Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fuss Over Nothing: Most State of the Black Union Attendees Don't Mind Obama Not Being There


by Gregory Moore, YourBlackWorld.com

For weeks the Black American consciousness has been inundated with a story that Tavis Smiley is upset with Sen. Barak Obama for not being a last Saturday's State of Black America Union town hall that was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. The rheotoric had gotten so bad that Smiley had said he was getting death threats and that his family in Indianapolis were being harassed by some ill-thought comments he made. Yet for all of the hubbub that may have been going on, it seems that many who attended the event felt that Obama's absence was really no big deal.

"He has a galvanizing effect," Robert Bailey of Shreveport told the New Orleans Times Picayune. "This is a movement, it's not just about a presidential election."

The story became a major player in media circles for nearly two weeks because Smiley, who is a media personality on both the Tom Joyner Morning Show and on Tavis Talks, his PBS show. Smiley has been putting the SOBU forum on for nearly a decade and usually it has been without much controversy. Until now. Black commentators, bloggers and readers in general had expressed their opinion about his comments and about whether Obama had made the right decision or not.

Faye Anderson, a blogger for AOL's Black Voices, wrote in her latest blog entry about Smiley's situation: " I was motivated to watch the talkfest by the hundreds of thoughtful comments in response to my earlier post. The Black Voices community has convinced me that Barack Obama made the right decision to stay on the campaign trail. And that Smiley should "get over himself" and "shut the hell up."

Many African Americans are feeling the same way about this story now since it has now played out. Many feel that Smiley, who many believe to be a Black leader in his own right, stepped over the line in his assessment of Obama's decision and that he tried to become bigger than the campaign instead of requeasing to the notion that maybe the SOBU isn't the place for a presidential candidate to be.

"Personally, I don't think it's much of an issue," said Victor Reed. "I'm standing behind him 100 percent."

"It's better for his campaign to be in Texas," said Tiffany Washington.

The Obama campaign has been fighting many political insurgents since last February, when the Illinois Senator decided to throw his name into the presidential hat. Last year Obama got criticism from both Smiley and Dr. Cornel West for not attending the SOBU in Hampton, Virginia. West has since back tracked and is now a staunch supporter of the senator.

Smiley, however, has not changed his stance even up to the forum's start time.

In a response to both readers and his critics, Smiley wrote on the BAW website, " First, I want to thank Senator Obama for his letter, although I regret his decision. I said on Tuesday and I reiterate today, that I believe that this is a critical miscalculation and a missed opportunity."

Smiley went on in length about how long he has known Sen. Obama and that he truly is inspired by both him and his wife's work. Yet many African American readers, bloggers and commentators are holding Smiley to a standard that is usually reserved for someone on the political front.

Roland S. Martin, a CNN contributor and talk show host on Chicago's WVON, wrote at Essence's website " As an aside, when I asked my radio listeners on WVON in Chicago if Obama should skip the event, we got 29 calls in two hours, and only two said he should go. And this is a crowd that is normally in agreement with Smiley."

Smiley's SOBU event normally gets great coverage and becomes a boon for Black America but this year because of the ruckus that went before this year's event on whether Sen. Obama should have attended it or not. The bad publicity that Smiley and this event received was well deserved for the most part but it should have also served as a wake up for anyone who thinks that a status quo in how to deal with Black politicians is still the same.

Even though he did get a small bit of backlash from readers/listeners about his Obama comments, Smiley is catching a lot more from bloggers and commentators on his choice of corporate sponsors.

Writes Black Voices' Anderson, " Smiley should be held accountable for organizing a conference on "recasting our future" whose "title sponsor," Wells Fargo, is a key player in the subprime mortgage meltdown. Prof. Michael Eric Dyson noted that the subprime crisis has led to the 'greatest bleeding off of wealth in the history of this nation.'"

What many Black media experts are saying both publicly and privately is that Smiley is doing more to fatten his pocket rather than to really be a catalyst for the Black community.

Let's not mistake success for gluttony. It is harder to stay on top than to reach the top but what is even more difficult is to realize what may be of importance.

For Tavis, he needs to realize that if he is going to have a career in journalism, he needs to understand the ramifications of speaking the mind. True journalists, even opinion writers, know where the boundaries are at any given moment. Media personalities like Tavis don't have a clue.

And that is the very reason why many Black Americans have reached out and let him know of his error.

Learn the lesson Tavis. Don't just try to be a Black voice in the community; learn to accept the responsibility that comes with becoming a 21st century griot to the community.

If you don't, you will continue to catch the wrath of the very people you are trying to "tell the story" with.

Gregory Moore is the Managing Editor/webmaster for the San Antonio Informer (www.sainformer.net), a thrice-weekly online newspaper covering the African American community in San Antonio, Texas. He is also a frequent contributor for many national media outlets including ESPN, Fox Sports Radio and others.