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Smiley protested on the righteous political grounds that a candidate whose entire strategy was to lock

up the Black vote by virtue of his own ethnicity and then proceed outward, should at least find time

to appear in the Black political Potemkin Village. He might as well have cursed God.



Smiley vs Sharpton: A Potemkin Drama

By Glen Ford


Last week’s live broadcast confrontation between Tavis Smiley and Rev. Al Sharpton was a perfect window into the incoherence and utter ineffectuality of what passes for African American leadership. Smiley, the media entrepreneur, for ten years (2000-’09) staged an annual electronic facsimile of Black political life, purporting to represent, as spelled out in the production’s title, the “State of the Black Union1SOBU. Smiley choreographed the event, a ritualized “coming together” that gave the illusion of Black “unity” and motion when, in fact, the showcase was structurally incapable of effectively addressingmuch less resolvingany issue of importance. Nor was it meant to be anything but a media happening, a kind of Black Potemkin Village where luminaries strutted, pandered and pontificated on cuea manufactured drama creating an aura of relevance and the impression of movement: a substitute for a real Black people’s Movement.

Tavis sold lots of books along the way, preaching a “covenant2 that would bind his show’s performers and a hungry Black audience to a preachedat but not foughtfor state of being that could be achieved through presentation, alone.

Smiley cemented his status as Grandmaster of a holographic politics consisting of a soundstage, on which electronic icons pushed the envelope of contention no farther than the theatrical constraints of an agreedupon “unity” would allownever nearly enough to reveal any contradictions demanding resolution for the sake of future of The Race.

Then came Obama, and the undoing of Smiley’s skillfully crafted media diversion, trumped by the mega-show of a serious (i.e., corporate-funded) Black presidential campaign. Black political theatereven Smiley’s choreographed and meticulously casted all-Black format was bum-rushed by the Obama phenomenon, which plumbed the brass-ring aspirations of an eternally marginalized people. All hands rushed to get on the Showboat, where dreams rooted in at least one side of the Black brain might be realizedand where the money surely was.

Smiley attempted in two successive years to lasso candidate Obama onto his stage set for a SOBU appearance. But such an association was anathema to the politician who made his deepest impression on the mass white psyche with his 2004 Democratic National Convention declaration that there was “no Black America . . . only the United States of America.” Of course Obama would not come to a “State of the Black” anything. Blacks were to be neutered as a prerequisite of national unityand Obama’s political fortunes.

Smiley protested on the righteous political grounds that a candidate whose entire strategy was to lock up the Black vote by virtue of his own ethnicity and then proceed outward, should at least find time to appear in the Black political Potemkin Village. He might as well have cursed God. After eleven years as commentator on the hugely popular Tom Joyner Morning Show syndication, Smiley was forced out3 in April, 2008, by "the hate he's been getting regarding the Barack issuehate from the black people that he loves so much," said Joyner, who had himself joined the mob. Smiley held the last of his “State of the Black Union” gatherings in 2009, although maintaining his public radio and TV programs.

Sharpton’s Paymasters

Rev. Al Sharpton had long been one of the stock performers in the televised SOBU mini-spectacles. An acolyte of entertainer James Brown and sports hustler/gangster Don King, Sharpton is programmed to cut a dealfor himself. He keeps bad company and tends to wind up, like most people who parlay with low-lifes, being captured by them. Or more likely, he is himself hopelessly degraded. Thus it was not strange that his 2004 Democratic presidential campaign came under the control of Roger Stone, a far-right Republican political hit man whom even polite GOPers find unsavory (see The Black Commentator, February 5, 20044)an underground passage Sharpton has navigated so often it must be considered his modus operandi.

Following the scent of bottomless corporate pockets, Sharpton in the Obama era made common cause with New York billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vast political/financial network, a capitalist empire fully enmeshed with Barack Obama’s own Wall Street lifeline. With $500,000 laundered5 through Bloomberg cronies’ accounts, Sharpton joined arch-racist Newt Gingrich for a salt-and-pepper tour touting Obama’s campaign to replace public schools with charters and break teachers unions, nationwide. He has graduated to full-fledged operative of the White House/Wall Street nexus, and will advocate nothing that might seriously upset his sugar daddies. Sharpton is finally playing in the big casino.

The National Action Movement leader joined NAACP president Ben Jealous and National Urban League chief Marc Morial for a snow-packed Black History Month meeting at the White House, February 13, from which the trio emerged proclaiming that “we have a president who gets it” about the need to address Depression-level Black unemploymentalbeit without directly targeting the particulars of the Black condition or promising any program adequate to the general crisis. (See BAR, “Sharpton, Jealous and Morial Make Small Talk at the Big House.”6) Sharpton volunteered that the Black “leaders” might be of use in persuading Republicans to cooperate on the jobs issue.

The president did not dignify the meeting or his Black admirers’ analysis with a comment.

The previous week, Sharpton was reported to have told the New York Times 7 the president was “smart not to ballyhoo ‘a black agenda’” the meaning of which quote would become central to the radio throw-down between Tavis Smiley and Sharpton.

Smiley’s Manifesto

Tavis is not Mr. Smiley unless he is building Potemkin Villages in the airwaves. Eager to get back in the center of the magic circle, Smiley returned to his old forum, the Tom Joyner Morning Show, to market yet another gathering of “leaders,” set for March 20 at Chicago State University. This time, it would be a great debate over a Black agenda. Some folks in the circle, he tried to convey,8 were singing the wrong song:

The President doesn’t need a Black agenda, they sing. He’s not the president of Black America, he’s the president of all America, and he need not focus specifically on the unique challenges Black America is facing, they sing. 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”.

Smiley called out the off-key performers, and produced a list of others who, he vouched, had remained in tune with the ancestors:

I say this lovingly, they’re all friends and freedom fighters…but Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous, Charles Ogletree, Valerie Jarrett, Marc Morial, Dr. Dorothy Height, will also be joined by some other crooners who I think do want us singing a different song…Barbara Lee, Angela Glover Blackwell, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Jesse Jackson, just for example.

Other invited singers include Louis Farrakhan who hasn’t been singing much of late, but who has a solo I’m told he’s ready to share. Should be some kind of choir rehearsal to get us all singing the same song, Saturday, March 20, in Chicago, on national television.

Do we think that we can give President Obama a pass on Black issues and somehow when he’s no longer in office, just resurrect the moral authority to hold future presidents accountable to our concerns? How does that work? You give one president a pass on Black issues, but when he’s gone, you go right back to trying to hold the next president accountable. I don’t get how we’re going to do that.

A great debate, or an attempt to choreograph an exercise in false “unity?” Smiley appears to think he can pull off both, simultaneously. But later that day Al Sharpton was in his junkyard, howling.

In the studio for his daily radio show9 with his guest and buddy, Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree, who taught both Barack and Michelle Obama, Rev. Sharpton accepted Tavis Smiley’s call:

SMILEY: How are you?

SHARPTON: I was fine until you started messing with me this morning. What’s wrong with you?

SMILEY: We need a conversation about whether or not there needs to be a Black agenda. . . . When there are certain African American leaders . . . who are quoted [as saying] that this president doesn’t need to have an African American agenda, given that Black folk are getting crushed, I said we need to come together to have a conversation about what that means. I think there’s a disconnect between those kinds of quotes and Black people [interrupted] . . .

SHARPTON: No, I think there’s a disconnect between what you’re saying and what was said. First of all, we never said that, and the New York Times never said we said that. [Smiley tries to interrupt] And if you thought we had said that you should have picked up the phone and asked us.

Smiley read the relevant Times copy aloud, but Sharpton’s awesome powers of obfuscation were in full display:

SHARPTON: I said that if you were getting ready to have an event then you’d be smart not to ballyhoo a certain segment of the event. That does not mean I don’t think you should have the event or emphasize something. What you just read is nowhere near what you said, Tavis.

And so it went, with Sharpton characterizing Smiley’s challenge on the Tom Joyner show as “disingenuous” and “lies.” But the Times didn’t take Sharpton’s statement that Obama was “smart not to ballyhoo ‘a black agenda’” out of context, and Smiley’s reading of the remarks was correct. The Reverend and his fellow unrepentant Obamites have been giving the president a “pass” since he first appeared on the national scene, allowing him to tack further to the Right with every passing day. And they are demanding a pass for themselves, as well, for wholly abdicating their responsibility as “leaders” to formulate a Black agenda worthy of the name, and to confront power with demands based on that agenda. Sharpton and his crowd have devolved to meek and ridiculous access-seekers with no significant agenda to “ballyhoo”except the president’s own, corporate agenda.

These inert human objects cannot even be described as annexes to the administration, since Obama finds it politically inconvenient to recognize them as such. Their irrelevance is near total.

Although meek as a lamb with Obama, Sharpton played by Don King rules in lashing out at Smiley, whom he would eject from the inner sanctum for being “notoriously anti the president.” Tavis has no right to call a leadership meeting in Chicago or anywhere else, said Sharpton. “Some of the objective people who have not been pro or con the president should convene it.” At any rate, “I’m not going to be there.”

In truth, there is little point in organizing a gathering of people who will not fight. No matter how huge the herd, sheep are still sheep. Leadership is not to be found on a sound stage, but in struggle. As we build a new movement, we will grow a new leadership.



Glen Ford can be contacted at  

Source: Black Agenda Report

posted 3 March 2010 

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Tavis Smiley is a broadcaster, author, advocate and philanthropist. TIME Magazine honored Smiley in 2009 as one of "The World's 100 Most Influential People." He is currently the host of the late night television talk show, "Tavis Smiley" on PBS and "The Tavis Smiley Show" distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). In 2007, Smiley made television history as the moderator and executive producer of the All-American Presidential Forums on PBS, the first Democratic and Republican presidential debates broadcast live in primetime with a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color.

In addition to his radio and television work, Smiley has authored fourteen books. His memoir, What I Know For Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America, was a New York Times bestseller.

His latest book, Accountable: Making America As Good As its Promise, addresses how our political leaders, corporations and finally, American citizens themselves can enforce accountability and effect change.

The Tavis Smiley Foundation, a non-profit organization, was established to provide leadership training and development for youth. Since its inception, more than 6,000 young people have participated in the foundation's Youth to Leaders training workshops and conferences.

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Tavis Smiley (born September 13, 1964) is an American talk show host, author, political commentator, entrepreneur, advocate and philanthropist. Smiley was born in Gulfport, Mississippi and grew up in Kokomo, Indiana. After attending Indiana University, he worked during the late 1980s as an aide to Tom Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles. Smiley became a radio commentator in 1991, and starting in 1996 he hosted the talk show BET Talk (later renamed BET Tonight) on BET. Controversially, after Smiley sold an exclusive interview of Sara Jane Olson to ABC News in 2001, BET declined to renew Smiley's contract that year. Smiley then began hosting The Tavis Smiley Show on NPR from 2002 to 2004 and currently hosts Tavis Smiley on PBS on the weekdays and a weekly self-titled show on PRI. . . .

Smiley was honored with the NAACP Image Award for best news, talk, or information series for three consecutive years (1997–99) for his work on BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley. Smiley's advocacy efforts have earned him numerous awards and recognitions including the recipient of the Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award from the National Association of Minorities in Communications.In 1999, he founded the Tavis Smiley Foundation, which funds programs that develop young leaders in the black community. Since its inception, more than 6,000 young people have participated in the foundation's Youth to Leaders Training workshops and conferences. His communications company, The Smiley Group, Inc., serves as the holding company for various enterprises encompassing broadcast and print media, lecturers, symposiums, and the Internet.

In 1994, Time named him one of America's 50 Most Promising Young Leaders. Time honored him the next year as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." In May 2007, Smiley gave a commencement speech at his alma mater, Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana. In May 2008, he gave the commencement address at Connecticut College, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In May 2009, Smiley was awarded an honorary doctorate at Langston University after giving the commencement address there.

On December 12, 2008, Smiley received the Du Bois Medal from Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.Wikipedia

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 Tavis Smiley’s Annual Black "Radical" All-Star Game

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Wake Up, Tavis Smiley—By Stanley Crouch—Neither Smiley nor the rest of his panel showed any interest in “speaking truth to power” when it came to questioning or exposing this smiling stain on their militant dinner dress. Caught up in the tomming before a totalitarian, both were seen and heard co-signing Farrakhan in a way as disgusting as it was consistent.

Jesse Jackson was there and, as I once said to him in Washington when Al Gore brought a number of black people down to dinners in which the color troubles of America were discussed, “I am sure that you are aware of the fact that the worst mistake you ever made was to bring Louis Farrakhan out of the dark and onto center stage when you were running for president in 1984.” Jackson had nothing to say.

Nor did anyone else on Smiley’s recent panel go beyond mum's the word because they have yet to understand the difference between complete honesty as opposed to profiting and gaining attention from their purported victim status. That does not allow them to see and understand the gravity of actual engagement through real politics, not sweating us all down with unending typhoons of hot air. The kinds of solutions provided by the members of HEAF and all of the others are right down there on the ground giving the devil all of the trouble he can stand. TheDailyBeast

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Michael Eric Dyson to President Obama  /  Michael Eric Dyson: To The Young & Disillusioned

Michael Eric Dyson: Obama isn't Moses, he is Pharaoh  /  Smiley and West: Obama & Sharpton

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011


#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 29 February 2012




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Related files: The Tavis Smiley Presidential Forum   Pass the Mic Tour   Responses to Pass the Mic  Al Sharpton and Barack Obama  Reverend Al Sharpton (interview)   The State of the Black Union 2009 

Kam Williams Interviews Reverend Sharpton  Annual Black Radical All-Star Game