by Dr. Boyce Watkins
The Obama presidency has squeezed the vitality out of Black politics, which is now defined by obeisance to the Black resident of the White House. “There are some who feel that the value of protecting a president from any form of black accountability far exceeds the consequence of seeing millions of people suffer in poverty, death and despair.”
How King Barack’s Administration Has Neutered Black Leadership
by Dr. Boyce Watkins
This article originally appeared in Your Black World.
“You should never give your vote to a politician without telling them what you expect in return.”
Let me start from the truthful beginning: I love and respect Tavis Smiley and Cornel West immensely. I don’t care who knows it, and I don’t care who gets mad. I’ve had my differences with both men in the past, but I was taught that even if you admire someone, you should still be honest when you critique them. My mama reminds me of that every time we argue over politics. What I love most about Smiley and West is that they are among a small number of black voices that truly speak for those who are suffering the most. Rather than believing that symbolism pays the bills, they are seeking substantive evidence that any politician seeking the African American vote actually delivers what he or she promised. We can all agree that to whom much is given, much is expected; but this principle has been abandoned over the last four years.
With that being said, I can’t express how saddened I was to hear that Smiley & West, the radio show hosted by these two men, has been cut in several cities for a “lack of balance.” Boston, Chicago, and other major cities have let go of the show, likely due to the massive backlash that the two receive for disagreeing with King Obama.
I refer to Barack as “King Obama” because it appears that many African Americans don’t want a Democracy, but instead prefer an Aristocracy. We want the king to have absolute power, like Bishop Eddie Long running a vacation bible school for teenagers. Rather than living in a land that supports antiquated ideas like “freedom of speech,” we prefer a world where anyone who dares to question the will of the king should have his head cut off in public. Rev. Jesse Jackson, for example, has been cut off from the Obama White House for four years since being caught on camera saying that he wanted to remove some “critical body parts” of the president, but it is King Barack who has actually done all the neutering.
“Boston, Chicago, and other major cities have let go of the show, likely due to the massive backlash that the two receive for disagreeing with King Obama.”
Not only have President Obama and his team dismantled and discredited nearly all of their African American critics (not via substantive arguments, since the black community is far worse off now than it was in 2008 – I challenge anyone to present data to the contrary), they’ve also emasculated many of their African American allies. Rev. Al Sharpton inexplicably went onto 60 Minutes and said that he would NEVER criticize President Obama, even if he was wrong or the black community was suffering (which it is). This kind of relationship is one that goes beyond the expectations of standard political support and ventures into the land of the blatantly corrupt and comically dysfunctional. Nearly every black analyst given a position on MSNBC, TheGrio or a few other outlets is expected to bow to the king at all times, or risk losing it all. This is NOT the way Democracy is supposed to work, and this is also why we continue to be disrespected as a viable political constituency.
Tavis and Cornel are important for the preservation of freedom within the black community. You don’t have to agree with them in order to appreciate their right to intelligent self-expression. If you think they’re wrong, then PROVE IT. Don’t just try to discredit them as irrelevant hacks. Any time we are more focused on suppressing inconvenient truths than confronting them, we are truly lost. It’s not as if anyone can argue that Cornel and Tavis are lying about the poverty problem in America, since every study imaginable says they are correct. It’s not as if anyone can say that they are misleading us about the depth of mass incarceration and urban violence, our children are filling up body bags and prison cells all across America. The dividing line that has emerged in black leadership today is that there are some who feel that the value of protecting a president from any form of black accountability far exceeds the consequence of seeing millions of people suffer in poverty, death and despair. I do not find this to be acceptable.
“Nearly every black analyst given a position on MSNBC, TheGrio or a few other outlets is expected to bow to the king at all times, or risk losing it all.”
Where we’re getting it wrong is by believing that the best way to help President Obama is to sit and quietly wait for the administration to decide to do something for the black community. That’s like a mother who thinks she’s helping her son by not asking him to do his homework or clean his room until he feels like it. She’s not showing love for her son by behaving this way, she is making him all the more irresponsible and letting him call the shots inside the house. Similarly, a politician should not be telling you what his agenda is going to be, you should be giving him your agenda.
So, whether you support President Obama or someone else, you should never give your vote to a politician without telling them what you expect in return. We also need a range of voices that encourage each of us to assess all relevant information and make sound decisions for ourselves. The fact is that both the Democrats nor the Republicans are threatened by free-thinking black people, and it might be time for all of us to get our butts off the plantation.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.