A few thoughts on the Tavis Smiley controversy


I’ve seen some interesting commentary on Tavis Smiley deciding to bring back a black discussion forum on Obama’s. CPL over at Jack and Jill Politics and also Shanti over at WEE SEE YOU. Here is my take:

Given the remorseless hate, vitriolic racism and disingenuous histrionics that rain down on President Obama from the right, it is hard not to give in to the impulse to rally around the flag and reflexively defend his every action. Some on the left, especially the gay community, seem to think that projecting their hostility and frustration onto their Negro president, instead of fellow whites that have rejected every marriage referendum, will magically produce the civil rights they long for.

The same could be said of the “fauxgressives”—yawl’s word, frustrated by the health care stalemate. White fear, stoked by misinformation, is killing the progress that could be made in a progressive direction by this president. He has made some mistakes along the way. For example, he’s allowed himself to believe that he could work toward consensus with the insurance industry and bad actors on the right, but what really seems to be driving the debate about all things progressive are the ridiculous fears of some whitefolks that President Obama is somehow out to get them.

Support is collapsing for health care reform in some Democratic quarters on Capital Hill because some members of congress don’t have the intestinal fortitude to push back against the smears and are reluctant to confront the ignorance, racism and fear enveloping their constituents back home. They would rather cut and run or just plain cave in and validate the fear.

It is easy to be lulled into a sense of false security that an urbane, sophisticated, and intelligent President will come out on top no matter what happens, or that the compromises he inevitably makes will preserve the progressive change that people overwhelmingly voted for—that would be wrong. President Obama will only be as good as the pressure we apply. Holding the President accountable, as Tavis suggests, doesn’t mean that we don’t love and admire him and Michelle; it is that our love for them is not a substitute for progressive policy and will not sustain black and brown communities under siege by recession and centuries of racism and economic injustice.

While it is true that Barack Obama has done some great things, like the stimulus package, we need him to do some truly astounding things because times are so damn bad. In order for him to be the president we need him to be we can’t be afraid of criticizing him when it is warranted. Agreeing to a bailout of Wall Street with no strings attached was not the best move, lets be honest. Failing to stem the foreclosure crisis which is hitting black and brown communities particularly hard is yet another. Nobody has to like Tavis Smiley, you don’t even have to agree with him, but you should at least listen when he makes a valid point about a black agenda.

Let’s not mimic some whitefolks and project our anger and frustration over a lack of progressive progress onto those that don’t deserve it. We really ain’t mad at each other or Tavis Smiley for pointing out the lack of a black agenda. We’re mad at those on the right attempting to stymie what little progressive progress this president is willing to fight for. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we are a little peeved with Obama for not fighting harder.

15 thoughts on “A few thoughts on the Tavis Smiley controversy

  1. Nah, I’m actually mad at Smiley for being a wolf is sheep’s clothing, and pretending to speak for the “the black community” when he speaks for himself and folks who agree with him. And that ain’t the black community. You can’t be in bed with major corporations doing the devil’s work in the hood, and then claim to be speaking for black folks. You can’t be selling folks personal information when they register for your conference, and then claim to be speaking for them.

    Obama is no different now then he was when he was elected. He has made no promises to black folks that he has failed to deliver on. Could we say the same for the Clinton’s? Yet Smiley has avoided holding them accountable at every turn and done his best job to defend their actions. That right there confirms he’s a sheisty coon, and ain’t nothign worse for black folks than a shiesty coon.

    • Tavis will ultimately have to beg forgiveness from the black community for getting in bad with the predatory loan industry and shilling for them. But that is not my point. It is a side issue. The larger point that he is making, and what his last book was about the accountability of black political leaders to the community. Tavis will be held accountable for the actions he took against the community. But Obama must be held to the same high standard. I understand people thinking Tavis is suspect and his motives ain’t pure, I’m just blogging about the larger point of accountability of black leadership without getting bogged down in Tavis’ b.s.

      Thanks, for commenting, brother. Your voice is refreshing.

      • B. Smith

        I have no issue with holding our President accountable for his actions as our president. I believe most reasonable blacks, African Americans feel the same. The reason why I am not buying Tavis’ message is because he marginalizes the intelligence of black people by thinking that we only elected him because he is black and is only concerned about the symbolism of his presidency. This is not true. We can discern for ourselves what our needs are and whether or not President Obama is meeting our needs. I for one think that he is doing a great job. He has gotten Health Care Reform passed, albeit it’s not perfect but still a lot better than what we had. He has passed a jobs bill, extended unemployment benefits, released more than a billion dollars two black farmers for the injustices inflicted upon them, given millions of dollars to Historically Black Colleges. He is making student loans more affordable and easier to obtain, overhauling the public school system and started a fatherhood initiative to help men become better fathers. These are all the things that I am interested in as a black person.

        However, the President cannot solve all the problems that seem to disproportionately affect black people. We have to individually and collectively be accountable for our action and/or inaction. We also need to stop attacting others when they encourage our people to take more responsibility with our children, families,schools, communities,health, and finances. If we are to hold everyone else accountable and not ourselves then we will never solve our problems.

  2. Chuck

    I agree with you, SB. I go in and out with Tavis, but one thing he presses (mode and motives notwithstanding) is a need for a black agenda.

    I further agree that lack of pressure ON OBAMA from the black men and women and progressives is a mistake. Pressure from “the left” must be greater than (not equal) and opposite the pressure he’s getting from the now republican-libertarian-tea party (which is as unpatriotic as any coalition there ever was).

    Been lurking and admiring, Chuck (formerly Chesapeake – don’t live there no more)

    • Chuck,

      He, bruh. It is good to hear from you. We need to keep pressing, Obama. It don’t mean that we don’t respect and admire him, but that we recognize that once this opportunity for progressive reform is gone. It may not return until the both of us are seniors. That is still a lifetime from now, but it ain’t too far that I can’t see it on the horizon. When all is said and done, there are things that need to be done to address the lack of economic justice in this country. Admiration for Obama doesn’t constitute progressive change. It is a distraction. We need to keep our eyes on the ball and on him.

  3. TripLBee

    I’m not mad at Tavis because he is pointing out Obama’s failings. I’m mad at him because he is an asshole whose jealousy towards Obama clouds his sense of reason. His behavior during the Democratic primary was disgraceful. Like many high profile black folk, he seems to have a bug up his ass about Obama.

    • Burroughston Broch

      Judging by the latest polls, most folks (black and not black) have the same bug. The bloom is off the rose.

  4. Tavis is nothing but hateration, SB.

    It’s so obvious.

    There’s gotta be someone else who actually has serious criticisms of the President that aren’t shilling themselves to a corporation.

    a note from the hometown here.

    Tavis is from LOS ANGELES. He’s never lived nor worked in CHICAGO – why the hell he gotta do his Obama Hateration Fest in Chicago?

    Did you find out WHERE this Hateration Fest is to be held? In the Pavillion on the campus of Chicago State University named for EMIL JONES and his late wife.


    I made a point to listen to out local radio station. The host is one of those ‘ know everybody and anybody’, and he had on, one of his regular callers – activist type, always into giving the good fight. This guy hasn’t said a positive word about Obama since about February of 2009. He was like, ‘ I know everybody who would remotely be invited to something like this. Made my calls. DON’T NOBODY KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT.’

    The host, who is a similar type said ‘ me either. My phone calls turned up ZIP’.

    Well, if Tavis is doing all this organizing, who the hell is going to be there, if NOT these folks?

    And MAYBE, just maybe, a part of me is appalled by any punk who CHOOSES to go into business with a PEDOPHILE, actually thinking that he can even UTTER the word – ACCOUNTABILITY.

    • rikyrah,

      When you put it that way, it makes me wanna re-evaluate my position. However, what was in my mind at the time I wrote the above is that I was just agreeing with one thing, and not buying into the rest of Tavis’ Bullshyt. I have always questioned authority, shug. It’s how I’m wired. President Obama, who simultaneously inspires and disappoints me, is not above criticism.

  5. SB

    I accept your criticism of Obama and that of others because I see your points.

    I don’t accept anything from Tavis ’cause the dude is shiesty. He’s crying about “accountablity” but when Ms. Hillary showed up on his show he didn’t hold her accountable for her actions or her hubby’s. So, he’s got different rules for black folks? That’s sounds like some slavecatcher logic to me.

    Bottom line, Obama will be judged by results. If black folks are not better off in three years, Obama will be back on the street making money giving speeches. He has to know that. If he decides to ignore us and fails to meet our needs, he will be removed. The rest of it is just rhetoric from cats struggling to stay relevant and prosperous.

  6. ArtMaggot

    The bottom line is this; he is a Clinton supporter.

    He backed Hillary from the beginning even if he could not say so publicly.

    During the campaign he became frustrated over the growth and movement of the Obama team.
    He could not deliver the Black vote for Clinton.
    With the loss of Hillary he lost his connection to the White House (possibly even an appointment) and the ability to be the connection from the White House to the Black community, elevating his standing even higher (also advancing his for-profit ventures). The best deal he got was for Hillary to appear in his first PBS Primetime special.

    This is the source of his frustration and anger, Obama ruined his plans, so years later when there is reason to be critical or have honest critique of the President you cannot take his commentary seriously because it is not coming from an honest place. And we all can see that.
    That is why you hear one constant refrain coming from Tavis, how Abraham Lincoln had Frederick Douglass, Lyndon Johnson had MLK to keep them on course.
    He is waiting for us to say, “Obama has Tavis Smiley” but that will
    never happen because it is an appointment that is being solicited from his mouth.

    Now when I hear Tavis speak about President Obama I feel like Dorothy when Toto revealed what was behind the curtain and was filled with disappointment.

  7. BigBrotha

    Sorry but for him to speak on Black issues and not support the first Black president is puzzling to me! It IS NOT Obama’s job to “look out” for the Black community! His job is to run this country to the best of his ability after 8 years of pure HELL AND HOT WATER!!! It reminds me of slavery: White man messes up, Black man has to clean it up… if he doesn’t he’s on the whipping post.

    Anyway, It is our job to help the Black community! You can continue talking, but if you are not directly doing something to help our community, I’m deaf!!! Enough with Clinton and Obama, WHO THE HELL IS GOING TO HOLD BUSH ACCOUNTABLE!?!?!?!?! He… He… ugh!!! I can’t go on because I am getting mad!

  8. B. Smith

    Also, I never really heard what Tavis and the others defined as the “Black Agenda”. Why is this? Could it be that if they are being honest and objective that the evidence would disspel their rant that he is not doing enough for black Americans? If they did lay out what they thought (which would be their opinion since most folks can decide for themselves how the President is doing. Not only that, by purposely not saying exactly what they Black Agenda is, it keeps others from being able to dispel their claim with the facts.
    I honest believe that if President Obama gave every black person 20 million dollars a piece, took over the role of father for all of our children who were abandon by their fathers,went to every PTSA meeting, took all the illegal weapons that we use to kill each other, read all the contracts to prevent us from quote “being talked into buying a house I couldn’t afford”, banned all disrepectful self-hating behavior that we perpetuate upon each other,…etc. Tavis and the likes would say, that President Obama didn’t do enough for black folks. Tavis has a vested financial and ego driven interest in attacking the President. Let’s be smart enough to discern for ourselves objectively whether or not the President is doing enough for us.

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