When I lived in Windsor Canada, right across the river from Detroit, I would listen every morning to the Tom Joyner radio show. My favourite segment was the Tavis Smiley twice weekly commentary. There were times when I would leave my desk at work and head down to my car just to listen to his commentary. I didn’t always agree with his views, but I always found him sincere in his commitment to address the issues facing Black America, in an effort to bring clarity and offer solutions.

So I was disappointed by the fierce backlash he endured from the Black community, when last year he was critical of President (then candidate) Obama for not being more attentive to African American issues during the campaign, from distancing himself from his pastor of over 20 years Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and for not taking the time to attend the 2008 State of the Black Union forum. According to news reports, it got so bad that members of Smiley’s family were being threatened. So after 11 years, Smiley ended up leaving the Tom Joyner Morning Show due to what Joyner described at the time: “The real reason is that he can’t take the hate he’s been getting regarding the Barack issue — hate from the black people that he loves so much.” 

I for one have always had a difficult time understanding why we as a people so easily fall into a “tribal like” mentality when we have differences of opinions or beliefs with one another. We have internalized as a collective this “us vs. them… if you are not with us you are against us”… polarizing attitude with each other. Democrats vs. Republicans; Christian vs. Muslim; Religious vs. Atheist; Rich vs. Poor; Straight vs. Gay; Male vs. Female; Light-skinned vs. Dark-skinned; Eastside vs. Westside; Red vs. Blue; African-American vs. Caribbean; African vs. African Diaspora; Tutsi vs. Hutu; etc. We have developed this reflexive response to feel obliged to take it personally when someone doesn’t see things our way… have a difference of opinion… as well as to feel justified in “demonizing” said Black person, with statements such as: “they’re just a crab in a barrel”; “they’re a sellout”“they’re traitors to the Black community”; “they’re doing this because they’re jealous”; “they’re pawns of the white man”; “there’s only one point, your’s?” etc. I heard (and read) all this, and more, at the time in reference to Smiley… well maybe not the last one so much… [;o)

Anyway I have been reading some commentary on the 2009 State of the Black Union forum that was held last Saturday. Again I don’t understand some of the negative feedbacks, which appears to me is based primarily on the dislike of Smiley for criticizing Obama and/or the corporate sponsors associated with the forum. In regards to corporate sponsorship, although I do believe you have to be very careful in whom you allow to support your cause, I commend Smiley in the way he has been able to market the forum, his message and even himself to a wider audience. And if he makes a little money (or a lot of money) through his endeavors… all the more power to him. It doesn’t take away from the fact that he is committed and does positive work for the community.

Unfortunately, here in Canada we don’t get the broadcast of the forum, so I didn’t get to watch it. But whether one agrees with or even likes Tavis Smiley, this forum is one effort… “one effort” out of many that is striving for the upfliftment and progress of Black America.

Here are a sampling of some of the articles I read on Smiley and the Black Union forum:

  1. Anderson @ Large: State of the Black Union  
  2. The Field Negro: The Tavisted Tenth
  3. 2 thought-provoking posts from Dr. Boyce Watkins: Tavis Smiley, The State of the Black Union and 10 Quick Thoughts on the State of the Black Union  
  4. Lenny McAllister in theRoot: Why Tavis is a Genius 
  5. Melissa Harris-Lacewell from February 2008 in theRoot: Who Died and Made Tavis King? 
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