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Tavis Smiley Can’t Help Embarrassing Himself

Wake Up, Tavis Smiley

by Stanley Crouch

There seem to be just as many loons and hustlers among Obama’s chosen ethnic group as among the fatmouthed Republicans who have sold out to the Tea Baggers.

One of the best examples of this problem was witnessed last month in the Tavis Smiley rhetorical circus called “We Count! The Black Agenda Is the American Agenda,” which was shown on C-SPAN and presented as a serious discussion in the spirit of Smiley’s “State of the Black Union.” With attempted gravity, Smiley once described his symposiums as exercises devoted to “critical thinking.” Not quite. No unsentimental attempt was made in any way profound enough to meet the demands of our time. Had it been, invited panelists like Louis Farrakhan and various hoodoo women no better prepared with insight than astrologers would not have been there to give the lie to the whole convoluted business. Overall, the Smiley forums presented by Smiley always had more than a whiff of minstrel show draped in militant posturing. This is accomplished by turning over the U of a coonskin smile so that it registers as a nearly constant frown. Everyone is seen as a militant. As Martin Luther King once observed, Negroes spent time listening to Malcolm X because they enjoyed hearing someone black give the white man hell. Yet they knew better than to take seriously what he was proposing—like rejecting their Christian identities, their diets, and the music and dance that had helped defined the aesthetics of American fun.

The Smiley forums presented by Smiley always had more than a whiff of minstrel show draped in militant posturing.

Such things were not discussed during the hours of attention provided by C-SPAN; there was a consistent form. A gathering of quality minds was countered and outnumbered by fellow speakers who gave little more than the lowest meaning of Tyler Perry to political discussion. I was invited to three “SOBUs” but attended only two because there was no fee offered for the third. Feeling almost a victim of the “brother hustle” in which one sacrifices pay for the “cause,” I assumed that all of Smiley’s corporate sponsorship made it possible to provide a fee for his panelists. Smiley, who I am sure is now a millionaire, disagreed, and I was glad not to be there this time, actually. I always felt a particular American blues at the end of yet another afternoon among Negroes there to hustle or be hustled.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast

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