TAVIS SMILEY VERSUS REV. AL SHARPTON: LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE
By Fahim A. Knight-EL
This writer was listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS), which is a black syndicated radio program that he is geared toward black urban radio audiences. I was tuned in on Tuesday February 23, 2010, and Mr. Joyner had announced that Tavis Smiley was making a guest appearance on the show, and for those who do not know, Smiley is presently a television talk show host on PBS and prior to this assignment, he was a host on a Black Entertainment Television (BET) talk show. He also had been a radio commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show for a number of years and has made guest appearances on NPR as a political social critic.
So the morning, Joyner announced Smiley's appearance, I sat back, anticipating Smiley's commentary, this writer has always enjoyed Smiley's commentaries on the show and prior to his resignation from TJMS in 2008, he was one of the more serious voices on the show who was not always buffoning and clowning. He always appeared well prepared, organized and his commentaries were insightful and provocative. It was always evident that he had given his topics much thought and he stayed abreast of current events, as well as taking his assignment serious.
However, this writer did not always agree, with Smiley's political analysis, but often, his arguments were compelling and challenging. Thus, for close to ten years he made a bigger name for himself serving as the chief organizer and convener of the State of Black Union forums, that became an annual event in February, which was covered live on C-Span television. Smiley often assembled some of the most brilliant black intellectuals, academia, clergy, social scientist, legal professionals, educators, social activist, politicians, business personnel, writers, publishers, etc.
Tavis Smiley wrote in his book titled: "How to Make Black America Better": "A lot of our actions as Black people have been directed at trying to get white people to change. There are too many of us who allow our life decisions to be governed by the 'statement' we feel our actions might make to white people. The perceptions of white people even find their way into decisions we make about the clothes we buy or the hairstyles we wear. During the civil rights movement, we devoted a good bit of our energy and time to making it clear that we are equal, that our aspirations, concerns, and feelings about life are the same as those of white people, in the hope that the white community would come to understand and accept us as equals. Today, we can no longer afford to do this. It is time to give up on the idea of changing white people and seek change from within, among ourselves. For in the final analysis, it's not about their misbehavior but our behavior". (Reference: Tavis Smiley; "How to Make Black America Better"; p. 9).
Moreover, during the 2008 presidential elections Smiley ventured into uncharted waters by offering critical assessments of then Senator Barack Obama, the little known senator from the state of Illinois, an African American presidential candidate who shocked the nation by winning the Iowa Caucus, but he was still considered a long shot. However, after some of the early primaries Senator Obama was beginning to make serious political momentum (he immediately began to create enthusiasm amongst African Americans).
There were some blacks who believed, that any black criticism of Senator Obama would only hurt his chances of becoming America's first black president (black criticism of Obama was viewed internally within the race with suspicion and interpreted as betrayal). Smiley was being called everything but a child of God, for daring to raise questions, that you would have expected any intelligent group to make of a potential United States commander-in-chief. This writer applauded Smiley for not going soft on Obama and some of the TJMS listening audience accused Smiley of jealousy and player hating. This writer thinks that it was this opposition that left Smiley embattled and eventually ended his tenure as a member of TJMS.
Many African Americans began to back Obama and if nothing else they have had this historical longing of perhaps one day seeing and witnessing a black person becoming president of the United States of America (American style racism and white supremacy have left this longing for 4 centuries). Senator Obama's candidacy was symbolic of so many things to the African American and they began to embrace him in huge numbers and for many his candidacy represented a fulfillment of the Dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had so eloquently articulated of hope, pluralism and equality.
His selection (or "election") was being viewed as the ultimate sign of social progress and that America had turned a page in its over 450 year history relative to granting African Americans complete social-equality (these sentiments were coded in how his election was being perceived, in particular by non-African Americans). President Barack Obama's election was being sensed as so-called leveling the historical playing field and it signified an end to American racism and discrimination.
The United States had elected its first black president and this alone denoted the epitome of social and political progress, at least in theory. I think many citizens both black and white, got caught up in the moment and truly desired to believe that President Barack Obama's election represented a new beginning in how the question of race would be perceived in present and future discussions within the United States.
President Obama's election brought into question, the continued relevance of the old guard black leadership and their necessity in 2008 and beyond. Dr. Cornel West in his book titled, "Race Matters" stated: "The time is past for black political and intellectual leaders to pose as the voice for black America. Gone are the days when black political leaders jockey for the label 'president of black America,' or when black intellectuals pose as the 'writers of black America.' The days of brokering for the black turf--of posing as the Head Negro in Charge (H.N.IC.)--are over. To be a serious black leader is to be a race-transcending prophet who critiques the powers that be (including the black component of the Establishment) and who puts forward a vision of fundamental social change for all who suffer from socially induced misery." (Reference: Cornel West; "Race Matters;" p. 70).
Some actually believed that President Obama's election ended African Americans quest for civil rights and also naively believed that racism was no longer a problem in our society because of the political status that President Obama had achieved (they had turned a blind-eye to the pervasiveness of American racism and was in denial that President Obama was only a black token).
Tavis Smiley as a commentator on the Tom Joyner Show often took black folk and Barack Obama to task (he also took the listening audience out of their comfort zone and exposed their failure to exercise critical thinking). Smiley would often remind us that Obama was not above critique and critical assessment (this writer agrees with this common sense approach) should be rendered and not allow ourselves to get caught up in his race and forget about the game he has chosen to play, which was politics.
Politics is more about positioning and leveraging in order to access the political, economic and social benefits that is shrouded in the power apparatus, as well as help shape and mold public policy which to reflect constituents aspirations. Smiley felt that the black community was given Obama a free pass and although, he was being sensitive to other interest groups other than African Americans and this was viewed by Smiley and others as an act of disrespect. But we were allowing him as the premier black politician to overlook his most loyal base which was the African American community (this writer sees critical evaluation as being a very healthy exercise).
President Obama has taken black folk and the black vote for granted and black leaders are just starting to take him to task (I read recently where Princeton University Professor Cornel West made some critical remarks of President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus is starting to appear dismayed). What has taken black leadership so long to wake the hell up?
This writer has always believed it to be literally insane for over 93% of African Americans to be registered Democrats (we vote party and not issues) in which this party has treated black folk like a step child. The Democratic party historically has always taken the black vote for granted and President Obama has strategically and tactfully used this reality, to his political advantage. But when it comes to black political neglect, his most important hold card is race--he believes this is an unbreakable bond and it carries more political weight than anything his black critics, in particular and pundits in general, could ever use against him.
He has measured that if he doesn't meet any of the political planks of African Americans, they are too tied and too loyal to the Democratic party to send him packing and understands that more than likely, he would not suffer any real political consequences from the black electorate; even if, he betrays their interest and political aspirations. When will so-called black leadership come to their senses and advocate breaking this slave-master relationship and hold the Democratic party to a higher standard?
Politicians have to know and understand that they will suffer political backlash, if they fail to acquiesce to the wants and desires of those who put them in office. Smiley has been one of the few black leaders that have gone against the grain and has been thinking outside of race loyalty, but have chosen to examine the real deal, which is President Obama's policy positions. President Obama in reality, does not have any loyalty to blacks, in particular and Americans in general. He is a Rothschild, Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger agent in which all roads lead to their interest and banks and swore loyalty to keep them in power and to keep the masses powerless.
Our so-called black leadership is weak and compromising--Reverend Al Sharpton (Action Network), Benjamin Jealous, (NAACP), Marc Morial (National Urban League), etc., these are nothing but card carrying window dressing Uncle Tom Negroes who are probably government agents put in place to keep us docile and under control. Most of the organizations they represent receive grants and funding from the Rockefeller Foundations and from Carnegie Mellon Foundation, or some other governmental funding sources (has anyone ever asked the question, how do these Negroes get paid?).
These Negroes continue to convene conferences at white owned hotels and convention centers, which to talk about the problem and are constantly servicing everybody else economy but their own (we are meeting in white folk five star hotels and banquet halls which to analyze racism, if this isn't a contradiction, what else could it be?). Why do not these Negro leaders pool their resources and buy a five star hotel and convene at an establishment that they own and operate. Moreover, the corporate sponsorship of these Negro conventions are often alcohol, tobacco and food conglomerates that deals death and destruction to the black community (Budweiser the King of Beers and McDonald's, etc).
Tony Brown in his book titled: "Empower the People" stated: "Black Americans possesses great wealth, and has learned to use its wealth to buy its freedom! It is the quintessential example of a community of interest that could become empowered if it developed a 'root economy' and used its own money system. Numbers do not lie. As already noted, Black America's annual income of $500 billion is the equivalent to the GNP of the tenth richest nation in the world. . . However, Blacks were historically organized by their elitist, Socialist leaders, mostly white, to boycott themselves. Although, the income of Blacks is growing faster than that of any other group of Americans, they spend only 3 percent of their $500 billion income with one another. That is why the most successful economic boycott in history is the current one that Blacks wage against their own entrepreneurs. On average, other ethnic and racial groups recycle 80 percent of their income within their own community. In addition to recycle 3 percent of its income, the Black community turns a dollar over less than once. Conversely, a dollar turns over five to twelve times before it leaves a Jewish American, Chinese-American, Indian-American, or numerous other ethnic communities." (Reference: Tony Brown; "Empower the People"; pp. 306-307).
But most Negro leaders themselves are corporate pimps and sophisticated hustlers who plays on the ignorance and emotions of black people. I recently read an article where someone exposed the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) who raised 55 million dollars in foundation money air marked for black scholarships; moreover, after completing the article and analyzing the content, this writer came to the conclusion, that they should be investigated for possible misappropriation, fraud, embezzlement, etc., and their 501-C3 (R) nonprofit and tax exempt status should be revoked.
The CBC to date has only spent over a half million dollars on scholarships, but during the CBC annual gala weekend event they spent over a million dollars in parties, socializing and window dressing (where is the priority of our established black leadership?). Yet, black males have the highest high school dropout rate in the nation and often lack financial resources to pursue post secondary education and these Negroes are sitting on 55 million dollars and putting on extravagant parties and the black community is in crisis.
This writer has very little respect for Negro leaders and the organizations that they represent. We have forty black congress-persons and they lobby for everyone else causes accept the black community. It is inexcusable for Africa and the Caribbean to be in their present condition with the power and influence that black Americans have and it is a shame that these black lawmakers don't play a larger role in the foreign policy decision making which effects how international foreign aid is decided upon and dispensed (they should be front and center assuring when the back room deals are cut that we should get our fair share).
Many of these Negro leaders see themselves as elitist and part of the reactionary petit-bourgeoisie class and they constantly dupe the black masses into believing that they share a common cause and interest with the black have-nots. (Reference: E. Franklin Frazier; Black Bourgeoisie"). The black masses have brought into skin color, race and ethnicity as variables in determining allies and enemies; these artificial variables have led to many historical setbacks and acts of betrayal. (Reference: Frantz Fanon: "Black Skin White Mask).
I heard Minister Louis Farrakhan state years ago "politics without economics is just like symbol without substance," we have over 6000 black elected and appointed officials, yet we are still a powerless people in 2010 and we can not continue to blame white folk for our predicament. Why do not we place some of the blame on black leadership for their ineffective role as leaders and their failure to move us beyond consumers?
Let's try doing for self and work to create a new political and economic paradigm--this will allow us to foster a new relationship with all civilize people of the earth. Who elevated Reverend Al Sharpton to the status and spokesperson and black leader over the masses? Where is his following? Most black leaders are mere creations of the media and serve the interest of the status quo.
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson in his book titled: "Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line," stated: "Complicating matters further was the fact that the choice of spokespersons didn't always turn on issues that were of greatest interest or importance to blacks. Often a spokesperson was selected because his themes, style, and ideology were acceptable to the white majority. Many black leaders were viewed skeptically by their constituencies. Booker T. Washington is a prime example of this model of leadership. Naturally, these conditions introduced considerable tension into the relationship between those who did the speaking and those who were spoken for. Black spokespersons acquired influence because they were given legitimacy by the white majority, whose power to establish such legitimacy was far greater than that of the black minority. As a result, these spokespersons used their power in black communities to reward loyal blacks and to punish dissidents. This arrangement meant that patronage more than moral principle determined the allocation of the limited resources for which the spokesperson was a funnel. As a result, few blacks benefited from the leadership that was supposed to speak for them all." (Reference: Eric Dyson; "Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line;" p. 52).
Tavis Smiley called Reverend Sharpton out because he and Morial and Jealous had a closed meeting with President Obama relative to the president's jobs bill initiative (I called it a butter biscuit and chicken session). Smiley stated like any other president in office, our conversation with the president should be centered on putting forward a black agenda in which if he was a white president, it would have been top priority for Negro leadership to demand that the White House is sensitive to the political aspirations of African Americans (Sharpton, Smiley, Watkins ).
This has been standard political operational procedure and not to do this with President Obama would be a noticeable deviation from the norm. Sharpton reacted to Smiley, as though he had committed an unpardonable sin for daring to raise the question of the black agenda and went on an emotional tirade of accusing Smiley of misrepresenting his agenda. What is Al Sharpton's agenda? What is Tavis Smiley's agenda? Perhaps their squabble is more rooted in ego and an unwillingness to concede that the problems confronting black America is far beyond their grandiose and self-aggrandizing dispositions.
I think both of them acted very poorly in public and displayed a poor examples of what black leadership should be about and stood to be condemned. Yet, I see nothing fundamentally wrong with open debate, critique and disagreeing (we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable); I think Smiley had every right to challenge Reverend Al Sharpton and think Sharpton equally had the right to answer the criticism being spewed by Smiley. But where does this leaves black America, as far as direction and need for unapologetic black leadership? We have had enough grand standing and ego driven black leadership, which have never benefited the masses and unity is the only solution to the problems that are plaguing black America.
Lastly, Sharpton and Smiley owes the black community an apology. Yes, I will be tuned into Smiley's forum that will be taking place on March 20, 2010 at Chicago State University, which will be televised on C-Span and I believe Al Sharpton is conducting a forum from New York on April 17, 2010. Now, I am of the opinion, that we do not need any more BIG MEETINGS. Here is the solution, lets break this cycle of dependency and get up and do something for self.
Fahim A. Knight-EL Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-EL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight-EL