>Black Power at it Again: Part One

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Something I have not done in awhile is discussed politics…in general… “Black” politics specifically. Today is the day that I bring up some issues that are troubling. Today is part one of a two-part blog post where I discuss issues that cause so many of us to shake our heads and ask, “Have we taken another step backwards?” I may tick some folks off today and tomorrow with these two posts…so let’s talk… 
Let me explain what has taken place….
What I Have Seen
We are our biggest enemies. We undercut, undermine, overrule, overshadow, shoulder climb, backstab; open our mouths when we should be listening, blame, blame, blame…pointing fingers but never looking in the mirror. Everyone wants to lead but not really. Everyone wants to have a say, but not be held accountable for what they say and do. Everyone thinks they can do a better job, but obviously the “people” don’t think so because you don’t hold the position of the office you are attacking regularly. The model of Black leadership waves above our heads in the faces (and on the backs and shoulders) of men and women who really should know better. You can’t blame “the man” for this mess!
There has been one too many school yard fights amongst our leaders over trivial things. Too many fake smiles, half hugs, and loose handshakes in front of the camera and moments later blunders of honesty on forgotten “hot” microphones. In my almost 35 years on this planet I have wondered, “When are we going to get it together individually and collectively? If our senior leaders and mentors can’t do it, how can the 35 and younger group take over effectively?” If you want to know why some Black folks old and young don’t get involved in the political process, don’t get involved in community action planning…it’s because they can’t trust their leaders to effectively lead…and they question, “what makes them qualified to lead me?”
What Just Happened
I sit here reflecting on one of the most puzzling displays of public pissing contests I have seen amongst my Black leaders. It’s not the first and unfortunately, it is not the last in our bubble. This one happened to be between Tavis Smiley and Reverend Al Sharpton (with Charles Ogletree waiting on the line and occasionally addressing particular points, questions, and attacks when he could get a word in). The argument…over President Barack Obama…over the “Black Agenda”…over what was said and not said by Sharpton, Ogletree, Dr. Dorothy Height, Ben Jealous, and other Black leaders…over individual agendas that will always overshadow the big picture without healthy dialogue…first privately then publicly.
Thanks to technology, a conversation that should have taken place privately between three influential Black men, took place publicly over the airwaves for all to tune in and tear up to shreds. What went wrong here was lack of better judgment, lack of effective communication, and lack of respect for individuals and for the “Black Agenda” This argument highlighted our very issues within our community…we have no unity but keep expecting for it to appear out of the clouds like the North Star that led Harriet Tubman and others from slavery to freedom. We point the finger at each other and say, “Your actions caused the rest of America to once again size us up” yet those very actions have also done the same.
I can see both points of view….the breakdown in respect and communication unfortunately overshadows all of it. Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show [see show transcript and video] basically said that many of our Black leaders were giving President Obama a “pass” on having to deal with Black issues…which are also America’s issues. That is a huge boulder of a pill to swallow considering Tavis pointed the finger at Al Sharpton…the thorn in many leaders’ sides over the years. Is it possible that Sharpton is making an exception for Obama? Hmmmm…not likely…maybe I’m wrong.
 Singling out Sharpton and these other leaders without dialogue was a misstep. Tavis then went to another level by misquoting more than once the New York Times as though the referenced quote in the article was a direct quote from Sharpton (and taking it out of context), when in actuality the writer paraphrased a sentiment. Instead of speaking with these leaders he calls “friends” in private and getting clarification on quotes he and others read, Smiley blasted them on the radio which in turn caused Sharpton to make contact with him for dialogue on public radio [hear audio]. It would seem that there was no other way to diffuse this, right? Tit for tat…he said he said…It got a little ugly folks.
 To me it is clear…we do not all think alike. Period. But why should we? Why should we all vote alike? It is clear that we don’t. It is clear that some of us are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, etc. and some of us simply don’t vote for whatever reason.  Some of us are conservative while others are liberal. Some voted for President Obama…some did not. Some pray that he successfully leads us through a second term…others hope he fails before the end of this term. Some voted for him simply because he’s Black. Others refused to vote for him…because he’s Black (no, I wouldn’t be surprised that there were some Black folk who did not vote for him simply because of this fact).
President Obama received over 66 million votes. Let’s be clear that there are not 66 million Black people in the United States.  Yes, we as a people have common concerns that are unique, honestly, only to us…and yes, we as a people need those concerns addressed and resolved. Yes, there are issues that require the President to have his hands all “in the mix”. But our President is not the sole “great hope” responsible for taking care of (all of) our needs. He’s not our Moses.
Can we miraculously come together like the cartoon, Voltron, and be…one…all the time in every situation, at the drop of a hat without thought…even when we’re rolling our eyes and sucking our teeth at the person beside us? What other culture or nationality thinks, speaks, and acts collectively as one? None!
God gave us each a brain…our minds are ours to make up based on our interpretation of folks, facts, figures, and fiction. We all have our own interests in mind. We all have separate needs. Yes, Black people come from generations that walked and crawled through hell in order to make today better for each us…and yes we need to make sure our voices are loud, strong, clear and focused. Still some of us haven’t learned to work the “system”- haven’t learned how to make your voice be heard where action takes place on your behalf…not shuffled to the bottom of the pile as you’re being patted on the head. 
I’m not talking about passivity, passive-aggressive behavior, or any Uncle Tom foolery. I’m speaking strategy. I’m referring to looking at every situation and deciding if there are steps you can take before you take a stand, cause ruckus, and declare war. Looking at the situation as though it is a map and you’re in battle…picking the ones you can win quick and in a hurry (with the least amount of casualties)…then coming back to the camp to rest up, re-group, and re-think the ones you have doubts about.
We don’t need to embarrass one another, call each other out like we’re ready for a neighborhood brawl. We don’t need to always try to prove we’re right and the other person is wrong. We don’t need to ride a wave of accusation based on quotes from mainstream America’s resources when we can simply place a call and ask for clarification…then move forward.
What Was the Purpose/Agenda?
So Tavis makes a point of promoting his upcoming meeting of the minds panel discussion amongst the leaders he’s accusing basically of trying to sabotage or downplay the “Black Agenda”; along with other Black leaders that he selected…some of whom have publicly “attacked” President Obama and other Black leaders. 
So does it seem as though the agenda is clear? A back and forth, finger-pointing session it would seem. Who is the moderator of this meeting? Mr. Smiley. Tavis’ first summit slated for this month was cancelled, and the newly scheduled “discussion” was quickly organized for next month…but which leaders besides the one he mentioned going to be there to address our issues and our agenda? The scales of open, healthy dialogue don’t appear to be balanced.
I admire Tavis Smiley, have read and own a couple of his books; frequently listened to his reflections and calls to action on the Tom Joyner Morning Show; I have even watched his television program on PBS. So my eyebrows raise high when I notice a side step or two. I agree with Reverend Sharpton and others, like Dr. Boyce Watkins that Mr. Smiley should also be a panelist in this discussion, not the so-called unbiased moderator when it is clear that he is very biased against the Obama administration; and has publicly voiced his negative opinions of the President long before he took office. 
Just as he wants these leaders to speak up and share what they have discussed with our President over the course of a few weeks or so, and what their intentions are in furthering our agenda; he too should share with the public why he appears to be on constant attack mode; what solutions he has to offer, and how he plans on being an intricate part in the whole equation.
Tavis is right in that we need everyone on the same page. The problem is there are too many egos that simply can’t be checked at the door so folks can get down to work. The same reason more leaders were not obviously invited and won’t be present next month at the discussion in Chicago. Maybe Reverend Sharpton is correct in his thinking that Smiley may not be the appropriate person to make the rally cry for everyone to have a Black town hall meeting so-to-speak. 

What are your thoughts?

Tomorrow I will pick up from this point. Yes, I dig deeper and explore both sides of the table. I wish I could just share all of it in one post, but I know that you have a life beyond reading blog posts.

Copyright © 2010 by Natasha L. Foreman. All rights reserved

Presidential Election Results Source: http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/results/president/
Tavis Smiley “Tavis Smiley Talks” Transcript Source: http://www.tavistalks.com/we-count-black-agenda-american-agenda
Tavis, Sharpton and Ogletree Conversation Source: http://blip.tv/file/3259184
Voltron Cartoon Source: http://www.voltron.com/main.asp

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