All Articles Tagged "african american intellectuals"
Why is it suddenly okay to hate Tavis Smiley? I ask this in all seriousness and sincerity because honestly I just don’t get it.
Tavis, along with Cornel West, has embarked on a road trip to highlight the plight of poor people of all races, colors and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible during this difficult and dangerous time of economic deprivation and political cowardice — this according to the tour’s website. But with the 25 million both unemployed and underemployed; the unemployment rate among blacks hovering around 16 percent; the number of children living in poverty of all colors rising by 10 percent and the greatest transfer of wealth happening faster than we ever seen, it would be an appropriate time for someone, anyone, to give a voice to the countless number of Americans still waiting for that change we can all believe in, right?
But, as you might imagine, West and Smiley are getting a lot of criticism over this tour. Together they have been labeled as self-promoting, self-serving Obama haters, using the plight of the poor to line their own pockets. Former friends and fellow radio personality Tom Joyner has accused both Smiley and West, but particularly Smiley, of fostering and encouraging the kind of atmosphere that leads to open disrespect of the President. Even slightly funny comedian Steve Harvey has gotten in on the act and suggested the two were “Uncle Toms”. Ouch. This Uncle Tom comment is coming from someone who hosts the Hoodies, which gives, among other things, awards to the best fried chicken and the best nail salon. Surely he is the last person who needs to be referencing stereotypical caricatures of blackness.
So when did it all of a sudden become in vogue to use Tavis Smiley as the whipping boy for the black community?
Okay let me not tell false truths, I do know part of the reason: Smiley made the faux pas of speaking out against then senator Obama on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, after Obama “dissed” him for not showing up at one of his televised forums. And over the last few years his heavy-handed criticism of the president’s policies – or lack thereof – in regard to a black agenda has left many in the community with a bad taste in their mouths, believing the president has to be leader of all Americans, not just us. I can somewhat understand why folks may want to flip him off with a “whatever Tavis” from time to time, but this whole idea that if you don’t agree with the administration’s policies, you somehow deserve to get ignored, publicly abused and kicked out of the black race, is past the point of ridiculousness.
Folks apparently have a short-term memory regarding Smiley and the valuable service, he used to offer to the community. There was a time, way back in 1996, when Smiley was the go-to personality for black thought and public discourse. It started with his talk show on BET called “BET Tonight”, where he would put forth issues facing the community and soon after was followed by a list of socially-themed books, including his New York Times bestseller (the first time that ever happened for a black non-fiction author) “The Covenant with Black America”, which sought to lays out a national plan of action addressing the African-American community’s primary concerns.
The book was followed by a national tour of the same name, which in most cities was standing room only. I went to Philadelphia leg of the tour and was pleasantly surprised to see the room full of a range of people coming together to address our issues. And folks did not complain one bit – even though I, and quite possibly a few others, thought that the whole thing was just a clever marketing ploy to push books. However, the larger Black community’s silence on Smiley perceived ulterior motives was largely due to two things: one, the event was free and the choice to buy a book was solely up to you; and two, there really weren’t many public forums where black educators, elected leaders and Hill Harper could address strategies for effectively dealing with healthcare, public education, the criminal justice system, affordable neighborhoods, democracy, strengthening rural roots, economic prosperity and environmental justice in the community.
Likewise, Smiley gave us the same opportunity for public discourse in the televised-form through the State of Black Union forums, which had just about everybody and their mammas calling their cable subscribers to find out exactly where C-Span 1 or 2 (or 3) was on their cable dials. Not since “Tony Brown’s Journal” had there been that a chance to see the likes of Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, package Gregory, Randall Robinson, Dr. Julia Hare, Lani Guinier, and a gang of other folks all on one stage pontificating on economic, social and political issues facing black America. That might not mean anything other than a bunch of talk, but I, for one, appreciated seeing black folks on television thinking and speaking on a certain truth, without holding tongue or fearing what white folks would think. This sort of candor in our community is missing today. And unfortunately, a lot of this has to do with the election of our first black president.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally get it. With the persistence of racism in our country, including the mindless attacks and sheer obstruction from those on the right, it is hard not to want to wrap a protective bubble around President Obama and support him no matter what. However, our love and support of the country’s first black president has left us impotent on issues facing our community and unable to hold him accountable when the change for all Americans fails to trickle down to us.
My favorite quote is by G.B. Stern, “Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.” I don’t know much about G.B. Stern other than he has a very valid point. And in the case of Smiley, I don’t agree with everything he says or stands for but I am at least willing to listen and consider what he has to say before writing him off. Besides, where would we be as a community if it weren’t for the likes of W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington, readily defending and representing the interest of the two (or more) nations of black America?
(Washington Post) — Scholar Cornel West’s scathing critique of President Obama’s liberal bona fides in a series of recent interviews has ignited a furious debate among African American bloggers and commentators. The well-known Princeton professor and author, who has released rap albums and starred in Hollywood films, supported Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign but now calls the president a “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” “I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator,” West told Chris Hedges in an interview for the liberal political blog Truthdig.
The other day I was reading a piece by Chris Hedges called “The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic.” In it, Hedges discusses Dr. West—long-time black intellectual, professor of African American Studies and Religion at Princeton University and Councilor of the Matrix—and his overall dissatisfaction, disappointment and disaffection with President Obama.
According to Hedges, West believes that Obama has morphed into a right-leaning centrist, who is “a puppet of big business” at home and promotes “liberal neo-conservatism” overseas. After being misled by what he calls “populist language,” which Obama’s campaigned utilized, West accuses Obama of “betraying the poor, the black and the progressives alike ” and having close alliances with Jewish and white folks.
In the piece, West is quoted as saying, “I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It’s understandable. As a young brother who [grew] up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white.”
West continues, “He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want.”
But of course, that’s not how West always felt. During Obama’s historic presidential campaign, West was probably one of Obama’s biggest cheerleaders. But according to Hedges, “no one grasps this tragic descent better than West, who did 65 campaign events for Obama and who believed in the potential for change and was encouraged by the populist rhetoric of the Obama campaign. He now nurses, like many others who placed their faith in Obama, the anguish of the deceived, manipulated and betrayed.”
So how does West go from standing in the middle of a parking lot, singing the praises of Obama over a megaphone at a voter registration drive in Columbus, OH, to labeling Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street Oligarchs” and “a black puppet of corporate plutocrats?” From what I gathered from the article, it’s personal.
West does not offer much regarding specific policies of the Obama administration that he takes issue with. Instead, West speaks intently about his persona beef with Obama, which has been derived from being snubbed one too many times by the Commander-in-Chief. First, West suggests that the president discarded him without even so much as a return phone call while out on the campaign trail. Then he says that the president neglected to provide tickets for him, his mother and his brother to the inauguration, even though the bag man, who carried their luggage, got tickets.
Finally, West recounts a confrontation in which President Obama allegedly brought out his inner-Tupac and “cussed [West] out” after he made some comments that challenged Obama’s progressiveness. “What it said to me on a personal level,” West said, “was that brother Barack Obama had no sense of gratitude, no sense of loyalty, no sense of even courtesy, [no] sense of decency, just to say thank you. Is this the kind of manipulative, Machiavellian orientation we ought to get used to? ”
While I do acknowledge Obama’s duplicity (if true) to govern on the same principles on which he ran, I don’t think he is the one in this situation who is acting out of bad faith.
Like West, I too have made many criticisms of the Obama administration. However, unlike West, my critiques of the president are based on his policy issues—such as the FISA bill that legalizes warrantless wiretapping and granting immunity to telecom firms that engage in criminal activity; the continued retention of the Pentagon’s budget while decreasing spending for social programs; and the new policy that allows investigators to waive Miranda warnings for domestic-terror suspects, even when there is not an “immediate threat, so the FBI has more leeway to question terrorist suspects—and not about whether or not I got a ticket to the big inauguration.
Despite his best efforts to sound objective, West’s thinly veiled criticism of President Obama makes it less about the poor, the black or the progressives, and more about him and his hurt feelings. Not only did he play himself, but it exposes just how dishonest –if not obstructive – his motives are to those of us who are really concerned and have legitimate critiques of the president and his policies.
I don’t say this to take away from anything that West has and will contribute to the discussion in the future. However, my take away from Hedges’ piece was that it was a honest portrayal of how delicate the male ego really is. Hopefully, one day, the two brothers—as we say on the streets—will hug-it-out. But it makes one wonder if Obama had given West that call back or given him front row seats to the inauguration, would West still feel the need to challenge Obama or would he fall in line with the rest of the Obama supporters?
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(The Nation) — Professor Cornel West is President Obama’s silenced, disregarded, disrespected moral conscience, according to Chris Hedges’s recent column, “The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West went Ballistic.” In a self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness, Professor West offers thin criticism of President Obama and stunning insight into the delicate ego of the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted in recent years. West begins with a bit of historical revision. West suggests that the President discarded him without provocation after he offered the Obama for America campaign his loyal service and prayers. But anyone with a casual knowledge of this rift knows it began during the Democratic primary not after the election. It began, not with a puffed up President, but when Cornel West’s “dear brother” Tavis Smiley threw a public tantrum because Senator Obama refused to attend Smiley’s annual State of Black America. Smiley repeatedly suggested that his forum was the necessary black vetting space for the Democratic nominees. He needed to ask Obama and Clinton tough questions so that black America could get the answers it needed. But black America was doing a fine job making up its own mind in the primaries and didn’t need Smiley’s blessing to determine their own electoral preferences.
by Andrea Williams
Viking Press, the publisher of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, predicts that Dr. Manning Marable’s epic account of the life and death of one of America’s most celebrated and vilified activists “will stand as the definitive work on the man and his legacy.” Though only time can prove the validity of that claim, the book’s April 4th release sparked a media firestorm almost immediately. Despite receiving praise from notable African-American intellectuals, including Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson and Henry Louis Gates, the book has also garnered its fair share of critics and others who have eagerly sensationalized parts of the content. We’ve read all 487 pages of the book that took Marable two decades to write, and here shed light on some of the most controversial topics concerning his personal life.