The Sad State of Black Politics: Are Cornel and Tavis Right?

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With the election hoopla behind us and everyone off the edge of their seats many of us are curious as to the direction our country will head in the next few years. Some of us are hopeful, some apprehensive and others completely pessimistic. Thursday after the election I had the pleasure of listening to Tavis Smiley, Amy Goodman and Dr. Cornel West speak at Northwestern University.

The event’s main purpose was to inform the public on the importance the public media plays in our being educated in what is going on in the world, lack of diversity in public media as well as how head honchos at public media stations are slowly starting keep us from knowing the issues.

The Smiley and West show was yanked from Chicago’s own WBEZ public radio stations 6 days before the election with no complaints on the show and no valid reasoning for doing so. Smiley and West have been slammed for leaning too far towards “advocacy journalism” which is seen as an issue because the viewpoints being expressed are not objective enough for the masses and may lead people to believe that one’s bias may sway or persuade the public to subscribe to what they believe to be true.

I gave a major side-eye to the fact that this show was cancelled so conveniently 6 days before the election. I’m also side-eyeing the fact that Mr. Smiley and Dr. West are being so heavily criticized when we have news outlets like FOX News spewing evident bias and racism on the daily.

Several other topics were discussed such as the Occupy movement, Troy Davis, immigration, poverty, gun violence and our President re-elect Barack Obama. The commentary on the latter caused my brain to marinate a bit on our president and his competency.

Barack Obama, the first Black president has danced across the hearts of millions of Americans. His charisma, his eloquent public speaking skills, his gorgeous wife and adorable daughters and his perceived sincerity in his mission to bring change to America have all played a role in what makes so many of us love him. I support the president, I voted for him twice. I think he has done some good things and some courageous things in his first term and look forward to what he may do in his next 4 years as commander-in-chief. However, Smiley and West brought up some interesting points about the fine tuning that the president needs in his second term.

Obama has won the support of most minority groups and I’m sure there are several people who would deem this as something that was well-calculated. He spoke out in support of gay marriage and won over LGBTs. He made promises to Latinos in his first term to make immigration/deportation relations a priority and won over the Latinos. He made women’s health a priority and won over most women. And him simply being a Black democrat was more than enough to win over Blacks as the majority of us vote for democrats and the idea of seeing one our own in the white house for the first time ever is simply enough for most of us. But it should not be enough.

There are many political analysts that believe that Black America has declined socioeconomically under Obama’s term. Obama has distanced himself from a race-conscious approach. He’s even said himself that he is “not the president of Black America” and that “the most important thing he can do for the African-American Community is the same thing he can do for the American Community and that is get the economy going”. Which makes it very clear to me that Obama is a Black leader not a leader of Blacks.

With a lack of activism and responsibility toward improving Black America, there are many people who would argue that Obama’s presidency undermines the very movement that made it possible. Some believe that we need a Black leader that is completely separate from the president and the US government while many can’t grasp why in a post-civil rights era we have to demand specialized leadership to get our problems taken care of.

On one hand, he is the President of the United States and holds the responsibility of the betterment of all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or creed. On the other hand, as a Black man in a position of such immense power he does hold a responsibility to push forward a people who hold a legacy of fighting for rights through activism, community involvement and shedding light on issues that most people are too cowardly to speak out on.

One of the most thought provoking issues that were discussed were the topics or lack thereof that were discussed during the presidential debates. They spoke on the Middle East, Obamacare, the military budget, Big Bird and a slew of other foreign and domestic policy topics. What about poverty? What about gun violence/control in cities like Chicago? What about HIV/AIDS? What about bailing out bankers instead of homeowners? What about the wage gap? Or the high percentages of incarceration amongst Black/Hispanic men and women compared to white men and women? What about the corrupt police forces who are supposed to be protecting us? Few of these items were touched on and when they were, they were done so in a sidebar way.

The marginalization of the debate topics did something very detrimental: it showed the world that those types of issues are not crucially important.We are a multifaceted country with a plethora of people from different backgrounds, belonging to different classes and with different priorities. Gun violence in Chicago doesn’t matter to a middle class family in New England. An affluent entrepreneur is not going to care about a Muslim Black woman who lost her job once the company found out she was not an immigrant. People who are sheltered by their cushy lifestyles away from inner city iniquities have never known the working class family that has lost their home of 20 years because they could no longer keep up with the payments due to layoffs, frozen wages and heavy inflation or even the people who sleep in subways with urine soaked clothes that once had homes and jobs.

Those who have been privileged enough to receive a quality education could never fathom the plight millions of young people desensitized by the media who could not even depend on the country in which their parents pay taxes to receive a decent education from the public school system. Many Americans have adopted an attitude of not taking heed to major societal issues that are not going on in their direct environment because they don’t see them and because they don’t affect them. Unfortunately, it is those who are higher up in the great American totem pole that not only control what is going on but also influence the policies and laws that are put forth that affect those who never really had a say so. We cannot depend on our government to speak on the things that matter to us if we ourselves are not doing our jobs to draw attention to them.

We have a Black president and that’s cool, but that should not be enough for us to stop reaching beyond our limitations, we invented reaching. As Smiley stated “great presidents are not born, they’re created” and they’re created by the people when they refuse to stand for a lack of attention on the erosion of our communities. All of the praise and accolades of the president should be saved for when a time comes that Obama’s legacy is not just that he was the first Black president but that he was a president who served his country without forgetting about his own people and the issues that plagued them and inspired us to use our voices and fight for what is ours.

When asked how do we push our president and how do we get our voices heard since simply voting is not enough, Cornel West responded by telling us to speak on the issues, to never shut up about them and to never forget about them which is something he has done extremely well in his extensive career as a philosopher, educator and activist. We the people are as equally responsible for the state our country is in as the president is. We’ve already drifted away from the attention span of our government by silencing ourselves. Let us not be the complacent ignorant people they want us to be. From how we set examples and influence others around us to the involvement we have in our communities, there is always something we can do amongst all of the other things we can’t. It may not be in all of our bones to be leaders, community organizers or advocacy journalists but what should be in our bones is the ability to learn, to educate ourselves and seek truth beyond the accepted and never questioned ideals and norms of our society.

LaChelle is an aspiring novelist and songwriter based in Chicago. An avid reader, writer and social commentator, her mission is to engage the minds of others through her artistry.

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