Some excerpts from the Playboy interview:
On President Obama’s shortcomings: "While he’s made some good, positive changes, I don’t think he’s a messiah or even a very progressive politician...It’s already getting late for him, when you have a chance to speak to jobs, homes, infrastructure and you end up bailing out investment bankers. They’re too big to fail? They’re too big to be managed! And what do you do? You allow them to get bigger! So you’ve got the same conditions in place that will reproduce the same catastrophe from which we’re still cleaning up from the Bush years. And you don’t speak to jobs, you don’t speak to homes, and again the poor remain invisible."
On President Obama’s inability to push a strong black agenda: "I wish [President Obama] could be more Martin Luther King-like. Set an agenda that at root is a black agenda, and it would also be the best agenda for the nation and the world. King did that. His concern for civil rights was also the best agenda for the country...By necessity, Obama has had to downplay his blackness to appease the white moderates and independents and speak to their anxieties. He knows black folk will support him anyway, so he doesn’t need to spend too much time on the chocolate side of town."
On Michelle Obama: "Somebody of her brilliance, somebody of her vision, somebody of her courage confined to keeping gardens at the White House, reaching out to military families, highlighting childhood obesity. I think she could be a great force for change if she could only set herself free. She can’t though. Black sister exercising her power, willing to take a stand, would be too much of a threat."
On corporate greed and "gangsterism": "Humans have always had the propensity to be gangsters...but for much of the past century you had sanctions in place. You had regulation. You had a stronger trade union movement. You had some balance between the rich and the poor. More of the wealth was distributed to working people. But what is it now? CEOs in the 1950s made around $25 to every $1 for an average worker. Now it’s about $275 to every $1, and the CEOs say, ‘No, we deserve it. We’re working harder.’ That’s a lie. They’re getting away with more by holding on to a larger percentage of the profits...When you read the business pages in the past three years, it’s just gangster activity, people getting away with anything they can—looting the Treasury, billions of dollars made on speculation. Those people knew it was wrong, but it was short-term gain, scandal, preoccupation with the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not get caught. The result is, we’re feeling the aftershocks of moral bankruptcy, and it’s going to hurt us for a long time."
On the Tea Party movement: "The Tea Party might look a mile wide on Fox News, but it’s only a few inches deep...Tea Party folk are not crazy people. They’re just misguided. They’re deeply conservative people who see the corruption of government. They’re right about that. But they react by being antigovernment. They’re wrong about that. They see the need for individual initiative and entrepreneurial possibility. They’re right about that. But then they affirm a corporate agenda and don’t realize corporations are a big part of the problem...They’re much weaker than people like Glenn Beck think they are. But I’ll fight for the right of Glenn Beck to express his opinion. Even he has a right to be wrong, which he is most of the time."
On Glenn Beck’s preoccupation with black people: "Glenn Beck appears to have a certain preoccupation with black folk. Why is he so obsessed with black people? I notice he doesn’t give the Amish that much attention. [laughs]"
On eliminating poverty: "Given our wealth, we could create a society with no poverty. We could do it...Brother, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to eliminate poverty. Make it a priority. You allocate assets for everyone’s basic needs—housing, food."
On acknowledging race: "Some would like to believe we live in a postracial society, but that’s completely false. You’ve got to acknowledge race. Little kids notice it from the time they’re six or seven. ‘Dang, Jamal is darker than Johnny over here. What does that mean?’ Some people will try to say, ‘It doesn’t mean anything. We’re all the same.’ That’s wrong. That’s denial. We are different because of race, and we need to learn to embrace the differences, embrace the whole person...Then again, we have to make sure our awareness of our differences doesn’t translate into a hierarchy of how you treat people."
On the dismissal of his academic career: "My academic career is dismissed by means of invisibility. And I’m not the only one. If a martian came down to America and read The New York Review of Books, it would hardly know there were any black writers. There is a de facto segregation in the life of the mind in America, and black scholars, brown scholars, black intellectuals feel it every day."
On the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church: "Anytime you have people making claims of being virtuous, you have massive hypocrisy...Don’t project purity or an image of being pristine because you end up falling on your face. Or worse, you end up projecting a face of hypocrisy, as we see with the Vatican—a gay sex scandal among the people who preach against gay marriage and other deeply important issues. Not right."
On the things our culture is yearning for: "All across this culture I see a yearning for quality relationships, a yearning for integrity, a yearning for spirituality. But people—young people in particular—are manipulated by many forces to believe that what matters in life is something else: money, materialism, short-term gain, power and the kind of show that goes along with it."
On sexuality: "Sexuality is such a precious gift, but it does take on a life of its own. I see people who fall down the path of lust, seduction and temptation, and increasingly I sense this conquest mentality in which sex becomes almost another thing to acquire. How many women can I satisfy myself with? It’s a form of pathology, and it’s a sign of our deep spiritual malnutrition."
On white fear of black sexuality: "Historically, white fear of black sexuality was always a basic component of white racism. Black bodies, white bodies bumping against one another—it’s been one of the major forms of mobilizing white citizens...Ancient associations still linger about the sheer touch of black body against white body, of being disgusting, dirty, repulsive."