The other day Tavis Smiley and Cornel West were bitching about President Obama. What they were bitching about doesn’t rally matter because that’s what they do. That’s all they do and they tear down Obama so much it makes me wonder are they angling for their own show on Fox News? How did West and Smiley go from men of respect within Black culture to self-parody?
I’d sum it up in two words: Barack Obama. From Tavis’ perspective it’s straight up envy. He used to host a yearly gathering called “The State of the Black Union” where he would invite prominent people to discuss issues of importance to African-Americans. It was interesting to see people who were often overlooked by the White mainstream media gather to discuss and debate, but a funny thing happened with “The State of the Black Union.” Talking was all it was about. There was no action plan. There was no “Black agenda” that sprung from these lengthy talk-a-thons. It was equally clear if you weren’t part of the Tavis Smiley clique of Favorite Black Folks , you probably weren’t going to be invited to speak. Then there’s the issue of the gathering of Black thinkers being underwritten by Smiley’s corporate pals, Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo.
The defining moment came in 2008 when Smiley invited Sen. Obama to appear at the yearly gathering. The eventual nominee was still in the middle of primary battle with Hillary Clinton and instead of coming off the campaign trail, he wrote Smiley a letter offering to send Michelle Obama in his stead. Smiley flatly rejected Obama’s wife as his representative and got really ugly about it. Smiley, a Clinton supporter, invited her to appear instead and she accepted.
Smiley continued to attack Obama for not appearing. Suddenly, even Smiley’s supporters started looking sideways at this raging egotist and wondering who was he to demand Obama appear personally to kiss his ring?
This led to Smiley eventually quitting the Tom Joyner radio show, the program that initially raised his national profile and a bitter falling out with Joyner himself. Smiley wrote a book after Obama won the presidency called “Accountable” where he pompously asserted how it was up to Black people like him to hold Obama accountable if he didn’t deliver the goods to the Black community once he took office.
The book tanked hard and Smiley griped Obama supporters had turned on him and caused the book to flop. He’s been a little pebble in a big can rattling around ever since about how Obama ain’t shit.
Cornel West…now that’s an entirely different and much sadder story. It’s also downright pathetic at points. A frustrated supporter in 2008, West despises Obama so much he can’t abide anyone that doesn’t share his negative opinion of the president.
“I love Brother Mike Dyson, but we’re living in a society where everybody is up for sale,” West said in a Huffington Post story. “Everything is up for sale. And he and Brother (Al) Sharpton and Sister Melissa (Harris-Perry) and others, they have sold their souls for a mess of Obama pottage. And we invite them back to the black prophetic tradition after Obama leaves. But at the moment, they want insider access, and they want to tell those kind of lies. They want to turn their back to poor and working people. And it’s a sad thing to see them as apologists for the Obama administration in that way, given the kind of critical background that all of them have had at some point.”
Who needs Cornel West’s kind of “love.” If everybody is up for sale, where’s West hiding his price tag?
“Sister Melissa” hasn’t been reluctant to call out West for his single-minded mission to demean and defame Obama at every turn as her 2011 column in The Nation stripped West’s hypocrisy down to the bone with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.
“As tenured professors Cornel West and I are not meaningfully accountable, no matter what our love, commitment, or self-delusions tell us. President Obama, as an elected official, can, in fact, be voted out of his job. We can’t. That is a difference that matters. As West derides the President’s economic policies he remains silent on his friend Tavis Smiley’s relationship with Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo, and McDonald’s–all corporations whose invasive and predatory actions in poor and black communities have been the target of progressive organizing for decades. I have never heard him take Tavis Smiley to task for helping convince black Americans to enter into predatory mortgages. I’ve never heard him ask whether Tavis’ decision to publish R. Kelley’s memoirs might be a less than progressive decision. He doesn’t hold Tavis accountable because Tavis is his friend and he is loyal. I respect that, but I also know that if he were in elected office the could not get off so easily. Opposition research would point out the hypocrisy in his public positions in a way that would make him vulnerable come election time. As a media personality and professor he is safely ensconced in a system that can never vote him off the island. I think an honest critique of Obama has to begin by acknowledging his own privileges.”
The days when Black Americans had “leaders” is over and done. We have organization heads, self-appointed experts and spokespersons on race and some celebrities who have a podium to express their beliefs. But as far as “leaders” goes, that went bye-bye when Martin and Malcolm and others left the scene, often violently and always prematurely. What we have now is a group of Second Wave Wannabees who would like to considered as picking up where King, Malcolm, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and so many others left off.
Martin didn’t have corporate sponsorship. Malcolm didn’t demand huge speaking fees. Rosa didn’t have a talk show. Nobody went looking for Smiley or West to “lead” Black people. We had REAL leaders. Why settle for phony ones?
Pointing out West’s hypocrisy is almost its own news desk. Journalist and blogger Eric Wattree has long documented West and Smiley’s shameless self-promotion, “West is never short on words when it comes to denigrating high-profile Black people. He’s publicly criticized Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Jay Z, and of course, his favorite target, President Barack Obama. But when it comes to his good friend and associate, Tavis Smiley’s, involvement in Wells Fargo’s victimization of the Black community, he’s been curiously silent.”
The silence is being interrupted by the loudness of the Black community waking up to Smiley’s coziness with Corporate America and how he’s played the role of Judas goat leading African-Americans into financial ruin while profiting from their misery. Following their second so-called “poverty tour” that West and Smiley claimed was supposed to spotlight the poor, but was confined to key states in the last presidential election, the due were called out by Najee Ali, a Los Angeles based activist, for Smiley’s cozy relationship with rabidly anti-union Wal-Mart.
“Wal-Mart is a billion dollar corporation. They should be able to offer a better medical package for their associates and a living wage. The involvement of corporations like Wal-Mart in Tavis Smiley’s own PBS show is troublesome,” says Ali. “Wal-Mart is one of the major sponsors of his show. Therefore, Wal-Mart plays a major role in sustaining Smiley’s popularity. If Smiley and West want to address poverty shouldn’t they involve Wal-Mart in the conversation and hold them accountable as well?”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for Dear Brother Cornel to answer that.
West is a joke. There’s a rock song entitled, “I Am What I Hated When I Was Young” and that sorry state where West is at now. A vain, prideful man with a slight Messiah Complex, whenever West opens his mouth he sounds more irrational, more deranged, more self-righteous and more butt hurt than ever. There is nothing remotely intellectual in the vicious and highly personal ways West scorns the president.
What do you get when you match a vain, egotistical academic with delusions of divinity with a vain, egotistical hustler searching for a way to stay relevant? Nothing good. Just two clowns without a circus fighting to stay in the spotlight. If it wasn’t so damn annoying it would be sad.