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies and chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University
  • Farah Jasmine Griffin, the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University
  • Saidiya Hartman, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University
  • Kimberlyn Leary, associate professor of psychology at the Harvard Medical School and associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Lucius Outlaw, professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University
  • Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University
  • Tommie Shelby, the Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University

For a complete list of presenters, visit the conference website.

West has been a frequent visitor to Dartmouth in recent years. Last summer he taught a popular Dartmouth course on W.E.B. Du Bois, whom he calls the “great freedom fighter of the 20th century.” In 2017, he lectured on “Intellectual Vocation and Political Struggle in the Trump Moment”—a talk sponsored by the Office of the President and the Office of the Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Arts and Humanities as part of the ongoing series “Why the Humanities Matter in the 21st Century.” 

The main conference is sold out. But tickets are still available for a live stream of the events, to be broadcast in Alumni Hall at the Hopkins Center for the Arts throughout the program. Attendees of the live stream are invited to attend the opening reception on Friday and will have opportunities to interact with the panelists. Tickets for the live stream are available through the conference website. 

The Race Matters @ 25 Conference is sponsored by the Office of the President, the Dean of the Faculty Office, the Dean of the Faculty for the Arts and Humanities, and nearly a dozen centers, programs, and departments across campus.

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at [email protected]