Dr. Boyce: Sharpton, Melissa Harris-Perry and I Finally Have Our Showdown

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, YourBlackWorld.com

This week, I had a heated (and somewhat friendly) debate with Melissa Harris-Perry and Rev. Al Sharpton.  Both Harris-Perry and Rev. Sharpton seemed to take issue with an article I wrote openly questioning the motivations behind Melissa’s attacks on Cornel West.  Melissa was a professor at Princeton alongside West, during which I assume there was regular interaction.  There were reports that members of the African American Studies Department did not support Harris-Perry’s request to be promoted to full professor.  While Harris-Perry accurately notes that she has little knowledge of whether or not West supported her promotion, I would suspect that his full support would have gotten her over the hump.

The point of the article, which I tried to make to my friend Rev. Sharpton (sometimes it can be tough to get words in with Sharpton, a frustration I expressed shortly afterward – I feel the same way when I argue with my father), is that I would never have written that article about Melissa had she simply stuck to the issues in her disagreement with Professor West.  It’s one thing to think that Cornel is wrong about President Obama, but Harris-Perry’s article reeked of the kind of personal vendetta that I see all too often in academia.   Her article on West starts off with the subtle claim that he has lost his relevance as a scholar and deserves to be ridiculed.  She even describes his critique as a “self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon deceptively wrapped in the discourse of prophetic witness,” and says that “Professor West offers thin criticism of President Obama and stunning insight into the delicate ego of the self-appointed black leadership class that has been largely supplanted in recent years.”

The emotion that led me to write about Harris-Perry is the same sentiment that, 25-years ago, caused me to fight a kid who was bullying my best friend on the basketball court by pushing him out of bounds every time he touched the ball.  Sometimes, you want to give someone a taste of their own medicine, to show them how their aggressive tactics can be easily used against them.  I never would have engaged either Harris-Perry or the bully had they not been attacking another person in an underhanded way.

It was not necessary for Harris-Perry to expand her commentary on West to include her disappointment with what she refers to as the “self-appointed black leadership class.”  She didn’t have to reduce Tavis Smiley and Cornel West to be nothing but a “soul patrol.”  She also didn’t have to refer to their film as a “hilariously bad documentary.”  This has nothing to do with the issue, and distracts us from discussing the matter at hand, which is whether or not the politicians in Washington are doing enough on behalf of poor, black, brown and working class people.  Harris-Perry, being the polished and seasoned media personality that she is, did a good job of masking what I perceive to be the obvious: There’s bad blood between she and Professor West, and she can now express her anger openly because she’s moved onto another job.

Let’s be honest:  Any of us can be accused of having a personal reason for attacking someone else.  But even if the attack is personal, that doesn’t make the point invalid.  If a woman divorces her cheating husband and tells the police that he’s a drug dealer, he might actually be a drug dealer, so its worthy of an investigation.  While I seriously believe that neither Cornel nor Melissa would be silent if their relationships with Obama and each other were in tact, the truth is that their personal beefs do not invalidate their arguments.

One final point is that you’ll notice that Rev. Sharpton consistently mentions the actions of Cornel West and Tavis Smiley in reference to my conversation with Sharpton himself.  I respect Rev. Sharpton immensely, but I tried to make it abundantly clear that my name is NOT Tavis Smiley, nor is it Cornel West.  As odd as it sounds, I have NEVER IN MY LIFE had a conversation with Tavis (I suspect he may be bitter over my concerns about his unreasonable attacks on Obama three years ago).  I haven’t spoken to Professor West since I began my career in public scholarship (we talked for literally 10 seconds in 1998, when he had no idea who I was, and he also left me a voice mail once two years ago).  So, I cannot take responsibility for their actions or the reasoning behind them.

I deliberately remain detached from most of the other individuals who do the work that I do because it is always my goal to be as objective as possible.  So, I try to call things as I see them, similar to how I approach the grading process with my students.  If someone does a good job, I give them credit.  If they do a terrible job, I let them know it.  That is why I am neither a hater of President Obama, nor am I in the Barack Obama fan club.  In politics, there are no permanent friends  or permanent enemies, just permanent interests.   My interest is the well-being of black, brown, poor and working class people, period.

Debates must always be forced back to the issues.  We must embrace the idea of discussing the facts, and stop believing that anyone who speaks up about the excruciating pain of black America is somehow “hatin” on Obama (this is politics, not a rap music video). We must all engage in a political education and realize that using our individual and collective voice is critical to the Democratic process.  If we remain silent, then our people will continue to suffer.  This is something that I personally cannot accept.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

 

 

  • Bobbi L. Simpson

    I strongly disagree. It is not about remaining silent, it is about becoming the change you want to see. It disgust me to see so many of you pandering for a mike to share your positions. Get busy doing the work. A great man I know said I don’t go to the dentist for him to tell me how bad my tooth is or how painful it must be, but the dentist job is to releave my suffering or pain not talk about it. Why you feel a need to protect academicians I think needs to be discussed. I have yet to see an article of you challenging West on the comments that he has made about the President, that were not issue related.(“Black Mascot of the wall street”) Pick a side Boyce make sure it’s issue related.

  • Anonymous

    Boyce, you are intellectually dishonest and I’m embarrassed for you. Cornel’s critique on the President in that Chris Hedges article was personal. There were some vague complaints about not doing “not doing anything for black people”, which itself is a lie, but the entire article was Cornel analyzing the President’s race and calling him an Uncle Tom in fancy Princeton language.

    For you to sit here and act like Melissa Harris Perry just came out of nowhere and attacked Cornel personally is straight up bullshit. You must really think black people are dumb. I was listening to you yesterday on Rev’s show, and you sounded like a college kid who failed to read the assigned text and had to pull stuff out of your ass to hold a discussion.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QOJQQIPMNVFQMGLZMVTNEOJV4I MGJ

      Yes, he does think we are stupid…too stupid to see what they are doing.  Maybe teaching at those Ivy League schools and writing all those books have tainted their views.  They have some nerve criticizing President Obama when that man has been in office 29 months trying to fix the mess republicans left.  On top of the republican BS he has to field critiques from the crabs in the barrel who do nothing except carnival barking from the sidelines…give me a break.  

      Until black folks help themselves and get rid of the “intellectual” leeches, we will never amount to much except crabs in a barrel pulling each other down…

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QOJQQIPMNVFQMGLZMVTNEOJV4I MGJ

      Yes, he does think we are stupid…too stupid to see what they are doing.  Maybe teaching at those Ivy League schools and writing all those books have tainted their views.  They have some nerve criticizing President Obama when that man has been in office 29 months trying to fix the mess republicans left.  On top of the republican BS he has to field critiques from the crabs in the barrel who do nothing except carnival barking from the sidelines…give me a break.  

      Until black folks help themselves and get rid of the “intellectual” leeches, we will never amount to much except crabs in a barrel pulling each other down…

  • Enochhasrisen

    “If we remain silent, then our people will continue to suffer. This is something that I personally cannot accept.”
    DR. BOYCE WATKINS

    Save it doc because our people suffer because they refuse to read and we need to stop letting a book be the last place we look.

    If black people would read then they would not have to take your word, my word or Melissa’s word for what we interpret to be treason and betrayal on the part of tavis Smiley and Cornell West all be it that they are traitors.

    If anyone sincerely believe that i am talking just to have something to say then here is something that you missed:

    The National Institute for Literacy: Forty-seven percent of Detroit’s residents can’t read. Only 58 percent graduate from high school. Apparently 11 percent of the grads can’t read either.
    According to a new report, 47 percent of Detroiters are ”functionally illiterate.” The alarming new statistics were released by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund on Wednesday.

    Exactly what this means:
    “Not able to fill out basic forms, for getting a job — those types of basic everyday (things). Reading a prescription; what’s on the bottle, how many you should take… just your basic everyday tasks,”

    Some of the Detroit suburbs also have high numbers of functionally illiterate: 34 percent in Pontiac and 24 percent in Southfield.

    “For other major urban areas, slightly higher: Washington D.C.’s urban population, in certain ZIP codes in Washington D.C. and in Cleveland,” she said.

    Only 10 percent of those who can’t read have gotten any help to resolve it. Make Undercover Smart a book to someone your next gift.

    Give them Undercover Smart because there is no where we can ever hope to go or ever hope to acheaive whereas we can bypass reading to get there. http://store.mubarakinter-prizes.com/undercs.html

    If you can read this pass it on: Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;

    Sincerely, Enoch Mubarak
    President/CEO Mubarak Inter-prizes
    http://www.mubarakinter-prizes.com

    • Beedu94

      “When you can read,you are FREED”

  • Essence73T

    Was it really necessary to imply that Dr. Harris-Perry made those statements because she was not supported by Cornel West for the African American studies program at Princeton?  Negro please.  Some of us are not a part of the world of academia, but as my mother always said, ” I passed by the school house”. The fact of the matter is that you are not being neutral here and it’s very obvious that you are supporting Cornel West, which is okay, but it appears the majority of the comments on this blog are not agreeing with you on this one. 

  • Anonymous

    Dr. Boyce,
    Your comments about Dr. Harris-Perry article were way over the top and very unprofessional. West and Smiley look very small and petty as they criticize the President.
    West may be your friend but you are not on the school yard dealing with a bully. Dr. Harris -Perry is a very professional women and you tried to make her comments look like they were coming from an angry female with an ax to grind ( Isn’t that the same thing the Republicans tried to do to Anita Hill). It even seemed as though you did not read the complete article.
    Those type of comments will cause many educated women to stop our support of you. You owe Dr. Harris- Perry an apology. Please be man enough to do so.

    • Djphoenix46

      I don’t necessarily support Watkins comments here, but you are criticizing him for doing the same thing that Melissa did. I love Melissa, but her comments were personal and also unprofessional. She accused West of complaining because he did not get an invite to the inaugural ball and made a number of other statements about him which were personal and which could not be verified. I agree with Jill Nelson’s statements in the Root today. All of these academics need to move on and stop fighting with one another. We need actual leaders on the ground who will work to make a difference in Black folks lives, not whiners and complainers with personal vendettas. Watkins states that he has had limited to no dealings with both West and Smiley. Why is being called a liar? Do bloggers know otherwise? If so, please share. Peace. 

  • Blackgirl

    Dr. Watkins attacked Dr. Perry because as he stated “…her article did not simply stick to the issues.” and “Perry article reeked of the kind of personal vendetta.”

      Dr West interview with  Chris Hedges also did not simply stick to the issues and reeked of personal vendetta toward President Obama.

      Dr. West attacked President Obama during his interview with the Chris Hedges.  Dr. Perry then attacked Dr West for his attack on President Obama. Dr. Watkins for reason unknown decided to  jump into the craziness and attack Dr Perry for attacking Dr. West.  Verdict-  Dr. West, Dr. Perry and Dr. Watkins are all guilty of  personal attacks.  Talk about the Kettles calling the Pots black.

  • Blackgirl

    Dr Watkins better “check himself before he wreck himself.”  Dr. Watkins credibility is becoming questionably.  First, he overlooked the fact Dr. West made personal attacks against President Obama, yet he attacked Dr. Melissa Perry for personal attacks on Dr. West.

    But what ready take the cake is that Dr. Watkins came on Rev Sharpton radio show yesterday starting out trying to “play the fool role”  When Sharpton started asking about Dr West interview with Chris Hedges, Dr Watkins said “which one you talking about?” (The one that lead you attacked Dr. Perry ,duh) and stated that he had not read the whole interview yet.(Which I don’t believe.)

      So, Dr Watkins hasn’t read the whole interview (according to him) before he made a beeline to the computer to attack Dr Perry.   Bring out the credibility meter.

  • Brook

    I am glad that this conversation occurred, because black people have to realize that speaking up on what matters to us is not hurting the president, it is helping him to achieve his goals.  Without having political advocacy for us, we are in serious trouble. 

  • AntBee

    Once again, Dr. Watkins has put his foot in his mouth with foolish blogs like this one.

    You appear to just want to continue to “stir up the negors” with your foolishness.

    In case you have not noticed, Black people are not stupid!

    You attack on Harris-Perry is unwarrented, just as your foolishness about our President.

    Be the person you want our Pressident to be!

    Be a part of the solution, not the problem!

  • Anonymous

    Dr. Boyce is absolutely on point!!!
    I find it interesting that Rev.Al feels the need to take everyone to task that disagrees with one of his weak knee allies…
     
    Who the HELL is this Melissa Perry and what has she been involved with in the Blk community? Dr. Boyce has always been fighting the fight but again, who the hell is this PERRY person?
    Why does SHARPTON feel the need to do the 2 on 1 routine…I personally am not a great fan of West and Smiley, but damn, they are allowed to take a stand and get after the President…
    Rev. Al is using the “they called my name routine”  a bit too much!!!!
    At the end of the day Dr. BOYCE murdered their 2 points of Dont ask, Don’t Tell and the equal pay for women….How the HELLO can you have equal pay if Blk Women are being excluded from the DAMN workplace?
    White Women earn far more than Blk Women and they hold the vast MAJORITY of the top positions, held by WOMEN  in corporate AMERIKKKA!!!! This smells foul and we all can see it!!!
    Rev. Al you have sold us out and GOD will deal with you for your treason!!!
    Dr. Boyce…We salute YOU!!!

    • Anonymous

      You definitely take a lot for granted soldier 7 with saying: “Dr. Boyce…We salute YOU!!!”
      Who is “we”?

      “This smells foul and we all can see it!!!”
      Who is “we”?

      …and who told you that: “How the HELLO can you have equal pay if Blk Women are being excluded from the DAMN workplace?”

      You need to recognize: http://chicagosblackbusinessnetwork.ning.com/profiles/blogs/black-women-must-escape-the

    • Aaron

      Melissa Perry has more common sense in her pinky than you soldier7 and throw Boyce in the mix along with Steve “outside affair” Harvey and Tavis “crumb snatcher” Smiley!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shakka-Zulu/1379420279 Shakka Zulu

    Once again this shows we dont have black leaders, we have leading blacks trying to protect their territory..When Sharpton allowed himself o become the attack dog for BHO and the WH, he lost all credibility for me as an organizer..What the hell has Sharpton ever done for the community, other than fly around the country on the dime of his contributors, living like a millionaire, while pimping black folks..I hope Boyce finds another venue to express himself and not hang around Sharpton..There are many internet radio shows he can host from his kitchen at his convience..Shartopn is a cagy fox, who will tear apart anyone who will block his access to the WH..His stance on gay issues, is disgusting, this is why I know this religious stance is all BS..These people know the gays and jews will spend money to push out their agenda, why not be a supporter of their team? Sharpton is an opportunist, weighing his financial options…

  • Djphoenix46

    What about the fact that Cornell, Tavis and Sharpton are presenting together at the Essence Festival in July. Is the public being duped?

  • wiselady

     I do not believe President Obama should be immune from objective and constructive criticism, particularly from the Ivy League-based academic community from which he himself emerged. But just as you accuse Professor Harris-Perry of personal motivations, I would submit that West and Smiley are equally guilty of having subjective personal issues that inform much of their displeasure with the President. And by the way, as a public intellectual yourself, the proper usage is “between HER and….” Keep up the good dialogue!

  • Aaron

    You are wrong Boyce, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West! All three of you are educated “Uncle Toms”! Melissa Harris-Perry is a strong black woman to be respected and admired, none of you twerps can hold a candle to her, so STFU!!!

  • Aaron

    You are wrong Boyce, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West! All three of you are educated “Uncle Toms”! Melissa Harris-Perry is a strong black woman to be respected and admired, none of you twerps can hold a candle to her, so STFU!!!

  • Tired of this nonsense.

    Can you please get your facts straight as it refers to Melissa reducing them to a “soul patrol”?  TAVIS SMILEY referred to his group as a ‘soul patrol”.  She repeated a monicker that Tavis gave himself and his group during the documentary “Stand” .  You can hear it clear as day right here.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmRtPQ1Tcrc  about 38 seconds in, Tavis makes that reference.  She didn’t pull it out of thin air…she got it from Tavis himself.