Tavis Smiley Was Right

After the dust clears from his on-air spat with Rev. Al, the fact remains that black leaders do need to hold the president accountable.


Tavis Smiley’s recent criticisms of the Obama administration’s failure to directly address the concerns of the black community has caused an uproar among black leaders.

The Tavis haters are out in full force. It is so ironic because it seems that every time Tavis attempts to criticize and dialogue “out of love,” much of black America seems to come out and express the opposite.

Although Tavis and I are ideological opposites, our goals are the same: providing and promoting a set of goals that best enables black America to overcome the unique and daunting challenges facing us at a time of cultural crisis and national recession.

After a White House meeting between select leaders and President Obama earlier this month, some prominent black leaders seemed to indicate they understood why the president did not embrace a “black agenda.” Tavis’ controversial commentary about black leaders on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” on Tuesday morning (which led to the on-air dustup between him and Rev. Al Sharpton on Sharpton's radio show) was on point: A conversation needs to take place.



In the past, black leadership was often aggressive in bringing African-American challenges to the attention of the White House. To collectively back away from that responsibility now that President Obama is in office--even as black people face even larger challenges--suggests something is terribly amiss.

When black leaders (elected, appointed or tenured) defer their obligation to pressure the president to aid their ailing constituents, the rest of us must follow our American tradition: dialogue with these leaders to determine their perspectives on issues, re-acquaint these leaders with their mission and obligations to their constituents or replace these leaders with a new generation of folks who will represent the masses without deference to historical prestige or political considerations.

Any of these actions will do, but it is time for action, especially when inactivity will lead to a continuing dismantling of black America.

Smiley’s determination to bring leaders together to talk about the “new hymn” that he mentioned on Tuesday morning addresses a question that many (including black conservatives) have been asking since Obama won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Are we as a people so devoted to Obama’s historic presence in the White House that we willingly surrender our right to criticize the president or to press forward with uplifting black America if it risks harming the president’s political standing? If the answer is yes, are we not then standing in opposition to Dr. King’s message of “not the color of one’s skin, but by the content of their character”?