Tavis, Rev. Al and the President

By Gary A. Johnson

Let me begin this commentary by asking Tavis Smiley a question:  “Is there anything that the President of the United States can do that would satisfy you?” I don’t think President Obama can do anything that would make you feel whole.

Where do I start?

I have carefully listened to the dialogue between Tavis and Rev. Al Sharpton on Sharpton’s radio show, “Keeping It Real.” Tavis you got it wrong, again!  In my view, Sharpton had every right to be irritated with you.  Tavis, here’s what Sharpton said:  “The President doesn’t need to get out there and do what we should be doing. Saying the President shouldn’t ‘ballyhoo’ a black agenda is not saying the President shouldn’t be held to a black agenda or deal with a black agenda.”

Click here to listen to the entire 20 minute back and forth between Tavis and Rev. Al, when Tavis called into Rev. Al’s radio show.

Tavis, you brought this discussion to the public, not Sharpton.  You started this mess and can’t seem to finish. Tavis you cannot win a debate against Rev. Al Sharpton. Rev. Al has evolved into an astute and sharp politician and one of the best debaters of our time.  He is an excellent listener who can synthesis large quantities of data and give you a “dead on” reply.  My problem with Tavis is his “crybaby, whining and all about me” style of politics.  I purposely used the word politics, because that’s what this is.

Tavis appears to be starting his 2012 campaign for HBPIC (Head Black Person In Charge) role early.  Tavis was not one of the black leaders recently invited to the White House to meet with President Obama. I suspect he needed more of the spotlight on himself.  One way to draw attention to yourself is to be black and publicly and consistently criticize President Obama on almost everything he does.  Hey, this is the post-Obama world that we live in.

Tavis’ lips are still chapped from kissing Hilary Clinton’s ass during the 2008 presidential campaign.  Since that time, dude has been the epitome of a sore loser.

Many black people have been upset with Tavis and his antics during the 2008 presidential campaign.  This recent public debate with Rev. Al Sharpton has not endeared Tavis to the people that he so dearly loves.  I believe that Tavis believes that he’s doing the “right thing” in criticizing President Obama. Tavis is NOT stupid.  I think he is self absorbed and terribly misguided, but he is NOT stupid.

Tavis knows that his Republican-style criticism of President Obama plays well with the those who oppose the President and I think this feeds his need to be at the top of the news cycle.  For example, on his last appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press talk show, Tavis continued his ongoing criticism of President Obama when he said:

“Throughout the campaign, the president promised change, we have change on the horizon here but, unfortunately, its small change.  I find myself kind of like John McCain agreeing with Howard Dean; here I am agreeing with my friend Joe Scarborough.”

I have no problem with Tavis or anyone else holding President Obama accountable for promises made during the campaign.  All of us should do that.  The problem that I see with Tavis is that every time he attempts to hold President Obama accountable, it appears to be personal, and any solutions appears to benefit Tavis in some way.

Now Tavis want to convene another “national conversation” in the form of a conference to discuss if there is a need for a Black agenda to address issues facing Black Americans.  WTF?  Here we go again.  Tavis recently announced that he was discontinuing the annual State of the Black Union Conferences.  So here we are, weeks later, where he appears to be just giving the conference another name.  The person or group who will benefit the most from this “national conference” is Tavis Smiley and his event production company Tavis Smiley Presents, the management event arm of the conference.

The nationally-televised forum, We Count! The Black Agenda is the American Agenda, will be held from 8 am – noon Saturday, March 20 at Chicago State University’s Emil and Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center, 9501 South King Dr., Chicago, IL.  The big problem with such a conference is that Tavis Smiley is not objective when it comes to President Obama.  Tavis is the moderator and he selected the panelists.

Tavis is all about Tavis, and that’s not against the law.  Tavis Smiley is a conglomerate, a brand.  Tavis owns an event production company, a book publishing company, is the host of Tavis Smiley on PBS, a weeknight talk show, and the host of The Tavis Smiley Show from PRI, a weekly news and opinion program featuring provocative commentary and exclusive interviews.  He’s the author of 14 books including his bestselling memoir, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America. He also founded the Tavis Smiley Foundation to provide leadership training skills to youth ages 13 to 18.  The brother has made good on the American dream, but that doesn’t seem to be enough.  It appears that Tavis appears to have an insatiable need to be at the top of the news cycle.  Tavis also appears to me to be more than a bit disingenuous in his criticism of President Obama and those who support him.

In some ways, Tavis reminds me of a “Me Too Kid.” “Me Too Kids,” feel shortchanged.  When they see something they want, they yell, “Me too, me too.”  They don’t care what it is the other kids are getting, they just want it too.

I agree with Tavis wanting to hold President Obama accountable to issues that matter to Black America.  It takes a certain amount of courage to do what Tavis does.  I don’t like the way he does it.  President Obama should be held accountable for a lot of things.  It is true that many black Americans are suffering disproportionately than some other groups of Americans.

I would like for Tavis to be more specific and define what this “Black Agenda” would look like.  Tavis says, “a Black Agenda is an American agenda.”  If that’s the case then why does Tavis want to call it a Black Agenda.

Thinking politically, the big question to be answered is this: “Is there anything significant to be gained in trumpeting a black agenda?” Wouldn’t health care, jobs and education be on a black agenda?  I’m just asking.

The reality is that President Obama is a politician.  In fact, he has proven to be a damn good politician.  He got elected.  Just because the President has not released an official “Black Agenda” does not mean that he is not actively and aggressively working on black issues to improve the lives of black Americans.  In fact, to question whether President Obama is working hard enough on black issues is fair game, but to imply that the president is not working hard enough on black issues is irresponsible and shortsighted.

Many of you are upset with Tavis.  Let me give you some advice.  Tavis Smiley is not worth raising your blood pressure.  Many of you may have been sipping the “Tavis Kool-Aid” for years and expected more from him, especially now that we have a black President.  The public spat with Rev. Al has shown us once and for all the real Tavis Smiley and you need to accept this in order to move on with your life.

I believe Tavis Smiley wants a better America for black people.  I also believe that he wants to get some type of credit or acknowledgment for improving the lives of black people.  His methodology of taking public swipes at President Obama and those who support him keep Tavis in the news.  At this point in his career it appears that Tavis is comfortable with the old adage that even negative publicity is better than no publicity.

This dispute between Rev. Al and Tavis is personal and bitter and will not evaporate or go away soon.  Tavis is hurt and wounded.  He consistently finds himself on the unpopular side of the issues in black America.  This is not to say the unpopular side of an issue is the wrong side of an issue.  There is no right or wrong on these issues between the two men.  The challenge is to find the best way to solve the problems that are negatively impacting the American people and black people disproportionately.

What do you think?

Gary A. Johnson is the Founder & Publisher of Black Men In America.com a popular online magazine on the Internet and the Black Men In America.com Blog. Gary is also the author of the new book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life.”

14 Responses to “Tavis, Rev. Al and the President”

  1. Egos are deadly. Toxic. Destructive. Al has a big one and Tavis has a gigantic one!

    Both men are good at what they do. Al is the last of the Frontline Go Getters and Tavis is still evolving. Tavis actually despite popular opinion has worked hard to help black people get to where they need to be: Over the Hump. His State of the Black Union ran its course thus the reason he “abandoned” it. I don’t too much plan him. He did his part. He re-started the dialogue. Challenged us to address our self-induced problems and encouraged us to defeat the American system generated barriers.

    Al speaks the conscious of countless blacks. He is relentless in his efforts. Tough in his approach – more than likely not ‘bought’. Owned by an unseen force. He is criticized by many – but no one can take away from what he has done and doing.

    Unfortunately, both black men are now doing what The Powers can appreciate:


    Sadly, the beef is really over differences of opinion pertaining to President Barack Obama. A man who stopped being completely effective when he left the tough work of community activism. Sadly, the argument at the links below will ultimately hurt Black America. It will not create some spirited debate that will lead to a resolution. It is another case of us against them:

    Tavis’s Supporters who are not too excited about the first black president versus Al’s Supporters who are in the president’s corner just because he is black.



    No winners…that I give a damn about!

    Another wasteful sacrifice.

    Brian E. Payne

  2. i really like your writing style

  3. Guys… guys, our democracy doesn’t seem to seems to function so well at this time. I wonder sometimes if european or other countries are laughing the the US. We are starting to turn into a 3rd world nation these days !

    • In my travels for years working with the Peace Corps as a volunteer and staff person, I have noticed the ‘laughs’. America is a joke. Say what we are – but behave in the opposite direction of what we say: HYPOCRITES!

      We been headed for Third World staus (unofficially) for years.

      -Brian E. Payne

  4. Jeff the Interpreter Says:

    Agitator, Instigator, Revelator, Thermostat or Thermometer, when you look at the stuff that makes good leaders, good trailblazers, good revolutionaries’ theses words must be a part of the DNA. When (I believe) Frederick Douglass was asked by some young protégé what can they do for our people, his response was “agitate, agitate, agitate.” It went beyond organizing and administrating and cut to the heart of the courage needed to make noise, cause a ruckus, shake some things up. I like many thought that Mr. Smiley’s position about the campaign of President Barack Obama was unnerving. President Barack Obama was the right person in the right place at the right time for the right reason. We just finished eight years of the most asinine demonstration of wasted intellect, power and vision. We saw the bar lowered to levels that embarrassed us overseas. We witnessed arrogance, disconnect, cultural incompetence, misguided leadership and shear stupidity and all that was being praised as the best we could do. There isn’t a moment or situation in the pass eight years of the Bush administration that I can point to with pride or admiration. So, now that we have an intellectual giant in our midst, Mr. Smiley wants us to judge the content of his character not the color of his skin and we or should I say I went bonkers. What? Tavis judge Barack like all the other Presidents??? What?? Hold Barack accountable??? What? Make sure he was the best candidate before we go into the voting booth. Are you f@cking crazy? And the preceding events lead to a self imposed hiatus and he was not missed. Sorry but he wasn’t, his commentary wasn’t missed, his forums were not missed and his voice wasn’t missed. So now he reads some articles in the NY Times, catches some quotes from his prominent friends, (I hope they are still friends…they do need to hug, brotha bump, share a steak dinner or go to the White House for a beer) and has a hissy fit.

    I heard his commentary after his encounter with Rev. Al Sharpton on TJMS and I got bored even though he was passionate, emotional, systematic in his perspective and coherent and yet the same thing he feels is wrong with Black leadership…talk, talk, talk and no action is the same thing he is calling for but he calls it “a conversation.” Well I’ve heard the conversations at the State of the Black Union, I’ve served as a sign language interpreter at the forum that commemorated the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. I’ve attended other gatherings and I am tired of these kinds of settings. The people that are invited to panel to their credit are accomplished and some have given blood, sweat and tears but when they take the dais somehow they become…uhhmmm…oh yeah…you ever gone to the circus? The lion act always got me. I love the idea of the lions and even tigers in a round cage. They run from one platform to the next, they sit next to each other and growl, they pose and posture all to the commands of a single man with a whip and a chair. Sometimes they get into scrapes with each other and then the man in the cage yells and cracks the whip and they turn their attention to the orders. Ultimately the thrill of this display for me is whether this dude will make it out alive.

    Well I think you follow me. I often wonder if the lions and tigers in the cage are not just growling and snarling but talking. I wonder if one lion is saying to the other: you know…we can take him if we work together. Then the other lion says: “Naw, if we do, we won’t be fed.” Then another lion says: “Right, plus we got it good, look at all the people come to see us.” Then another lion chimes in: “All y’all fools, I’m in this for me. but then one lion says: I hear y’all, yeah we get fed and yeah we are popular and perhaps there is something to being self serving but damn it I’m a lion and I’m kicking some ass…now I’m gonna count to three and when I finish I’m having me a “man-sandwich”!!!! Who’s with me?

    Sharpton may have agitated, Tavis may have instigated, but damn if focus on the man with the whip and kick some ass. Illiteracy, Health, Education, Employment, Spirituality are the issues of the day, hell, I’ll go for a renewed dress code so I don’t have to see four pairs of boxers to compensate for undersized jeans. But for God sake, FOCUS. Be lions and tigers and kick some social, political, national ass.

    Brother Barack is in the circus cage saying we can take them. The man with the whip keeps snapping at him. They are yelling at him during the joint session of Congress and mouthing off at the State of the Union. They are predisposed to stopping him at every turn and here we are growling at each other.

    In the words of the musical group Blue Magic: “So let the sideshow begin, hurry, hurry, step right on in. Can’t afford to pass it by, guarantee to make you cry.”

  5. musesofamom Says:

    Tavis Smiley is on the outside looking in. He found himself on the wrong side of history when he picked Hillar Clinton, and he has been unable to recover. Smiley is used to saying whatever he wants and he is rarely publicly challenged but he picked the wrong person to mess with when he went after Sharpton. Smiley craves attention and he got it. From the time the president announced his candidacy Smiley has criticized him as he would say “in Love”, but in “holding him accountable” smiley failed to see that we as a community support this president and yes we will criticize him and hold him accountable, but we will also support him, and that is something that Smiley won’t do or can’t do,

  6. Jeff the Interpreter Says:

    I wonder if Pres. Obama, if he hears or get a question about Tavis and Sharpton will comment like he did when asked about Kanye or the Mass. Police Dept.

    I re-visited the scene of the crime…namely Youtube and listen again and again the scream-fest between Tavis and Sharpton. I learned a few things. Obviously, this was incredibly wrong on all sides. Strikingly though was Tavis. I ain’t picking sides just analyzing what I was listening to. When Sharpton expressed his feelings about Tavis’ commentary. Tavis for second defended himself, took a few more minutes to clarify himself, even more seconds to express love and then went on to challenge Sharpton to accept his invitation to the forum.

    If I hurt you, if you tell me I hurt you. If I hear in public that you feel I attacked you and I am not compelled to apologize. hmmm, that says something about all dat love I have for you.

    If I am yelled at for something I did, If I am called out to be a liar and I don’t get an apology, something is wrong. Al and Tavis owe the Black community an apology. Why? I’m glad you ask.

    Tavis should apologize for getting everything wrong, for not calling these dear friends who he loves and ain’t nutin’ they can do about it, for calling Dorothy Height on the carpet, Dude she’s our grandmother, she can do, talk, go any damn where she pleases. For misrepresenting the perspective of Black unity.

    Al Sharpton owes us an apology. Why? I’m glad you asked again. Rev. Al should apologizes for using this to boost his ratings, for screaming at a Black man in public, for treating Tavis like a child and forgetting humility.

    Okay, fellas….I’m waiting. Tavis you first. Al….I’m listening.

    If you don’t then I will. I am sorry that these brothers in the struggle let ego and pride get in the way. I am sorry that these brothers forgot the first rule in a family scrobble, keep the dirty laundry inside. I am sorry that these two brothers for how to call each other first then go live. Al you could have told Tavis to call him after the show. Tavis, you could have waited until Al’s show was over.

    So I am sorry that I’m gonna have to teach my son how to handle public embarassment. I’m sorry that I am going to look at Tavis through the lens of “what’s in it for me”. I’m sorry to know that once you cross Al Sharpton the gloves comes off (is he that fragile?).

    They are sorry, this mess is sorry and this is a sorry situation.

  7. Hello just came across your blog and been browsing around some of your posts and just wondering why you selected a WordPress site dont you find it difficult to do anything with? Been thinking about starting one.

  8. Tavis Smiley is a very self-absorbed individual and I believe his issues start and end with Tavis not being brave enough to live his own truth. How he stormed off the TJMS during the 2008 election, ending the SOBU… I listened to him interview Van Jones and he continued to try to bait Jones into criticizing this White House. What keeps Smiley up at night ain’t just the plight of Black America, but the plight of Tavis Smiley. Look closer, listen more intently…there is definitely some self-loathing going on.

  9. Tami Jones Says:

    We once again have found ourselves divided, instead of coming together to build up we tear ourselves down and get tangled amd marred in non issues. We do not have time for this ridiculous discussion of he said he meant, we as a race have been held back for too long and we lose more and more support as we continue this behavior. Between Al & Tavis the Bigger Man has not surfaced.

  10. SupportMyPresident Says:

    I had an interesting conversation with a man that God, by chance, put in my path to help discuss my cable TV options (by the way, 29.99 for 6 mo isnt bad, no installation fee). He came in, sat in my living room and almost immediately, we clicked. Our conversation was virtually based solely on the premise that black people, particularly black men of all ages, young and old, need each other now more than ever. This situation with the President and this man that is being described here is a situation that happens everyday, in every African American community. I know President Barack Obama has a good heart and care deeply about his people and he can do that while attending to his broader responsibility of taking care of our country. Everybodies mother told them growing up “You have to be 2 times better then the next man to succeed etc.”. Hard enough without somebody in the same situation trying to pull you back down. Can’t get ahead. Crabs in the basket won’t let you out. I’m here to say that I support my President. In fact, in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr himself, he is a hero to not only me, but to millions of us world wide. We have to hold our brother up. It’s hard out there and we know it. You know people want him to fail, which is treasonous. I’m not telling people to agree with every policy or word that comes out of his mouth or thought he thinks, just remember he struggled and worked hard to get where he is. Appreciate the man, embrace him and as a community get out there and support the President. We’ve all, at one time or another, walked in his shoes. Maybe not as President but as Black Men proving our mettal to the greater establishment, even if we didnt know it. Support you President.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: