The National Newspaper Association took advantage of what some expected to be a major prize fight between Cornel West and Rev. Al Sharpton. The group referred to their gathering at the annual convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association as “The Showdown,” letting the world know that they expected Sharpton and West to draw blood, as they did in the past. Such heated discussion is certainly necessary (I’ve had my battles with Sharpton over a few key issues), but both Sharpton and West are mature enough to realize that vicious language and fighting are simply not the way to get things done.
Both men continue to remain at odds over whether or not the Obama Administration is doing enough for the African American community. Sharpton supports President Obama in nearly every way imaginable, and West spends his time with Tavis Smiley, a man who undermined his own access to legitimate criticism by engaging in what many perceived to be very personal attacks on the president back in 2008.
Sharpton, being the intelligent diplomat that he is, immediately squashed any expectation that there would be a nasty showdown between he and Professor West.
”I want to get (something) out of the way early,” said Sharpton. ”Folks have been saying that Cornel West and I are going to have a ‘showdown’ today.” If you’re looking for a circus ”there’s a Chicago zoo,” he said.
During the conversation, Professor West encouraged Rev. Sharpton to use his access to the White House to raise the issues of black unemployment, mass incarceration, and the needs of poor children. Sharpton, of course, reminded West that he’s been fighting for the rights of the poor since day one.
Personally, I was happy to see that both men elevated the discussion, and when Sharpton and I spoke on the phone a few weeks ago, we were in agreement that this kind of blowup is not good for the black community. I also let him know that I agree that Professor West hurt his own powerful arguments by making any mention of his personal issues with President Obama. It must be noted, however, that having a personal issue with someone does not invalidate your critique altogether, and I am still waiting for one of the campaigners within the Obama Administration to prove that Professor West was wrong (as they come dancing by to beg for a vote that many people feel they never earned).
”The mainstream media has played up a lot of strife and exploited Rev. Sharpton and Prof. West and used their disagreement for their own purposes,” said outgoing NNPA chairman Danny Bakewell. ”We wanted to have a discussion in an environment where we would print (a firsthand account) from our own perspective.”
As it pertains to the Great Black Divide being caused by the Obama Presidency, it is important to remain focused on a few key facts:
1) Sharpton and West both mean well, but they are not without their biases. It’s hard to imagine Rev. Sharpton criticizing the Obama Administration on almost any issue of importance, and it’s also hard to imagine West and Smiley being satisfied with anything short of actions that might mean political suicide for Obama. Given that both groups have camped out on their personal ideological turf, I can’t imagine any of this changing before the 2012 elections. Room must be given for us to have reasonable expectations of our president, but we must also accept the possibility that the president with dark skin is simply part of the establishment…..Barack may not care about you as much as you care about him.
2) Whether or not the Obama Administration is doing enough for the black community is certainly debatable. But one thing we know for sure is that Washington politicians, as a collective, are DEFINITELY not doing enough for African Americans and care little about eliminating racial inequality. I receive emails daily from people who are losing their homes, losing their jobs and wondering how their children are going to eat. A recent Your Black World survey showed that 38% of African Americans have lost their jobs in the last three years, and another 24% have lost their homes. Rather than focusing on solving the problem, the elitists in Washington are more concerned about who gets blamed for it. The lack of accountability is simply appalling.
3) I see almost nothing about the 2012 presidential elections that inspires me as an African American. No matter who gets elected, black families will remain decimated by the mass incarceration epidemic, black men and women will still suffer joblessness that doubles that of white Americans, and most poor children will continue to be left without the necessities to survive (a recent study showed that children on public insurance can’t even get access to a doctor when they are seriously ill). This calls for creative action that goes beyond worrying about who sits in the White House, since the last three years have made it clear that the color of the president only matters when his face is on the cover of Essence Magazine. This is no disrespect to Barack Obama, but it reminds black folks that we cannot be manipulated by political mind games that somehow make us believe that any man or woman in the White House is going to improve our day-to-day existence. The evidence is simply not there.
4) All political parties should be invited to submit solutions to the black unemployment crisis. Personally, I am willing to listen to any political figure who desires to get the black vote and can keep campaign promises (a bit rare in American politics). The notion that we should support the Democrats simply because the Republicans are going to be worse is like giving us the choice between eating horse manure and rotten eggs. It’s hard to imagine anyone being excited about either dish, so the best decision may be to walk away from the table and learn how to cook for yourself. Coalition building, political education and empowered advocacy are the only solutions for the black community right now, and I personally look to objective political experts like Dr. Wilmer Leon at Howard University (who succeeds the late Ron Walters as a key figure in navigating the political process) as guides to understanding how to manage the massive machine of Washington politics. No politician should be allowed to rely on irrational emotionality to obtain our vote and must instead provide hard facts and evidence that they are worthy of our support – in other words, falling in love with any politician is a generally bad idea – it’s like trying to get married to Wal-Mart.
I’m glad that Rev. Sharpton and Professor West got together for another conversation. Now, all of us must have conversations and engage in the political evolution necessary to ensure that we are not controlled and deceived by the selfish and myopic Ivy League graduates planted out on Capitol Hill. We must all make the best decisions for our families, and right now, the politicians in Washington “ain’t sayin nothin worth listenin to.”