Monday, March 08, 2010

Analysis: Agenda Talk No Stand-In For Work

Analysis: Agenda Talk No Stand-In For Work
How Much More Posturing And Pontificating Can Black America Take?
Date: Friday, February 26, 2010
Michael H. Cottman, 

And so it’s come to this: Tavis Smiley accusing Rev. Al Sharpton of not being black enough.

Smiley is playing the race card with Sharpton, the man whose name has become synonymous with three decades of black activism, civil rights marches and classic chants of “No justice, no peace!”  

Emerging from the background, Smiley stirred the pot once again by appearing on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” this week to blast Sharpton and other black leaders for not pressing President Barack Obama about a “black agenda” during a meeting at the White House earlier this month with Obama - one attended by Sharpton, NAACP President Ben Jealous and National Urban League President Marc Morial.     

“I must have missed that choir rehearsal, because I don’t know the words to this new hymn,” Smiley said. “We have asked some of these lyricists to show up who apparently wrote this new song to explain why they penned these words. It’s time for a choir rehearsal so that we all are singing from the same page.”

Who said all black folks need to sing from the same page anyway? And why isn’t there room for diverse opinions in Smiley’s song book?

At issue is a staggering 16.4 percent black unemployment rate that is plunging many black Americans deeper into despair - and how Obama plans to fix the problem.  

The question of whether Obama should embrace a “black agenda” is a fair one and an issue the president will either address at some point during his tenure - or ignore for another three years.

Obama should be held accountable because black folks supported his campaign overwhelmingly. Calls for Obama to speak out more directly on behalf of African-Americans are getting louder, and some black activists - and commentators like Smiley - say it’s time for Obama to publicly outline his plan for black America.

But inside the White House on Wednesday, during a roundtable discussion with and several black journalists, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about the Obama administration’s plan to increase funding for historically black colleges, helping black students who are struggling financially and increasing pay for public school math and science teachers who work in urban schools.  

“This is the civil rights fight of our generation,” Duncan said in an interview. “It’s a fight for equity in education.”

He said the Obama administration is asking Congress for $3.5 billion for a broad range of educational initiatives, which includes keeping $85 million for historically black colleges and allocating an additional $13 million to the mix for black college students.

“I’m a huge proponent of funding HBCUs,” Duncan said. And he acknowledged that Obama is “constantly pushing me on education.”

One could argue that Obama’s vision for educational equity is part of a “black agenda” – just without the label. What should be important is for the Obama administration to address the concerns of black people.   

But here’s what won’t work on Obama: the sledgehammer. Some want to hear Obama shout his blackness from the rafters. It’s not going to happen. 

On Wednesday at White House, the "black agenda" was discussed in subtle ways. It appears that Obama wants to set policies to help black Americans in need, but he's comfortable letting his policies do the talking for him. Sure, it would be good to hear directly from the president specifically on black issues, but in the end, it’s more about Obama’s actions, his delivery to the black community, and not his rhetoric.    

Sharpton was well aware that meeting with Obama about jobs for black people was more about diplomacy. He talked about ways to create jobs for black Americans instead of marching into the Oval Office demanding a black agenda. In this regard, Sharpton has evolved into a skilled negotiator to get a seat at the table — and in this case, the White House table. 

For Smiley, it seems all about salesmanship. 
Since last year, Smiley has appeared to have been relegated to backseat politics since he abruptly quit “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” and last month, after 10 years, Smiley announced the end of his annual discussion series, “State of the Black Union,” to devote more time to his multi-media projects.  

So this week, Smiley, who never misses a marketing opportunity, not only used Joyner’s show to criticize Sharpton, but he also made a point of promoting his upcoming forum in Chicago on March 20 entitled "We Count: The Black Agenda is the American Agenda" – which sounds vaguely similar to the “State of the Black Union” forum, which is now defunct.

Sharpton says he doesn’t want to attend Smiley’s forum if he has to deal with “egos,” and Roland Martin, a contributor to CNN and “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” said he’s not interested in participating in any more “feel good” conferences.

It’s hard to imagine what another lengthy panel discussion about the “black agenda” could actually accomplish. How much more posturing and pontificating can black America take?

Why not just do the work?
 More On W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio...
2010 State Of The Black Union
“It Ain’t About Tavis, It’s About Us, & It's About Time!”

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