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By Dr. Boyce Watkins
I couldn't help but notice that while many of us have been carried away by the Barack Obama train, some have refused to buy a ticket. I understand completely, because I am the last person to buy anyone's hype. Healthy skepticism is a good thing, and we should all keep it in our pocket.
But haterology is a serious science and diagnosing it can be an art.
My latest patient is Mr. Tavis Smiley. I like Tavis as a person and respect him a great deal. Tavis Smiley has branded himself as one of the top black leaders in America and is right up there with Marc Lamont Hill as one of my most respected colleagues.
While my respect for Brother Smiley runs deep, I know he is also human. In our humanity, one must be realistic when considering the fact that Tavis understands that his business is a business. There is a marketing philosophy that must be implemented, some degree of competition and ultimately, some lines that must be drawn in the sand. After all, there is more than one Tavis Smiley out there, and his work with The Tom Joyner Morning Show (among others) has allowed him to separate himself from the pack. Brother Smiley's success, prominence and power were planned, it didn't just happen by accident.
Barack Obama, by announcing his candidacy for the White House DURING Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union was, to some, a serious line being drawn. I am sure Brother Smiley felt that anyone who is anyone in the black community must be part of his conference. Barack Obama didn't feel that way, and seemed to be less than willing to pledge allegiance to existing Black Leadership.
Tavis Smiley's State of The Black Union conference, along with his work on The Tom Joyner Morning Show and his Covenant with Black America have done a great deal for the black community. However, they have done far more for Tavis Smiley's book sales and power within the community. I can't hate on that. After all, I am a Finance Professor, so I fully understand how capitalism works. Also, my work in media allows me to understand that you're nobody until you convince somebody that you're somebody. It's not what you know, it's.....well, you get the point.
Simultaneously, Tavis Smiley must work through the demons within him that have always christened himself as the next Barack Obama. Shit, I'm sure Tavis Smiley thought he would be Barack Obama before Barack Obama thought he would be Barack Obama. So, it must be incredibly confusing for Smiley to watch Obama go from "just some guy" to the next JFK. Tavis Smiley, Al Sharpton and others have, quite honestly, been humbled. Brothers like Tavis Smiley and Al Sharpton don't like being humbled.
Smiley's tone of "putting people on blast" for not attending his conference is somewhat problematic and reminds me of an area of Finance called Agency Theory. Agency Theory always questions the incentives of the manager or protector and allows you to wonder if the leader is doing what is best for his constituency or himself. Tavis Smiley's decision to "put people on blast" begs larger, more relevant questions: Are you being careful to balance your personal agenda with the broader needs of the community? You, Brother Smiley, sacrifice a great deal for black people, but are you willing to also sacrifice your personal power? If Barack Obama were serving your interests a bit more, would you have a different disposition?
In layman's terms, this sacrifice is like asking a man to allow another man to sleep with his girlfriend if he clearly knows that the other man would make her happier. Only true love would make a man say "yes" to such a request. Similarly, only true love for the black community can lead Tavis Smiley, or anyone else, to give up their own black power to open the gates for someone who might be a bit more effective. I am not sure if Obama is that guy, but alot of people think he is.
I am not assuming that Tavis Smiley's intentions are not honorable. But I am certainly assuming that he himself struggles with this issue, as we all do at some point. Again, it's about being human. Would a bad mother give up her child to a good one? Would a star athlete sit on the bench if it will help the team win?
The same questions can be asked of many other power brokers in the black community, all of whom have been somewhat undermined by Obama's sudden rise to prominence. Obama owes no one, he has a new team and he refuses to be beholden to the Civil Rights Movement. He is like Al Capone coming to Chicago to run the liquor business "the right way". Such boldness makes the haters come out of the wood work. That's a fact.
Obama is benefiting from a landslide of black support, built on social credit being extended on campaign promises. The Black Community is like the loving, committed spouse, willing to ignore immediate needs so their partner can conquer the world. But at the end of the day, something must be delivered.
Smiley understands this and that is why I believe he works hard for black people. At the same time, Tavis must remember the wise words of Spiderman's Uncle: With great power comes great responsibility.
Translation: Tavis - please make sure your attacks on Obama are about the community and not about you. Most of us can't quite tell the difference.
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