On Tuesday night, The Lecture Fund welcomed renowned radio and television personality Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, a philosopher and writer described by Smiley as “our country’s leading public intellectual,” to Lohrfink Auditorium to speak about the growing issue of income inequality in the United States.
Smiley set the tone for his segment of the talk by declaring poverty “the moral and spiritual issue of our time,” and “a threat to our democracy.”
Referencing the historical reputation of privilege at elite universities, Smiley said, “Some might find it ludicrous or laughable that we’re talking about poverty at a place like Georgetown.” However, he continued, poverty is an issue impacting a growing number of people who had once been solidly in the middle class.
Smiley and West embarked on a “poverty tour” this summer with the aim of seeing the effects of the current recession on Americans. Visiting 18 cities in nine states over the course of a week, Smiley and West discovered that poverty can no longer be “color-coded,” for Americans of all races struggle to make ends meet.
Smiley declared that 150 million Americans can now be classified as poor or near-poor—almost half of the population of the United States. Nevertheless, the nation has been reluctant to start a conversation on the topic; in the three debates leading up to the 2008 presidential election, the words “poor” or “poverty” were never even used.
“The time is now for this conversation,” Smiley said. “Poverty is an issue of national security.”
A Princeton professor whose popular writings focus on poverty and race theory, West began his portion of the talk with kind words about departing Georgetown professor Patrick Deneen. Of Professor Michael Eric Dyson, West said, “I may not always agree with that brother, but he’s a genius.”