Tavis Smiley vs. Al Sharpton


This past week saw a dust-up between Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley.   At issue is the recent visit the Sharpton made to the White House along with the NAACP’s Ben Jealous and Marc Morial of the Urban League.   Smiley has accused these three and others of not pressing Obama on a black agenda and acquiescing to Obama’s tendency to avoid anything having to do with race.  Smiley thinks a black agenda needs to be up front and center and that the mainline civil rights establishment is giving Obama a pass and he wants to convene a summit on TV to talk about it.  They, in turn, think that Smiley hates Obama just because he’s jealous of him.  Sharpton accuses Smiley of buck dancing for the Hilliary Clinton, but I guess he forgot that the Congressional Black Caucus remained in the Clinton camp to the very end while he himself maintained a “neutral” position during the presidential contest. 

The day after their tete a tete, I was listening to Sharpton’s show where he spent a good portion of the show with an official from the Obama administration discussing the expansion of funding for historically black colleges.  Sharpton spent a lot of time crowing about how this represented something that the administration was doing for the black community.  It was almost as if he was trying discredit Smiley by pointing to something that the black community “got” from Obama.  This may be a row that continues for sometime as Sharpton seems pretty upset. 

As to my own position,  I’m not in either camp here.  I think Obama owes no special dispensation to African-Americans.  On the economic front, we certainly face more headwinds than other communities, however I believe that a lot of that is due to choices some of us make.  I do agree that people need to contend with the consequences of their choices and that includes the banking industry and Wall Street.    There should have been no special dispensation for them either or anyone else for that matter.

That’s not to suggest that there’s not a need for an black agenda.  There’s definitely a need for that.  Real agendas are often independent of getting someone to actualize it for you as this is something you execute on your own.  For example, if my agenda is to see that my son gets an education, then I have to do the little things like making sure he gets out of bed and onto the bus on time and I have to make sure  he gets his homework done.  Now if the government comes along with something like putting internet service in the school, that’s certainly helpful, but my agenda for my son’s education is independent of that, so even if the government did nothing, I’m still executing on it.  Conversely, if I’m not executing on an agenda, I don’t have the capacity to accept any help.  For example,  if I’m not making sure that my son is out of bed and in school daily, the government making internet service available is of little use mainly because I’ve not done what’s required to create the capacity to accept the help. What we need is an agenda that stands and is executed on independent of anyone’s largess other than our own.

What agenda are Sharpton and Smiley executing on daily independent of begging for government aid?  Is what they’re doing relevant to the biggest challenges that plague the African-American community besides talking about it?  Are they administering or managing anything other than their respective media ventures?  I don’t wish to be unduly critical of either, as they do serve a purpose for those who follow them I suppose.  All I know is this—the biggest issue that should be on the agenda is the economic development of the African-American community and the biggest impediment to that is crime in the community.  When have either of them spoken to that?  When has any so-called black leader spoken out on the crime issue?

There are many drivers of crime, but the main one is a $ 300 billion industry that uses the African-American community as a retail distribution point.  Of course, I’m referring to the illegal drug trade. This is the main reason why the gangsta culture exists and why gangs are so prevalent.  The drug industry needs to market itself to gain new recruits to replace the ones being killed or carted off to jail.   We can spend billions going after the Taliban and ensuring “Iraqi freedom”, yet somehow the same government that beats its chest about its prowess in “draining the terrorist swamp” seems totally clueless and outmanned when facing those responsible for the importation and distribution of illegal drugs into this nation.  The street pirates on the corner are not responsible for the wholesale importation of drugs into the country. 

Think of every drug shipment as a missile launched at this country. Does it really make sense that our nation with spy satellites arrayed around the globe, with special forces trained to fight in any condition and with the most powerful military on the face of the earth can’t stop these “missiles”?

Now, there’s a level of personal responsibility that black folks have subscribe to and I must hasten to add that the illegal drug importers could never use the black community as a distribution point without our inactive or active cooperation.  The inactive piece here arises from apathy and an overall lack of accountability mechanisms that black folks should have in place.  But if Sharpton, Smiley and the rest of the so-called black leaders want to engage in grievance politics, at least be aggrieved about something that’s going to make a difference.  How about holding Obama and the rest of the political establishment to account on what they’re doing to to curtail the importation of illegal drugs into the country?  How about pressuring them to arrest not only the street pirates, but those responsible for the wholesale importation of drugs into the country to begin with?  How about asking them to explain why we have to spend billions to eradicate the Taliban while we’re getting bombarded with “missiles” here at home?

The black agenda should revolve around economic development beginning with a frontal assault on the crime.   The assault on crime has to be twofold; an assault on the outside forces behind it and the creation of alternative economic opportunities.   For example, in Afghanistan many base their livelihood on cultivation of poppy plants from which heroin is derived.  The administration is working on a “crop substitution and an alternative livelihood program” while targeting those who grow poppy.  Why isn’t the same thing done here?  Why not target the drug importers and encourage  alternative livelihoods in America’s inner cities?  More importantly, where’s our program for creating the alternative livelihoods?  Why hasn’t any black leader raised these sorts of questions or spoken to these issues?   The reason is that we have pretenders sitting on the throne of leadership and that’s the second biggest problem we face.

2 Responses to “Tavis Smiley vs. Al Sharpton”
  1. [quote]As to my own position, I’m not in either camp here. I think Obama owes no special dispensation to African-Americans.[/quote]

    Brother Greg L:

    There is not a single SUBSTANTIVE difference between Smiley and Sharpton. This is merely a tactical disagreement. Both, in the end are leftist quasi-socialists – plan and simply.

    I choose to bind OBAMA to this same PROGRESSIVE MACHINE that has been erected where he is not sitting atop of. The average Black community is fully populated with operatives who are a part of this machine. In many places this same machine enjoys a 100% control over every representative seat – and in many cases majority control over the legislative body of the city/county/state and of course the Federal Legislature.

    To allow them to be seen as “lobbying Obama to come through” while failing to note that OBAMA IS THEM and they ARE OBAMA misses the big picture.

    What you hear from Cornel West is an attempt to draw Obama to the left. You can be sure that West, Dyson and others are going to be VOTING FOR OBAMA IN 2012.

    Their statements will either be “Look at what Obama has delivered to us”


    “Obama needs 4 more years to pull us out of the ditch that Bush threw us in”.

    We this is is merely theatrics.

  2. Greg L says:


    The thing that bothers me the most about all of this is the lack of any real agenda, outside of begging the government for something and even if they’re successful at getting something, they’re not going to be accountable for managing anything, so if the “help” fails to address the specific thing they’re moaning about, then they’re back begging again, with no real accountability with what happened to the dispensation they got earlier.

    At issue here is that if they don’t hit up Obama, they’re afraid of ceding future begging rights for succeeding presidents.

    This is totally ridiculous

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: