has been much ado about the very public feud television commentator,
Tavis Smiley, is having with civil rights activist, Al Sharpton,
over Tavis' criticism of black leadership purportedly saying that
President Barack Obama doesn't need a "black agenda" after
recently visiting the White House. It's caused a firestorm of controversy,
and a revival of the annual State of the Black Union conference
that Smiley had discontinued. But it's onnn again under a
different moniker, but still the nationally televised day-long conference
format, this time called, "We Count: The Black Agenda is the
President Obama finally met with black leadership (in the collective)
many wondered why it took so long for the President to meet with
black leaders, 13 months after taking the oath of office. Black
leaders gave him a pass on it, stating that the President been busy,
and that he's not just President of black America, he's President
of all America. Well, that set Tavis off. Now we should examine
why black leaders would say that, and why it should be the issue
Tavis Smiley says it is. Black America does want to know what the
course, we know he's President of all the people. We got
that, but what is the real significance of laying claim to the first
African American president is a core constituency cannot ask for
anything? Therein lays the source of Tavis' position and the pushback
that he's getting. Let me say, first of all, that Tavis is a friend
and we've always disagreed on some aspect of the Obama phenomenon.
That didn't stop either of us from supporting him or being friends.
We just agree to disagree. However, Tavis has developed a reputation
of being a hardened Obama critic. As architect of "the Covenant
with Black America," Tavis' whole mantra is that we all
must each other accountable for the progress of Black America. Obama
included. Now, to Tavis' credit, he is correct. However, to Tavis'
detriment, his timing hasn't always been the best. He seems to mistime
when the people are feeling Obama, or when the people might not
be behind him on his critiques of the President. And he more than
anyone, has experienced the pushback from that.
on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, which he gave up immediately after
he first came with the accountability argument. Now more recently,
as he called for accountability of black leaders to press President
Obama on "black issues." What are "black issues"?
Historically, they are jobs, education, heath care, prison re-entry
and economic development of deprived communities. All issues listed
in Smiley's covenant. Tavis is pushing Obama and black leaders to
be accountable to the covenant. Black leaders, namely Al Sharpton,
have pushed back. Some of the argument is legitimate, some of it
is not. Yeah, Tavis may not be the best one to advance the argument
for a black agenda, because his history of Obama criticism makes
his argument look more like sour grapes than prime rib (bonafide
the legitimacy of Tavis' argument should not be ignored. Smiley's
lack of credibility as an Obama supporter shouldn't undermine the
point he's raising. It's not like Obama is picking up the phone
whenever black leadership is calling on the black agenda question.
Just like the President had to go into the Republican lion's den
to refute criticism on health care and their perception that he
was ignoring them, maybe it is time for President Obama to have
a conversation with black America about the state of Black America,
and what he is doing (if anything) about it. He certainly shouldn't
think that he is above explaining himself on it.
we all know President Obama is not going to put his fist in the
air, yell "Black Power," wear his dashiki to the White
House lawn bar-b-que. We know that. And he was done something's
in the context of economic stimulus, education (Race to the top)
and the green initiatives that will help mitigate the urban crisis
in America. But what stops him from acknowledging the disproportionate
effects that the vestiges of slavery and segregation have created.
It that something we should leave to the next President? And is
it something we could expect the next President to even address
if we didn't ask the current President, yes-the Black President,
to address it.
Tavis has learned, criticizing "a first" poses great risks.
"Firsts" are often sacred cows that black people protect
because they don't want them to fail and don't want other black
people "bringing em down." I found that out 20 years when
I publicly criticized Los Angeles first black Mayor, Tom Bradley,
for under developing the black community and not speaking out on
police abuse issues. Bradley, a former policeman, never considered
himself a "black mayor" and the black community suffered
in his effort to be "mayor of all the people." All the
"other people" prospered during the five term mayor's
tenure and South Central-Southwest Los Angeles remained economically
depressed. Bradley finally admitted his failures after the 1992
riots and Los Angeles burned a second time in 27 years, but you'd
thought I talked about Jesus the way people came at me for calling
for Bradley to "take care of home," the black community
he came from.
issue is the same with President Obama. He can't forget where he
came from, and when his communities call, "answer the phone,
damn it." Don't tell us who else you represent. I think that's
all Tavis Smiley is trying to say, amid all the noise.
all hoping Tavis doesn't blow himself up on this Obama accountability
thing because we need Tavis, like we need Oprah, Tyler Perry, Spike
Lee, Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Michael Baisden and other mass communicators
that help get our point of view, and our issues, out there. Did
it need to be said? Hmmm, maybe it did. Does it need to become a
protracted public debate? Not really. We just need to remind the
President there is a black agenda he needs to address, and not in
the context of anybody, or everybody's, agenda. That, Tavis is doing.
The President shouldn't hide behind black leadership who have access,
while they sing a song, as Tavis says, "that we all don't know,"
namely that "the President doesn't need a black agenda."
Don't deny what we all know is the real help Black America needs.
It's not a subject that you have to run from. And when your community
calls, Brother President, just pick up the phone.
Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, is a national columnist, managing director
Urban Issues Forum
and author of
Saving The Race: Empowerment
Through Wisdom. His Website is
AnthonySamad.com. Click here
to contact Dr. Samad.