BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE
Would Tavis Smiley’s ‘Black Agenda’ Help the Black Community, or Bring America to its Knees?
I want to begin this column with an apology. I went completely ballistic in my last column (Urban Comedy: Tavis Smiley – A Crab Determined to Reach Beyond His Grasp). Although I feel that it was with good cause, a cooler head convinced me that even though he may agree with my sentiment, by indulging my need to rant, I did both the readers, and the publications that provide me with a platform to keep the public informed, a gross disservice, and I agree.
I don’t work for Fox News, so it’s not my job to ram my opinion down the readers’ throats. As a responsible columnist my job is to simply present the facts, discuss what those facts represent from my point of view, then allow the reader to make up their own minds. Anything short of that is both condescending and less than informative to the reader. So again, I want to apologize. But while I apologize for admittedly falling short of professionalism in my approach, I don’t retract one word of my sentiment in this matter.
On Tuesday, February23, Tavis Smiley went on Tom Joyner’s Morning Show and did a commentary indicating that Rev. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous, Charles Ogletree, Valerie Jarrett, Marc Morial, and Dr. Dorothy Height said that President Obama doesn’t need a Black agenda. In doing so he not only grossly distorted Sharpton’s comment that the president didn’t need to “ballyhoo” a Black agenda, but he also left the impression that President Obama was ignoring the plight of the Black community – which is blatantly untrue.
So yes, I was quite angry – and one of the things that set me off was his disingenuous self-righteousness. He said:
“I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. This is the way I’m going. If it means suffering a little bit, I’m going that way. If it means dying for them, I’m going that way. Because I heard a voice saying, ‘Do something for others.”
For a man who loves to quote scripture, he seems to have missed King James 3:14 – “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.” One would have to be blind to believe that Tavis is less than envious of President Obama, or that he doesn’t have selfish ambition in his heart. And one would have to be a fool to believe that Tavis is willing to die for the hungry. Personally, I don’t see that kind of selflessness in his character. And while he may indeed be genuine about hearing voices, whose voice he’s hearing should be up for serious debate.
But I was angered even more by his hypocrisy. It was clear that he requested to go on the Tom Joyner show (after giving up his spot as a regular commentator on the show well over a year earlier) to create a controversy just to promote an event that he organized in Chicago for later oftlinethis month. In his commentary he said the following:
“I know ‘What’s going on.’ I know “We shall overcome,’ but I don’t know this new tune, the president doesn’t need a Black agenda. And I’ve been hearing from other members, Tom, of our Black chorale, all across America as well, who either, like me, don’t know these new lyrics or have heard the song but ain’t down with singing it. That said, it’s time for a choir rehearsal so that we’re all singing from the same page. And so, our choir rehearsal will be held Saturday, March 20, in Chicago at 8:00 am, at Chicago State University, with Dr. Wayne Watson. Now, for all of those who can’t attend the choir rehearsal in person, this rehearsal will be broadcast[ed] on national television.”
Don’t forget to Mark you’re calendars, now. That’s Saturday, March 20, at . . . He sounded like he was doing a used car commercial.
Tavis is also fixated on accountability, and how “he choose to identify with the underprivileged,” yet, as I pointed out two years ago in my article, The 2008 State of The Black Union, while he may choose to identify with the underprivileged, he hangs out with the heads of corporations – and you’re known by the company you keep:
“. . . how accountable is it to produce a show called The State of the Black Union then sponsor it with companies that are largely responsible for the very conditions that you’re complaining about? One of the sponsors was Allstate Insurance–a company that is alleged to have denied the claims of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims. One victim, Michael Homan, alleges that Allstate denied his claim based on their position that Katrina wasn’t windy enough. Another sponsor was Exxon/Mobile–a company that’s raking in record profits while many Black people have to flip a coin to decide whether they’re going to eat or put enough gas in their car to get to work. Wal-Mart was another sponsor–a company that’s committed to blocking collective bargaining, providing their employees fair wages and healthcare, who destroy jobs by running other businesses out of the community and purchasing their merchandise from outside the United States, and who humiliate their customers by searching them before they leave the store.”
Is that accountability? Does it sound like any of those companies are committed to a Black agenda? It sure doesn’t sound like it to me, and I’m a mere heathen who’s not willing to die for any cause. As a former Marine I was taught that we don’t willingly die for anything – boot camp 101. “A Marine only dies, because he failed to duck.
I was also angry with Tavis because he’s preaching to the Black community through ignorance. He’s trying to lead Black people while he himself is obviously ignorant of history. He seems to be completely unaware of the fact that Richard Nixon also had a Black agenda. Nixon was the president who signed affirmative action into being, and when he did it, he had his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.
Prior to AA we had a thriving civil rights movement. Not only Blacks, but thousands of whites were out marching with Martin Luther King, demanding equal opportunity for Blacks people.
Then President Nixon said, Ok, they want to fight for the rights of Black people, let’s see how they feel when I allow Blacks to start taking their jobs and replacing their kids in the universities – and his scheme to undermine the Black movement worked like a charm.
While we were busy celebrating our shortsighted “victory,” our victory led to USC v. Bakke, the emergence of Ronald Reagan, and White folks flooding into the Republican Party in droves. These people were far from racists, but it’s human nature to protect one’s own interest. Thus, Bakke’s lawsuit against affirmative action brought White support for the civil rights movement to a screeching halt, and led directly to Ronald Reagan and the Republican era.
And what did we get in return? The only people in the Black community that benefitted were those who needed the help least. The cream of the crop was skimmed out of the community and went to work for large corporations. And with them, they took all of the talent, imagination, entrepreneurial skills, role models, and jobs. That, in turn, left young Black people with no one to look up to in the community but drug dealers.
Then thirty years later Barack Obama arrived on the scene, and the GOP was caught completely off guard. They were shocked. Where did he come from? But more importantly, where did all these people come from who’re willing to vote for a Black man for president?
I’ll tell you where they came from. Those were young Whites, and the closet moderates and progressives that fled the Democratic Party during the Affirmative Action era. They were so anxious for a change from the GOP that they got behind Obama even before Black people saw the light – that’s why I’m so critical of Obama for failing to firmly initiate the change that he promised, an accommodation to the GOP that may, indeed, lead to his downfall.
But while I strongly disagree with his policy to be less than firm with the GOP, Obama is a very astute and intelligent man, so he’s not about to listen to the rantings of Tavis Smiley. He understands history, and he’s not about to make the same mistake twice.
Affirmative Action was a wonderful initiative, but as a result of it, the Black community was bamboozled into making the biggest political mistake in modern history – allowing AA to be based on race rather than need. Had it been based on need, it’s roots would have reached down into the Black community to those who needed it most. It would have also included poor Whites, which would have prevented the GOP from using it as a weapon against us.
So as a direct result of the very kind of policy that Tavis Smiley is advocating, the GOP was able to turn AA into a liability for the Democratic Party that destroyed the most effective progressive coalition that this country has ever known. It was AA that allowed the GOP to turn the term “liberal” into a curse word in the political lexicon.
AA was also used to create Judases like Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, and Alan Keyes – and they’re not the only ones. Anyone who has ever worked in a major corporation or a government agency knows that these Judases are sprinkled throughout our workforce. As we speak, I’m investigating a piece on the Los Angeles District of the U.S. Postal Service where I have absolute proof that minorities (including veterans) are being forced under the threat of losing their job to work as much as a half day (daily) without pay.
Think about that – I have proof that Blacks and Hispanics who have risen to positions of authority due to Affirmative Action are now being used, and given huge bonuses, as overseers in a United States Government agency to enforce slave labor in the twenty first century! It’s been going on for years (I have documented proof of that as well), and the unions and the Inspector General’s Office know about it (also documented), and they’re doing absolutely nothing about it.
So yes, I’m angry, because Tavis is a corporate tool and manipulator. While he’s trying to keep the people focused on the last war in order to promote his own interests, the powers that be have moved on to a class war. They don’t care any more about poor White folks than they do Black people – the healthcare debate should demonstrate that to anyone with any sense at all. Sen. Joe Lieberman just told the White folks of Connecticut to go to Hell.
So if the people would open their eyes they’d see that Tavis’ self-serving nonsense is an unnecessary distraction. Blacks, and Whites, are now under the gun. So this is no time to be distracted by a self-serving wannabe. He’s not one of us, the poor and middle class struggling to survive – he’s made a few dollars. His chumminess with Walmart and those who oppress us clearly demonstrates that he’s one of them. But don’t take my word for it – ask the people of Inglewood, Ca. whose agenda he promoted during their battle with Walmart.
Obviously, the only thing that will satisfy Tavis and his cohorts is for President Obama to throw his fist in the air every time they play Hail to the Chief. While Tavis is demagogueing the issue to promote his own agenda, here’s what the president is doing for ALL of the people, including the Black community:
– Help Families Struggling with Child Care Costs: “The Budget will nearly double the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle-class families making under $85,000 a year by increasing their credit rate from 20 percent to 35 percent of child care expenses. Nearly all eligible families making under $115,000 a year would see a larger credit. The Budget also provides critical support for young children and their families by building on historic increases provided in ARRA. The Budget provides an additional $989 million for Head Start and Early Head Start to continue to serve 64,000 additional children and families funded in ARRA.
– Reform Elementary and Secondary School Funding: “The Budget supports the Administration’s new vision for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) … The Budget provides a $3 billion increase in funding for K-12 education programs authorized in the ESEA, including $900 million for School Turnaround Grants, and the Administration will request up to $1 billion in additional funding if Congress successfully completes ESEA reauthorization.”
– Increase Pell Grants: “The Recovery Act and 2009 appropriations bill increased the maximum Pell Grant by more than $600 for a total award of $5,350. The Budget proposes to make that increase permanent and put them on a path to grow faster than inflation every year, increasing the maximum grant by $1,000, expanding eligibility, and nearly doubling the total amount of Pell grants since the President took office.”
– Help Relieve Student Loan Debt: “To help graduates overburdened with student loan debt, the Administration will strengthen income-based repayment plans for student loans by reducing monthly payments and shortening the repayment period so that overburdened borrowers will pay only 10 percent of their discretionary income in loan repayments and can have their remaining debt forgiven after 20 years. Those in public service careers will have their debt forgiven after 10 years. The Budget also expands low-cost Perkins student loans.”
– Prevent Hunger and Improve Nutrition: “The President’s Budget provides $8.1 billion for discretionary nutrition program supports, which is a $400 million increase over the 2010 enacted level. Funding supports 10 million participants in the WIC program, which is critical to the health of pregnant women, new mothers, and their infants. The Budget also supports a strong Child Nutrition and WIC reauthorization package that will ensure that school children have access to healthy meals and to help fulfill the President’s pledge to end childhood hunger. The President continues to support the nutrition provisions incorporated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).”
– Revitalize Distressed Urban Neighborhoods: “The Budget includes $250 million for HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program, which will target neighborhoods anchored by distressed public or assisted housing with physical and social revitalization grounded in promising, measurable, and evidence-based strategies.”
– Increase Funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program: “The President’s Budget requests $19.6 billion for the Housing Choice Voucher program to help more than two million extremely low income families with rental assistance to live in decent housing in neighborhoods of their choice. The Budget continues funding for all existing mainstream vouchers and provides flexibility to support new vouchers that were leased and $85 million in special purpose vouchers for homeless families with children, families at risk of homelessness, and persons with disabilities.”
– Preserve 1.3 Million Affordable Rental Units through Project-Based Rental Assistance Program: “The President’s Budget provides $9.4 billion for the Project-Based Rental Assistance program to preserve approximately 1.3 million affordable rental units through increased funding for contracts with private owners of multifamily properties. This critical investment will help low-income households to obtain or retain decent, safe and sanitary housing. In addition, the Administration requests $350 million to fund the first phase of this multi-year initiative to regionalize the Housing Choice Voucher program and convert Public Housing to project-based vouchers.”
– Promote Affordable Homeownership and Protect Families from Mortgage Fraud: “The Budget requests $88 million for HUD to support homeownership and foreclosure prevention through Housing Counseling and $20 million to combat mortgage fraud. In addition, the Budget requests $250 million for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation’s (NRC) grant and training programs. Of the $250 million, $113 million is requested for foreclosure prevention activities, a $48 million increase (74 percent) over 2010.”
– Fight Gang Violence and Violent Crime: “The Budget provides $112 million for place-based, evidence supported, initiatives to combat violence in local communities, including $25 million for the Community-Based Violence Prevention Initiatives that aim to reduce gun and other violence among youth gangs in cities and towns across the country, and $37 million for the Attorney General’s Children Exposed to Violence Initiative, which targets the youth most affected by violence and most susceptible to propagating it as they grow up.”
– Expand Prisoner Re-entry Programs: “The Budget provides $144 million for Department Justice prisoner re-entry programs, including an additional $100 million for the Office of Justice Programs to administer grant programs authorized by the Second Chance Act and $30 million for residential substance abuse treatment programs in State and local prisons and jails. In addition, the Budget provides $98 million for Department of Labor programs that provide employment-centered services to adult and youth ex-offenders and at-risk youth.”
– Fully Fund the Community Development Block Grant Program: “The Budget provides $4.4 billion for the Community Development Fund, including $3.99 billion for the Community Development Block Grant Formula Program (CDBG), and $150 million for the creation of a Catalytic Investment Competition Grants program. The new Catalytic Competition Grants program uses the authorities of CDBG, but will provide capital to bring innovative economic development projects to scale to make a measurable impact.”
Eric L. Wattree
Religious bigotry: It’s not that I hate everyone who doesn’t look, think, and act like me – it’s just that God does.
Eric L. Wattree is a writer, poet, and musician, born in Los Angeles. He’s a columnist for The Los Angeles Sentinel, The Black Star News in New York, and a Staff writer for Veterans Today. He’s also the author of A Message From the Hood.