Originally posted on theFreshXpress.com
“Every generation needs a new revolution.” – Thomas Jefferson
I hate to start off this conversation with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, spoken more than 200 years ago, but I have found no words more relevant to describe our current state of affairs in Black America.
Let me start off by saying everything I say in this commentary is rooted in love. I have always had a great respect for Tavis Smiley and what he has done in the form of bringing Black issues to the throat of mainstream America. Whether they pay attention or not, he uses his power and influence to bring these issues to light. The same applies to leaders and legends such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Whether you like them or not, they have a history of bringing the heat when it comes to how Black people are treated in America. You have to respect what they have done and what they continue to try to do. The reality, though, is that we indeed need a new revolution. That should be the first priority in any discussion on what’s important in the Black Agenda: a new revolution in Black leadership.
Other thoughts on the discussion…
Why the need to call the POTUS out? Does Tavis Smiley hate Barack Obama?
That is the question floating around barbershops in the black community. My response to the question of whether Tavis hates Obama is a resounding “no”. My own father asked me, “what do you think is up with Tavis?” Personally, I do not believe that Tavis Smiley feels any ill-will towards the leader of the free world. At the same time, I believe that any time people whom have the stature and credibility of a President Obama, a Tavis Smiley, and an Al Sharpton are
involved in a battle of philosophies, egos will come into play, and the issues will get muddled. In this case, people have chosen to reflect back on then-Senator Obama’s supposed slight of Tavis Smiley in the form of his failure to appear at Smiley’s State of the Black Union 2008. When Obama offered to send his wife Michelle in his stead, Tavis declined. From that point, people have assumed that Tavis has had a personal vendetta against the POTUS.
With no knowledge of Mr. Smiley’s personal feelings toward Obama, I don’t believe the discussion Tavis has tried to bring to the forefront is rooted in any hate, but rather a responsibility to the Black community. Tavis Smiley is a journalist first and foremost. It is his duty to spark discussion and debate on the issues that HE deems fit. He is not the President of the United States, nor does he head up any civic organizations to my knowledge. He owes no one anything. With that said, his call for a Black agenda seems to be rooted in the fact that he, as a journalist, commentator, and thought provoker, is charged with bringing issues to light that are near and dear to HIS heart, or on the minds of his demographic. The fact that he was able to organize a roundtable of distinguished African-Americans just proves that a few people feel the same way that he does.
The fact that enough people felt that they wanted to be involved in a discussion on the need for a Black agenda, and enough people wanted to attend the panel discussion live, and be involved through social media, proves that there was at least enough consensus to get this off the ground. And so the discussion took place. No ill-will involved, just discussion in the black community, about Black issues, about American issues. And since when has that ever been a problem?
Is there a need for a Black Agenda?
Yes. As Huey P. Newton stated, “I do not expect the White media to create positive Black images.” Piggybacking off of that sentiment, I do not expect a predominantly White America to be overly concerned with the plight of Black people. Armed with that knowledge, how can we move past our problems and struggles as a people, if we do not take matters into our own hands? Who is going to look out for us, besides us? Many panelists at We Count! echoed this sentiment, and I commend them for this. Yes, there is a need for a Black agenda, and that will be the case whether President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, or President Shawn Carter is in office. The President of the United States, whether Black, White, hip-hop or rock, is still a representative of the country as a whole. We are NOT living in a post-racial society just because we have a Black president. And we can’t expect that, just because we now have a Black president, Black issues will instantly be taken care of. Until we’re standing on equal footing in this country, our issues will need special attention. We’re working from a deficit, and rolling with the status quo or consensus of the country as a whole doesn’t make up any ground.
Sure, an excellent political and social agenda in America will affect Blacks positively. That is without question, but as We Count! panelist Raven Curling stated, “we are at the bottom of the totem pole. It makes sense to focus on us, because as we move up, so does everyone else.”
If you look at the state of Black affairs across the board, Black folk are losing. We’re portrayed as disproportionately affected in every study on finance, health, disease, money, marriage rate, education, and so on. If we’re losing, why wouldn’t you dedicate extra time, money, and attention to our issues specifically? I’m not saying that the Black agenda is any more important than the White agenda, the Hispanic agenda, or the Homosexual agenda. What I am saying is that minority issues are American issues. Focusing more attention on our issues is great for the country in general, not just the minorities pushing for the action on these issues. And once again, no one is going to look out for you, better than yourself.
There is a need for a Black agenda, and Black folk need to identify the needs of the community as a whole, bring these issues to politicians (not just President Obama) on all levels, and work to figure out how to bring action and progress to our plight. We need the Black agenda, because the status quo isn’t working and isn’t worried about us.
How do we advance an African-American Agenda in the era of Obama?
I’ll tell you how we don’t do it… and that is by relying on the same faces to talk about the same issues. Tavis Smiley convened these panelists to discuss the need for a Black agenda: Cornel West, Louis Farrakhan, Angela Glover Blackwell, Tom Burrell, Michael Fauntroy, Raven Curling, Dorothy Wright Tillman, Michael Eric Dyson, Jesse Jackson, and Julianne Malveaux. If you don’t know who any of these people are feel free to Google them. I’ll tell you this right now, only one of them is under the age of 40. I actually don’t know that to be a fact because I can’t confirm some ages; however I do know this to be a fact: the majority didn’t connect with anyone under the age of 40. And that’s a major issue.
If we’re talking about advancing the Black agenda and we’re bringing people to the head table to lead this discussion, we need people who are going to be around to see that advancement through. I’m not exactly sure what Rev. Jesse Jackson did after the We Count! discussion, but he looked sleepy during the event. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he took a nap. Maybe even two. I’d even suggest he does a lot of sleeping now a days, and deservedly so. But sleepy leaders don’t motivate the people and I do not know one person that was impressed by Jackson’s performance or message. Rev. Jackson founded PUSH in 1971 and the Rainbow Coalition in 1984, yet what does either organization do in 2010?
A better choice would have been the man I reverently call Young Jesse, more commonly known as Jesse Jackson Jr. The amount of respect and admiration given to Young Jesse via Twitter on Sunday (while watching the Health Care debate unfold on C-Span) went leaps and bounds past any admiration given to Senior Jesse on Saturday. It’s not that people don’t respect Senior Jesse, it’s that people don’t connect with Senior Jesse anymore. We’ve talked at length about the relevance of Black organizations from the past, we’ve talked about the passing of icons, a new generation of Black leaders, and we’ve asked Black leaders to stop fighting the future. Clearly, there is a rising call for older Black leaders to pass the torch. If the same people are at the table (and have been for the last 10-30 years) depending on the person, you have to question what is really being accomplished by them at this point. Coaches in professional sports have a very short shelf life because their message gets old and it takes a new, motivating, inspiring force to get the team going. The same applies here. We need new coaches throughout the league.
Young Black people responded positively to Raven Curling, although her only call to fame is being SGA President of the host university of the panel, Chicago State. Just imagine if there was an even stronger young Black presence on the panel. Think of how the people would be energized and motivated. Where was Hill Harper? Marc Lamont Hill? Jeff Johnson? Dr. Boyce Watkins? Furthermore, there were only four women present on the panel. Where were the women? Where was the openly homosexual panelist? Do athletes not have anything productive to say?
And the biggest omission… no one representing the hip-hop community.
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson comes close, with his allegiance to hip-hop, but many in the young urban community don’t even know who he is (which is a shame). So there it was: a panel discussion focused on setting the Black agenda, with no one present from the fraternity that has been setting the Black agenda consistently for the past twenty years… rappers. No one has any greater influence present-day than the rappers we deem as cultural icons. Sure, odds are slim that you can get a Jay-Z or a Diddy involved. But you can definitely get a Common, a Lupe Fiasco, or a Kanye West, whom all are from Chicago, where the panel discussion took place. Even if you turn to a Mos Def, a Talib Kweli, or a Jay Electronica, it isn’t hard to find someone that can expand the discussion and engage a broader, and extremely important demographic. Yet, it seems the collection of iconic figures present on the panel either don’t know how, or simply refuse to pass the torch.
Let’s say you leave half the panel the same. If you sprinkle the remainder of the panel with someone from the hip-hop community, a couple of up and coming Black leaders (under the age of 40), and more women, you have a much more diverse panel that speaks to, engages, and involves more people.
So who is going to advance the Black agenda, once we identify and target it? It won’t be the people sitting around the table Saturday, so when are they going to pass the torch? That was the biggest fault I found in this discussion. The representatives didn’t really represent the majority of the people paying attention.
“There will always be men struggling to change, and there will always be those who are controlled by the past.” – Ernest J. Gaines
I’d venture to say young Black folk are struggling to change, yet the older Black leaders are still controlled by the past. If I heard one more reference to the Civil Rights Movement during the discussion, or one more self-glorifying back pat, I would have sworn I was watching a live re-enactment of a history book or a collection of memoirs. We can’t advance an African-American agenda in the era of Obama if the same people are talking about the same issues and not engaging anything or anyone new. In this era of Obama, did we not learn anything from Obama himself?
Do We Really Count?!
Who is really fired up about the issues and about progress in the Black community? I’m not mad at the inclusion of Minister Farrakhan. He had some good things to say which were relevant today. Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson are recognizable to and respected by many young Black Americans, so no problem there. There were many panelists who had great things to say and I do think this conversation was necessary, productive, and brought the issue of a Black agenda back into the mainstream consciousness. I just think that some of the panelists should have been exchanged for fresh voices. They should’ve been exchanged with people who are clearly fired up about the issues and progress in the Black community. They panelists included are indicative of “Black leadership” as a whole and while these people are respected, they should be commended for their past and continue work in the Black community, but they will not be the people leading us into the future, and therefore, need not be included in a discussion of this nature on this topic anymore.
It’s time for a revolution in Black leadership; and if this panel did anything, it proved that point. Even if this discussion did lead to the implementation of a concrete Black agenda, it will have been set from the perspective of 60-year-olds. The equivalent in White America would be having 10 John McCain’s sitting around a table telling war stories and rationalizing their policies for the future based on their experience in the Vietnam War.
I didn’t vote for that in 2008 and I’m definitely not voting for it in 2010. Whether my leaders are Black, White, purple or polka-dot, I want people that represent my vision for my country. Leaders I can relate to. This is rooted in love. Let us set a fresh agenda as we move forward in this era of progress and change.
Let us count too.