Tavis Smiley Was Right


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”?


Blind loyalty to the president contravenes black history. Our African-American ancestors demanded equality based on merit and values, not segmentation (even paternalistic protection and inequality) based on skin color, yet we have taken a path away from this credo by defending President Obama even when he has failed to deliver to much of his 2008 base.

President Obama—who was “not black enough” to be a “legitimate” black candidate in 2007 (only to become “one of us” when he won the 2008 presidential nomination)—enjoys a strange dynamic where his blackness has inoculated him from being held accountable for policies that fail to help African Americans. From cuts in education funding for poor students to reductions in abortion services for black women abroad to his relative distance from Black History Month, the black community has largely withheld its criticism. Yet, too many Americans are without work (while he considered health care reform more important than jobs) and too many African Americans are slipping into societal abyss. Of course, this inoculation is ironic considering that it occurs at a time black people nationally extremely vulnerable to a jobless recovery that—without solid educations and viable opportunities—threatens to leave us behind in the 21st century.


I support Tavis’ conversation within current black leadership because it is needed. I support a revolution within black America if it is needed. I support a resolution to act and press political leadership on issues impacting black America—even if that includes President Obama—when we see it needed.

Tavis said it right: This is a strange new hymnal that some black leaders seem to be singing from right now. It’s a hymnal that should be burned just as we would burn the robes of a Ku Klux Klan member. The deference toward the president among some black leaders is almost as deadly as assisting in the death of black America. We need a change from what is going on right now to save black America-–a change that we can believe in.


Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). He is featured regularly on outlets including CNN, Fox News and XM Radio. Follow him on Twitter.

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