Tavis Smiley Ends State of Black American Union Show, Continues Media Lockdown of Obama's Black Left Critics

State of the Black UnionTavis Smiley announced on January 6 that the annual State of the Black Union event, held in early February for the last ten years, will not be held this year. His public reasons are vague and unconvincing. The real deal is that corporate media, the Democratic party and the Obama administration cannot tolerate the emergence of public leftward pressure from Black America. So the black conversation that SOBU showcased over the last decade must be silenced.

Tavis Smiley Ends State of Black America's Union Show, Continues Media Lockdown of Obama's Black Left Critics

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Tavis Smiley announced on January 6 that he was ending SOBU, the annual State of the Black Union. For ten years, SOBU drew black academics, civic, political, labor, religious and business leaders together each February for a day-long discussion of the current status and future hopes of African America. Each year thousands attended in person and millions more watched the event live on C-SPAN. SOBU had grown so large and popular that it spawned secondary events for the live attendees, along with book and lecture tours.

Tavis's cancellation announcement, a brief video on his tavistalks.com web site is long on folksy introductions, self-congratulation, thank-yous, and goodbyes. The reasons he offers for ending the annual event are brief and unconvincing. Ten years ago, he offers, “...there was only one syndicated black radio show... there was only one black TV network... we didn't have an African American president... (and) we no longer have to wait for one day a year in February to discuss issues that matter to us...” on TV.

Tavis is talking nonsense here. The so-called black TV and radio operations feel no obligation to field news operations because they don't view African Americans as a polity with opinions worth informing, sharing or airing.
To these station owners, black or otherwise, African Americans are just another marketing target to be sliced, diced, age and income stratified and delivered up to corporate sponsors. A master marketer himself, Tavis knows this better than anybody.

As a marketing contraption SOBU was a runaway success. Corporate sponsors like Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Exxon-Mobil and McDonalds got their logos and corporate messaging, and even some of their spokespeople in front of millions of black eyeballs. C-SPAN, which the cable TV monopolists offer as a pitiful substitute for the thousands of public, educational, governmental and local news channels they ought to be funding with the trillions they make of public subsidies, public resources and the use of the public rights of way, got to pose as a kind of “public service.” Of course SOBU manufactured and magnified the celebrity status and earning power of Tavis Smiley. SOBU spawned a number of spinoff ventures, sold millions of books and videos, and made household names in black America of people like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson.

But the State of the Black Union did things for millions of ordinary African Americans too, people with an urgent hunger to hear some of their unique experiences taken into account, their longings for peace abroad and economic justice at home validated, and more. Millions of ordinary African Americans privately question why jobs can't be created in their communities even in good economic times, and why the only model of urban economic development is moving poor people out and richer ones in. They know at close hand the devastating effects of our society's policy of racially selective policing, prosecution and mass incarceration, and marvel at why no discussion including their viewpoint on such matters can be found in the mass media, including the so-called black media.

Flawed as it was, and layered with right wing prosperity-gospel preachers, black corporate hacks and “black conservatives” who owe their careers to white corporate largesse, SOBU put forward religious, labor, academic and civic leaders who, for several minutes at a time could speak on these matters. If they were skillful enough, some could flip the entire panel discussion into explorations of these topics.

For one Saturday a year then, SOBU was eagerly awaited and watched by millions because it tried to reflect the very real black internal conversation, which simply could not be heard anyplace else on TV. To a significant degree, it ws a hit because it reflected and validated the ordinary wisdom and experience of black America. For ten years SOBUwas a win-win situation for everybody. But that's over now. There's a new sheriff in town. Like Tavis said, ten years ago we didn't have a black president. That's what's different, and that's why SOBU is being called off.

In a 2010 SOBU, a year into the Obama administration some SOBU panelists are bound to question the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to note that the president's pledge of gradual withdrawal from Iraq ain't happening, and that giving a peace prize to a war president, well, doesn't make sense. Others on the panel would take the president to task for not prosecuting Bush-era war criminals, for continuing torture, assassination, kidnappings and secret prisons. Inevitably others would express disappointment that the president's promised universal health care bill has turned out to be an bailout of private health insurance companies, and mention the dreaded words “single payer.” Al Sharpton might be taken to task for accepting a half million dollar bribe to team up with Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich and campaign against public education. Dissatisfaction with the president's willingness to bail out speculators and bankers, but not rescue homeowners is bound to surface. Somebody would bring up Israel, the occupation of Palestine, and Gaza, or wonder aloud why the US is periodically bombing Somalia and Yemen.

Tavis can't stack the panels to exclude or silence the critics. How can he tell Cornel West, for example to stay home or stay quiet? He knows his panelists, he knows his audience, and he knows his politics. Even if no panelist dropped more than one of these points, the effect on Democrats and on the White House of any two or three of them, of public black criticism aired on TV in front of millions of African Americans would be catastrophic. The solid black support the Obama administration enjoys depends on excluding, marginalizing, and hiding any viewpoints to the left of corporate mainstream Democrats. As long as the only opponents of the president allowed access to the mic are Republicans, Obamites can demand that African Americans continue to circle the wagons around the president no matter how much he ignores the actual wishes of what is supposedly his core constituency.

A 2010 State of the Black Union would be an uncontrollable source of public, highly visible leftward pressure aligned with longstanding and deeply held political stands in the black America upon the Obama administration, something corporate media are intent on preventing. And nobody personifies corporate media more than the C-SPAN, the public voice of the cable TV industry, whose biggest player, Comcast is now poised to merge with NBC.

Tavis mumbles every now and then about speaking truth to power. But the last time he expressed even a mild disagreement with Barack Obama he was hounded off the Tom Joyner Morning show as a “hater” and forced to apologize. Speaking truth to power has its costs, and Tavis may be reluctant to pony up any more. It's like he said ten years ago, when he started SOBU, we didn't have a black president.

Maybe a few years from now, when Republicans regain the White House, it'll be time to crank SOBU up again. Till then, the State of the Black Union is dead, because the White House, the Democratic party and the corporate media establishment need to silence the black conversation, and assure that the only public pressures on the president come from the right.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at Bruce.Dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.



Tavis has left the building....

You made some good points in explaining what the atmosphere for this year SOBU would have been like; however, I believe that you have taken the main focus away from what the conference was all about. It was about Black Americans coming together despite all the adversities that will undoubtedly be cast upon us forever. It was about teaching Black Americans the importance of being accountable for ourselves and setting the standards for the next generation. It was about allowing (conscious) Black Americans to voice their concerns about the world and how it directly affects our communities. I will truly miss this gathering of liked minds, but the one thing that I felt it lacked were root discussions/solutions on the foundational dynamics of our community. 
No one ever talks about the “whys” on the reasons our foundations are cracked and falling apart. I never see anyone talking to that teenage female with kids-no education-living off of the government; or the teenage male who has no education-clothes 10x bigger then you he is-smelling like he just smoked an ounce of weed. Those conversations just are not included and they should, so we all can get to the root of their demise. So they can break the chain that has been passed down to them by their parent/caretakers. Our youths and some adults are mentally and emotionally malnourished, and need help in understanding that their upbringing-parents lack of parenting skills does not have to dictate the direction that their lives are going in. It is about being conscious of the past, which aids in redirecting your future.


I had not much info about who Obama was, so I turned on the TV to the SOBU, expecting to see him and find out why he had been nominated. After watching what seemed like forever, Tavis announced that Obama would not be appearing, as he was too busy campaigning (or something like that).  It was interesting to hear the announcement some hours later, that Hillary Clinton, who was also campaigning, had somehow found time to come to the SOBU. Right then, I had doubts about Obama.  What impressed and depressed me greatly, were the comments by OH Congresswoman Tubbs-Jones.  She went into detail about how Obama supporters...especially Jesse Jackson, Jr.  were threatening Clinton supporters with their claims that they would see to it that CBC members would recieve no funding for any of their upcoming campaigns..and that the DLC would make sure other Democrats would be given funding and support to run against them.  Many of the Obama supporters at the conferrence protested against her comments, but other members of the CBC said she was telling the truth.  Some said they had gotten death threats, and were called traitors to "the race"...for not supporting Obama.  I understand that days later...Tavis and his family members also recieved death threats.

Protest & petition all you want, just don't f/u the "brand"

Such is the conumdrum with the Black "Misleadership" class.  Do I lead or get paid?  The failure of Smiley to forego the SOBU is a galling sellout, a craven act that provides political censorship of Obummer.  If Smiley was truly committed to uplift of the African American he would not only host the event this year, he would seek to expand and grow upon it YEAR AFTER YEAR.  He would seek to distill whatever kernals of knowledge flowing from it into pamphlets, websites, and all kinds of materials that could be dispersed and used as learning tools or blueprints throughtout Black America.  I thought being "multimedia" was part of his "brand" too?   In other words, he would try to build BLACK INSTITUTIONS with fervor.  He would dedicate himself to IMPLEMENTATION.

But Tavis is all about his "branding."  His unique "personal style." And his "brand" ain't that much different from Obama's at the end of the day, hence he's joined at the hip on silencing his critics.  The "brand" is to pretend Black protest from a comfortable, non-threatening purch while pursuing Black cooption.  He's also dodging his own personal bullets derived from the shame he brought upon himself touting Wells Fargo subprime mortgages to Bros and Sisters.  It's kind of hard to get preachy when you the main sinner.  But if he was a real "man" one with integrity and committment, he would indeed use that lesson to tell other lessons, to encourage savings, thriftiness, supporting Black credit unions and so on, he would at least attempt to make amens for his "sins."   In otherwords, Smiley could make "operational" many of the things outlined in, for example, Powernomics.  But alas, that would f/u the "brand,"-- speaking truth to power that is.
Tavis's mission has never truly been to speak truth to power, it's to bring about a hodge podge of "Black Stars" and "Celebrities," many doing their "own branding" in their own right, (although many were in fact substantive) and thereby generate his brand, a hipper, slicker more mainstream version of Ed Gordon.  A better entrepreneur, one connected to "the world's stage."  Right now he seems, from what little I watch of him, to be a Black Charlie Rose wannabe. 
If you can't speak truth to power when you raking in cash, a multi-millionaire, with money being the basis of "freedom," and power, then WTF?  Black people need to stop looking up to the "talented-tenth" many whom are rank sellouts, stop anointing these people as "gatekeepers" of knowledge and wisdom. (I would be classified as one of those in case you're wondering)  Until they stop doing that and seek their own individual power and enlightment they will continue to be dazzled and stunted by "branding" from the Misleadership Class.

The Myopia of the SOBU is telling at this moment in time

Would it be asking too much if the luminaries of the SOBU applied their considerable "fame," "fortune," and status and intellectual heft to tie development in the "ghetto," to development in "international ghettos."  The earthquake in Haiti brings this into focus.
Given the tragedy in Haiti, and given the US's centuries old "attacks" on the structural political/economic independence and welfare of Haiti, would this not be a good time to reexamine "transnational" or "PanAfrican links."  What could the "cracker establishment" say about this that would hold currency in the face of the recent tragedy?  The neglect of Haiti is a classic example of universal sellout and absence of creativity amongst the Black Misleadership class.  To effectuate real change takes more than good power point presentations and multimedia displays.
Would not struggling African Americans, unemployed and impoverished as they are, strike fairer trade bargains with our brethren?  Do you need a Ph.D from Harvard to figure this out and implement?  Or does it require "approval" from the White Establishment?  Would some of our Black "leaders" please request a permission slip from "Whitey" so we can get on with this?  Or will we continue to hide behind self-censorship and head pats?

Malcolm X

you raise some  good points. Malcolm X was trying to "internationalize the African American struggle" at the  time of his passing.
this " misleadership"  is not limited to  america. its especially persuasive in africa; in many  ways, most africian  countries are still  euro-american  colonies.
i still have some  hope, primarily  because of what's happening in  latin america.


Excellent observation, " i still have some hope, primarily because of what's happening in latin america." Yes, Latin America gives much hope.
Things look bleaker in Africa especially when you consider the Extreme Christian Buffonery of the Ugandan government, aided, abetted, funded and directed by the Extreme White Christian Nationalists.
The audacity and rank stupidity in calling for the prosecution of gays, to extradite them from other countries, try them in kangeroo courts (probably torture them), and either sentence them to life imprison or death, gives me considerable pause to reflect on whether or not Christianity is indeed the White Man's Religion. 
I've have blogged for long on the subject of the TEMERITY, AND VAPIDNESS OF BLACK CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP.  Religious beliefs and doctrines and personal beliefs aside, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PROTEST NATURE of the Historical Black Church?  Where is their power other than in other-worldly promises, or promises in the here and now for the few who coopt and sellout?  Why have they allowed their brethren in and out of the pews to be attacked by White Christian Nationalists for decades?  And then to sell out Rev. Wright?  I pray for you vapid, empty-hearted, empty-headed "Christians,"  blindly, unquestionably supporting two racist regimes:  one here in America and another in Israel.
Stop selling out and regain your historical compass. "Jesus" is more than just gospel cds, award shows, bumper stickers, and sucking up to White Racists in order to make a buck.  He wasn't poisoned with "Prosperity Ministries" nor did he organize any.
Ugandans ought to be ashamed and embarassed at their "Christian Enlightment."  Shamefully focusing on sexual lifestyles rather than improving the lot of the people.  Sickening.
Update #1:
And let's not forget what the great Christian leader,  on whose network appears many prominent "saved" Black quislings, one of the most "respected" Christian leaders in America if not the world said about the earthquake in Haiti:
Robinsons linked the earthquake in Haiti to a "pact with the devil."  He called it a "blessing in disguise."  Translation:  Them N*gg*as in Haiti made a pact with the devil when they get rid of their colonial, White masters.  Keep sending your donations to Rev. Pat.   More proof that the American variant of Christianity today is the White Man's Religion??
Let's see if T.D. Jakes, Mr. Price, Bishop Long or some other "Prominent" Black Negro Preacher comes out and decries The Great White Father's comment?  I'm waiting with baited breath.
Pathetic sellouts!

Tavis & Obama have the same masters

SOBU was  really about  promoting  Tavis  & he invited  some of his "intellectual  superstar" pals along  for the  ride.  Much of what is discussed on this website is off limits at the SOBU. Why should "the man"  feel the  need to "silence"  Tavis when  his  career is dependent on  sponsors like" Wal-Mart , Wells Fargo, and McDonalds?"  Tavis is  bought and  paid for  just like Obama & damn near every black "leader," politician, intellectual you'll see on tv. The  truth is, "the man" no longer  sees a need  for  Tavis & he's been discarded like a used condom.

Incompetent Frauds R Us

If this headline doesn't grab you and illumine the ever pressing need for a SOBU, then I don't know what will.  Courtesy of the WashPost:
U.S. unemployment rate for blacks projected to hit 25-year high
By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010; A20
At this juncture in history, for Tavis Smiley to punt on the SOBU, and equally, for his past participants NOT TO CALL HIM OUT ON IT says alot about the State of the Black Union.  I mean, wtf, do we need Tavis or Obummer or some other prominent sell out to put out a call to order, or can some other prominent "Negro" take the lead?  Does anyone of them want to step on Tavis's little toes?
This coming Monday we'll have to listen and bear with loads of bullshit and platitudes and distortions of MLK's legacy, about Post-Racial b.s., about the advances of African Americans, about blah blah blah, but not one of the frauds and incompetents perpetrating as Black Leaders will talk about the need for a new "War on Poverty," one lead by the Black working, middle and professional class instead of the "Liberals" in D.C.
What more proof is needed to expose the bankruptcy of the SOBU and it's myriad participants?  F**k Tavis and his "copy-righted" brand, somebody needs to issue a call to arms and stop plugging your goddamn books and cds.
p.s.  Read the "comments" to the article to get a sense of what help isn't on the way.  The crackers are touting "Post Racial."

Tool though he is

Till then, the State of the Black Union is dead, because the White House, the Democratic party and the corporate media establishment need to silence the black conversation, and assure that the only public pressures on the president come from the right.
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Tool though he is, Tavis tried

Though indisputably a 'bought & paid-for' corporate tool, Tavis at least tried to do some things to bring a higher level of knowledge to Black America. In trying, he accomplished more toward that goal than 99.99% of the rest of the Brothers and Sisters in this country.
I never really liked Tavis and never watched the SOBU, but it had to help at least a few people who were viewing it. I'm sure that there is a nasty backstory to the cancellation, but Tavis might not really be the one at fault.
One thing needs to be said: when voices of conscience are being silenced, ostensibly by a president who shares some of the same melanin content as most of the SOBU participants and watchers, the march to totalitarianism and thought-crimes are barreling down the road at full tilt.


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