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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In "Adversarial" Love: The Tavis Smiley Black Agenda

This was an interesting gathering and for what purpose? Tavis Smiley has been determined to make Barack Obama "accountable" to him since BEFORE the election. Smiley's agenda is for Smiley to have an agenda to which Smiley can hold the President accountable. That in essence was the problem with this gathering. It is true that the black community is suffering more than any other group in this economic downturn. That is not new. That is not to justify our being at the bottom but to understand the context of the struggle. Nonetheless, when it came to this forum, it was out of place. Its emphasis was wrong. It was adversarial, "in love."

The main "articulator" of this "adversarial love" is Professor Michael Eric Dyson. It was Dyson who said on "Morning Joe" that President Obama "runs from the issue of race like brothers on the block run from the police." What a demeaning metaphor? (See Harris-Lacewell analysis.) All of a sudden, the president is to be equated with "brothers on the block." It sounds like what someone on the left would say about George Bush, an opponent of civil rights. In the words of Lenin, Professor Dyson suffers from "an infantile disorder." Obama is where the American people are, black, white and others. Thankfully, he has a 53% approval rating and that's AFTER being black and the passage of health care reform that at the moment has negative approval. What Professor Dyson wants the President to do is to provide "black targeted" programs. While there is an urgent need in the black community, and as pointed out on the show by Dr. Julianne Malveaux, at the moment white employment numbers while for blacks they remain flat, the President has had to keep the Titantic from sinking.

What the President knows is that he has to win battles not provoke hostilities when there are alternative ways to achieve those same goals. He can see the hostility to the bail out of Wall Street and auto industry. What would be the hostility to "welfare" for black people in the name of welfare for black people? His job is to govern on our behalf, not become some sacrificial lamb.

There were three presentations that stand out in opposition to this "infantile disorder." They were by Reverend Jesse Jackson, Prof. Ron Walters and Minister Louis Farrakahn. Jackson, eschewing the black agenda, stressed the importance of getting the health care reform done. (This event was taped just prior to the health care bill passing.) He predicted that from that victory, other victories would follow. From that, jobs bills will follow. From that, the transformation to green energy will follow. Jackson's presentation provided evidence that at that moment there are policy issues out there that are more urgent than a black agenda.

Ron Walters made the important point that the president is not a dictator, he operates in a political context. Central to that political context is winning fellow politicians and policy wonks that you are correct. As Obama said, he is the president of even those people who did not vote for him. That is not to make a black agenda irrelevant or of lesser importance but before he can govern he must have the legitimacy of the electorate and not be their adversary. Walters also discussed the very delicate process of getting a president's wishes on the books.

The most impressive for numerous reasons, not the least of which are stature and his place in race politics, was minister Louis Farrakkahn. He warned that this event not be allowed to be used as blacks against the President. He made a very valuable point using his personal experience with that of mainstream black politicians. He spoke of how his defense of Jesse Jackson in 1984 was used against Jackson. The media made it out to be Jackson's embrace of anti-Semitism. He then spoke of how he had to lay low and out of sight so that Jews could support Dinkins for mayor of New York because of his heavy Jewish support. He went on to express his concern that this "adversarial love" might be used by the media to set up Obama against his real enemies, America's white nationalists. He stressed that this event and the ideas expressed here not expressed in such a way that they would hurt the President. The President is trying to govern a nation in which the white nationalist majority did not win. Though he remains popular, the white nationalists are on a campaign to make him meet "his Waterloo."

A fourth, and very useful, perspective was offered by Angela Blackwell. It was her position to synthesize understanding the political context in which Obama must operate, on the one hand, and on the other, using Smiley's covenant as a score card for what is being done toward a "black agenda."

While no harm may have been come from this "adversarial lovefest," the one thing is clear is that it sends the wrong message. It sends the message that we lost in 2008. We did not lose. In fact, for the first time in America's history the presidency is not viewed by the white nationalists as one of their own. They think black folks have won. That's why they say we need to take OUR country back. They assume a black man in office will not act in their interests. Rather than some protest group, we need to act like we won. The President is responsible for a major reform when it comes to health care. Given that blacks are disproportionately at the bottom rung when it comes to health care, blacks will be a major beneficiary of health care reform. When he takes on the banks about foreclosures, blacks will benefit from that. When the transformation to retrofitting the cities blacks will benefit from that.

I have all of my career fought off notions that our leadership is out there for the civil rights hustle. In this case, I must wonder is the leadership for this "black agenda in the age of Obama" is not just a civil rights hustle? Rather than an intellectual and enlightened perspective on where we are at this juncture, or how do we effectuate governance in our favor, this effort is still in the protest phase. Much of this forum was about performance not accomplishment. As Jimmy Boggs said to the black students at University of Michigan in 1969: "You'd better start thinking about running this country. If they can do it, you can do it." In this age of Obama, it's time to start thinking about governance from a progressive perspective. The future is in the hands of that 97% of blacks, 65% of Latinos, 62% of Asians and 43% of whites, this coalition of minorities. White nationalism was defeated at the ballot box and a new America is in the making.

The election represents a transformation away from the white nationalism of the "Reagan era" to a more progressive, economically and socially, just "Obama era." It's time we claim the victory that we won. RGN

For the program

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