Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Black Folks Please Forgive Tavis...

Don't Hate On Smiley's Hatin

by Keith Johnson(playahata. com)

Recently Tavis Smiley announced that as of July of this year, he'd no longer be doing his twice-weekly commentaries on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Joyner attempted to talk Smiley out of it, and I assume will continue to do so, but for now he's firm. Smiley's official reason was that he's overloaded with his TV show, two radio shows, foundations, speaking engagements, etc.

But as Joyner himself said, the real reason is that Smiley couldn't take the anger he's been getting from Blacks, over his criticisms of Barak Obama. As Joyner himself said, "Tavis can't take the hate from people he loves. And Tavis *does* love Black people".

Comments from callers were generally of the form "he shouldn't have been so hard on Obama"…"he's was just jealous of Obama"…, or "he shouldn't leave us over this one thing".

My Personal Opinion:
I think Tavis Smiley is a great voice for Black America. And Brown America. And White America. And Poor America. I've heard many criticize him as being self-aggrandizing, naive, too focused on Black issues. I've heard many say he needs to get with the times and embrace a colorless-or less color conscious-world, the same way Obama seems to be doing. But my feeling is that Smiley is indeed someone who loves Black people deeply, who's seen and sees the many injustices and inequalities we still face (impoverished communities, lack of educational resources, lack of good jobs, etc.) He calls corporations and politicans out for bilking the poor and disenfranchised, and he always wants those in power to give back to those with little. This has included him sticking up for people of other colors, the poor, etc. such as when he goes against the likes of the Bush administration, which he feels has hurt all of us in America. Smiley may be too focused on issues of race for some, but at least that has come from a passion and love, a desire to uplift us, rather than from (in my opinion) a need to build up his own ego. Yes, he can get on one's nerves sometimes. Maybe he's a bit-intense-to some. And he's not above a bit of criticism himself: the need to protect the poor and inner city neighborhoods, while being sponsored by Wal-Mart for his TV show comes to mind.

But for all his faults and irritating (to some) facets, Tavis has been trying to fight the good fight, to raise consciousness. A man of God who believes in uplifting his race, an educated man who believes in making education available to all, a conservative Christian who has many old-fashioned liberal ideals. I think it has been his idealistic, sometimes naive-seeming belief in those old fashioned liberal views that may have colored Smiley's views of Obama recently.

In discussing Smiley with my wife-who like me, likes him greatly-I listened as my wife said "I understand his concerns about Obama. But while I've heard his critiques of Obama, I haven't heard a lot of support. Tavis needs to realize that he is a high-profile figure just like Obama, and that this could start looking more like one Black man attacking another, rather than someone who's concerned about a brother he loves. He's trying to do the right thing, but it doesn't sound that way".

Wise words. And looking back on it, I realize too that I've heard Smiley say very little in outright support of Obama, while he's been critical of Obama's walking away from "Black" events, such as Smiley's own yearly conference with Black leaders, and recently, Obama's no-show at the celebrations in Memphis honoring Dr. King.

That seeming "hate" has arisen, I think, from that passionate, idealistic, almost naive view of the world. Smiley has long said-long before Obama came on the scene-that one thing that bothers him most is when leaders of any color start compromising their ideals to get elected. He still clings to the "If we have to sellout to get ahead, then I'd rather stay behind" view. And I think he measures so many Black leaders against the measuring stick of his personal hero, MLK, who often went against what was easy and practical in favor of speaking the truth, consequences be damned. King spoke out against Vietnam when his own advisers said not to do it, not to alienate Johnson… he expanded his cause to the poor when they said don't do it. And he went to Memphis for a relatively non-strategic reaons when his advisers said "don't do it". Smiley idolizes that man, and he's been viewing many leaders through the same lens-and they often don't hold up.

I don't think Tavis hates Obama. I don't think he's jealous of Obama. I don't think he's got a sore ego for Obama's no-show. I really feel that Smiley has been waiting, praying and hoping for another King for three decades, and feels letdown that no one-is. He's measuring people who have to negotiate in the political world against a man who could speak from the "safety" of a pulpit. Smiley is afraid of a Black person being "less Black", of selling off a bit of himself-and of us-as he manuevers to please one group after another. In short, he's afraid that, as we all crow about a Black in the White House, we might all wake up one day to say "Damn! He's not doing any more for *us* than white politicians did". He's afriad a Black president may end up being as ineffectual as some Black congressmen have been over the years. So he's afraid, he's concerned, he's angry, he's disappointed, and he may be a bit naive. He's let his frustration veer him from coming to Obama with eq ual parts love and criticism, to lean more towards criticism alone. And that was a mistake, but it was a mistake born out of a dreamer who hates the reality, out of a boyish enthusiasm that's been dashed by the realities of the grownup world of politics. Naive? Perhaps. Hateful? I don't think so, at least not intentionally.

I think Smiley made a mistake in not balancing his views on Obama, but it was a mistake of right intent, not based on jealousy or fear. It was asking a man with finite shoulders to bear almost infinite responsibility, of an imperfect human to live up to a sometimes hard-to-meet near perfect ideal. I also think he needs to stick with Joyner, step back, see what some Blacks have been upset about, and take a look inside. Running at this time doesn't show much other than to make some think he's just a bruised baby, and others to say "well, he can't take the heat". And this may make him lose even more support than his commentaries alone have done.

If so, that's too bad. Smiley's is the type of old-fashioned, impractical, sometimes infuriating, idealistic, crazy voice of unabashed Black love I believe we still need in America. That he may have veered off course jsut a bit this time shouldn't make us forget all the good he's done and tries to do. He was wrong to attack Obama in the way he's done it at times, but we'd be just as wrong to attack Smiley in dismissal of all the great things he's done. The ascension of a Black man to the White House is the thing of fantasy, and I think we're all constantly trying to wrap our heads around how to act and think and speak and just *be* in that fantasy become reality.

It's new territory, and can't we all be forgiven for sometimes running off the road a bit in how we explore it?

Disagree with Smiley, but don't hate him. We need his voice as much as we need Obama's. As much as we need Tom Joyners. As much as I need your voices. As much as you need mine. As much as we all need each other.

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