These Cornel West quotes will inspire you to help make the world a better place.
Cornel West has many titles including social activist, American philosopher, Harvard professor, public intellectual, social critic, author, and spoken-word artist.
However, despite his many accolades, 30 books, and 3 spoken-word albums, West’s dominant achievement is inspiring people to live life with more love.
Through his college lectures, appearances on various documentaries and radio shows, and in his writings, Cornel West makes a passionate effort to appeal to a variety of audiences and inspire a philosophy of love, truth, and justice.
We’ve compiled a list of inspirational Cornel West quotes that will help share that message.
Don’t forget to also check out these Bertrand Russell quotes about society that will make you think.
If you like this article, we suggest you explore our most popular quotes article, a list of short inspirational quotes for daily encouragement.
Look through our complete collection of inspirational quotes here.
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Cornel West quotes about the importance of activism
1. “It is a beautiful thing to be on fire for justice.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Justice is define as “the quality of being just, righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.” When we are on fire with justice we exhibit those qualities bright enough to share our light with everyone.
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2. “I cannot be an optimist but I am a prisoner of hope.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: West defined optimism as “a notion that there’s sufficient evidence that would allow us to infer that if we keep doing what we’re doing, things will get better.” However, he defined hope as, “cutting against the grain, against the evidence.” Basically, what he means in this quote is that optimism keeps us on our path but doesn’t cause change. Hope, is the motivating force that causes us to take action.
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3. “Each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Each of us has the ability to change ourselves and the world around us for the better. However, it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens through making a commitment to do the work required.
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4. “We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Courage is needed anytime we face a daunting or scary challenge. Facing evil and being patient with people, while trying to bring about change is definitely one of those times where we need to be brave.
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5. “Empathy is not simply a matter of trying to imagine what others are going through but having the will to muster enough courage to do something about it. In a way, empathy is predicated upon hope.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Empathy is a skill that can be learned and developed. However, as West points out, simply understanding someone’s feelings is not enough in the case of social injustice. We also need the strength to act, and the courage to do things differently.
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6. “Liberty, which means resisting all forms of cultural authoritarianism, be it from the right-wing church, black ideologues, black nationalists, or mainstream white media. We have to accent liberty and freedom of expression and thought in all their forms.” — Cornel West
Everyday application: The definition of liberty is: the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views. We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life and happiness are easier to understand than the right to “liberty.” Read more about living with liberty in this article!
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7. “Homophobia is very, very difficult to root out, to extricate. That’s why we have to bear witness. That’s why we have to be so public about it, and that’s why we can’t just play footsie with it.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Just because someone is different from you, does not mean you have to fear them. You don’t even have to dislike them. We should all remember that we are all human and everyone deserves respect. Treat people how you want to be treated is a lesson far too many people seem to have forgotten!
8. “I love my gay brothers. I love my lesbian sisters. I love my transvestite, my gender-bending folk. For me, it’s a matter of embracing their humanity, allowing them to choose in such a way that they are in the driver’s seat regarding their lives.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Embrace humanity. We all have that as a common building block. After that, our differences are what make us uniquely us. Just like our differences are special, so are those of other people. Practice empathy and try and learn about things you might not be familiar with, and the world would be a much better place!
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9. “I was a gangster when I was young. I had a Robin Hood mentality and tended to always want to support the weak against the strong, but sometimes it was cohesive and I really needed to fall in love with the power of education to find the right venue to express my rage. I still have a righteous indignation at injustice, no matter what form it takes.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: There are a lot of things that people are angry about today. Find the right avenue for your rage. Learn how you can make a difference. Educate yourself. Listen to people on the “opposite side.” Education is powerful, and so is understanding.
Cornel West quotes fighting for equality
10. “You must let suffering speak if you want to hear the truth.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: West once said that this was based on the next-to-last line of the section called The Speculative Moment in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics. West also stated it reminded him of Hebrew scripture claiming to, “resonate with that even though he’s (Adorno) got a secular mode of it and a very sophisticated, negative, dialectical way of conceiving it. But he’s always looking for the defeated.” Witnessing suffering is difficult, but ‘the truth’ lies in the words and tears of these people.
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11. “Patriarchy is a disease and we are in perennial recovery and relapse. So you have to get up every morning and struggle against it.” — Cornel West
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12. “I don’t draw any distinctions between forms of bigotry or forms of ideology that lose sight of the humanity of people. I can’t stand white supremacy. I can’t stand male supremacy. I can’t stand imperial subjugation. I can’t stand homophobia.” — Cornel West
13. “Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”– they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity.” — Cornel West
14. “I grew up in traditional black patriarchal culture and there is no doubt that I’m going to take a great many unconscious, but present, patriarchal complicities to the grave because it so deeply ensconced in how I look at the world.” — Cornel West
15. “I do believe that healing takes place on a number of different levels and that in fact black healing can be deepened by trying to heal across as well as within. But it could be that to call for black and Jewish healing without acknowledging the need for intra-black healing puts the cart before the horse.” — Cornel West
16. “The aim of a constitutional democracy is to safeguard the rights of the minority and avoid the tyranny of the majority.” — Cornel West
17. “White supremacist ideology is based first and foremost on the degradation of black bodies in order to control them. One of the best ways to instill fear in people is to terrorize them. Yet this fear is best sustained by convincing them that their bodies are ugly, their intellect is inherently underdeveloped, their culture is less civilized, and their future warrants less concern than that of other peoples.” — Cornel West
Cornel West quotes about music
18. “Profound music leads us – beyond language – to the dark roots of our scream and the celestial.” — Cornel West
19. “Music at its best…is the grand archeology into and transfiguration of our guttural cry, the great human effort to grasp in time our deepest passions and yearnings as prisoners of time.” — Cornel West
20. “I’m a bluesman moving through a blues-soaked America.” — Cornel West
21. “The blues aren’t pessimistic. We’re prisoners of hope but we tell the truth and the truth is dark.” — Cornel West
22. “For me, musicians are poets. Beethoven describes himself as a poet of tones, just like Coltrane’s a poet of tempo.” — Cornel West
23. “I think hip-hop can be prophetic and progressive, and at the same time, the dominant forms tend to be homophobic, misogynistic and something that we need to critically call into question.” — Cornel West
24. “Music is what we need when language fails us, but we cannot remain silent.” — Cornel West
Cornel West quotes about love
25. “We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty unless there is love, patience, persistence.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Commitment, loyalty, love, patience, and persistence are all things that will make your relationship flourish. You need each of these things to stick together for the long haul. Check out this article for more relationship tips.
26. “It is very difficult to sustain a high-quality relationship that has the kind of mutual intensity, that has a kind of mutual respect, without putting in time.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: Time and hard work is the solution to being successful at almost everything. Relationships are about the connection between people. If you do not spend time with somebody, then how can know who they are and what is on their mind. The foundations for a healthy relationship are a deep friendship, understanding of one another, and a willingness to be vulnerable.
27. “I have tried to be a man of letters in love with ideas in order to be a wiser and more loving person, hoping to leave the world just a little better than I found it.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: At the end of the day, most of us hope to make some impact on the world. Hopefully, that legacy is one that leaves the world better than we found it. Studying words can teach us many things about history, humanity, and love that we can each use in our quest.
28. “We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: We can find joy, purpose, and satisfaction in life by giving back to others. Caring about the people that make up your community is one of the best things we can do to help our world be a better place. A rich life does not come from simply caring about your own needs.
29. “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people.” — Cornel West
Everyday Application: A true leader is one that makes decision based on what is best for the people who follow them. They are able to understand, connect with, and inspire the people who look up to them. Servant leadership, a popular form of leadership reminds us why love is necessary.
30. “You can’t have a high-quality relationship without time and without trust.” — Cornel West
31. “Too many young folk have addiction to superficial things and not enough conviction for substantial things like justice, truth and love.” — Cornel West
32. “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” — Cornel West
Cornel West quotes about leadership
33. “The important thing for me as an educator is how to – how do we unsettle the minds and touch the souls of significant numbers of young people who don’t read texts or don’t read my texts.” — Cornel West
34. “You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” — Cornel West
35. “To accept your country without betraying it, you must love it for that which shows what it might become.” — Cornel West
36. “I must feel the fire of my soul so my intellectual blues can set others on fire.” — Cornel West
37. “None of us alone can save the nation or world.” — Cornel West
38. “You have to believe in fact that you will refuse to settle for mediocrity.” — Cornel West
39. “There is no greater joy than inspiring and empowering others.” — Cornel West
40. “You have to have a habitual vision of greatness.” — Cornel West
41. “It’s no accident that most of the great black spokespersons and leaders understood the centrality of self-affirmation, self-respect, and self-love.” — Cornel West
More inspiring Cornel West quotes
42. “Believe in fact that living is connected to giving.” — Cornel West
43. “I have some notions that have people conceiving of themselves as capable of changing the world. That’s why, for me, the issues of self-love, self-respect, and self-regard are preconditions for human agency and especially black agency, given the fact that we have been and are such a hated and despised people.” — Cornel West
44. “Aesthetics have substantial political consequences. How one views oneself as beautiful or not beautiful or desirable or not desirable has deep consequences in terms of one’s feelings of self-worth and one’s capacity to be a political agent.” — Cornel West
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45. “To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.” — Cornel West
46. “I would want to conceive of philosophy as grounded in the very long humanist tradition that is the best of the West, which is open to the East and North and South.” — Cornel West
47. You won’t confuse your financial security with your personal integrity, you won’t confuse your success with your greatness or your prosperity with your magnanimity.” — Cornel West
48. “I loathe nationalism. It is a form of tribalism–the idolatry of the 20th century.” — Cornel West
49. “We’ve been talking about this for a good while, the immorality of drones, dropping bombs on innocent people. It’s been over 200 children so far. These are war crimes.” — Cornel West
50. “You can’t really move forward until you look back.” — Cornel West
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How are you making the world a better place?
You may have caught Cornel West’s cameo in The Matrix movie.
Or you may have heard one of his many interviews on CNN, C-Span, the Bill Maher Show, or Democracy Now.
You might have read one of his 30 books (or maybe one of the 13 that he edited).
Or you might have listened to one of his 3 spoken-word albums where he collaborated with Prince, Jill Scott, Andre 3000, and many other artists.
Or you may have taken one of his philosophy classes at Harvard.
Or, it’s possible that this article is your first introduction to Cornel West.
Whichever way you were introduced to him, one thing is for sure: Cornel West is making his mark on the world.
As a man who is passionate and outspoken about his beliefs, he is not afraid to stand up for what is right.
I hope these quotes inspire you to do the same.
Did these Cornel West quotes and sayings inspire you to help change the world?
Which quote was your favorite?
Let us know in the comments below.
Check out Cornell West on MasterClass where he teaches philosophy.