Tavis Smiley and Cornel West Uncle Toms? and Barack Obama’s one-night stand.
By: Anthony Conwright
I woke up this morning and went through my usual routine. I scrolled through the news on The Young Turks and came across a news segment called Smiley, West Uncle Toms – Steve Harvey. I watched the news segment, mostly in disbelief. I did not believe that Steve Harvey would call Tavis Smiley and Cornel West “Uncle Toms.” I was in such disbelief that I listened to the entire exchange on Steve Harvey’s radio show. (Click on Steve Harvey’s radio show to listen to the exchange via YouTube). I didn’t want to blog about it, but I thought this could be a “teachable moment.” Let’s begin.
The phrase Uncle Tom is a derogatory term that has its origins in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While the book itself did not coin the phrase as it is used today, the phrase Uncle Tom has nevertheless found itself describing a black person that “sells out” to white people. I will leave it to individuals to define what “selling out” means, as the phrase is quite abstract and you will find many definitions depending on whom you ask. I will not offer what I perceive the definition to be because I think my definition is irrelevant in relation to this story. I shall no longer spend time going over the book or the phrase Uncle Tom. If you would like to investigate further, I strongly suggest going to a library or searching Google for the book. Now that we have a brief context of the phrase, we can move on to my “hit it and quit it” reference and then end with Steve Harvey.
Have you ever felt used by someone? Maybe for women it could be the man that had so many signs of promise. This man was intelligent; he spoke with confidence and mastery of the English language. He was tall, handsome and he made sure that you knew after sexual intercourse he would not leave. He made it clear that he wanted more than what is between your legs but of course, after sex or casual fooling around, you never hear from him again. You wake up the next morning feeling used and sometimes a bit idiotic. You think to yourself, “How could I have trusted this man?” but you reassure yourself that you had good reasons to trust the signs that this man gave you and note to yourself, “I should have known better as most men are only after one thing. I will never do this again.”
The reason why I am making the “one-night stand” analogy is because this is exactly how I feel about the Barack Obama presidency. I feel like I am Obama’s “one-night stand.” I was young, enthusiastic and hopeful about the odds of his soon-to-be presidency. I remember the moment I fell in love. He had me at “I am not opposed to all wars; I’m opposed to dumb wars.” I would like to point out that I heard him say that in my car. I had no idea at the time he is black. I was stunned to find out that he’s black after the host of the radio show, who happens to be white said, “Why can’t this guy be president?” Barack Obama promised “change” in Washington, he teased me with the idea of a public option, raising taxes on people making more than $200,000 a year, kind-of-sort-of supporting gay marriage and withdrawing troops from Iraq. When we first met, Barack couldn’t keep his hands off me! He was constantly e-mailing me, calling me and serenading me with poetic prose. He romanced me and, to be honest, I fell for him. Once I gave him what he wanted, he wanted things changed. As soon as I gave him my vote, it seemed as if the man I fell in love with changed. I could not recognize him as the liberal/progressive that I thought he was.
I use this analogy because I believe this is how a lot of progressives and liberals feel about President Obama. The reason why liberals/progressives and other Obama supporters critique him is because he is not living up to his campaign promises of “change.” It does not come from a place of hate but of love for the people that are suffering as a result of the continuously implemented failing policies of the previous administration. Steve Harvey is wrong in concluding someone is an Uncle Tom because they want to go on a poverty tour. It’s not about Black America it is about Poor America. It just so happens that Poor America and the unemployed are disproportionately black people.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of listening to Cornel West in person and he does not support one ethnic group over another. Cornel West is a supporter of the poor. Steve Harvey’s call as the president of “UTLOO” (Uncle Tom Look Out) for people to not get on the poverty bus is ignorant and irresponsible. He took the attention from the conversation about poor people and diverted it to black people not supporting President Obama. I voted for Barack Obama. I did not do it because he is black; I did it because I thought he held the same political ideals that I have. The historical moment was icing on the cake not the cake itself. As the great comic Chris Rock said, “It isn’t like we are voting for Flavor Flav.” Barack Obama’s degree of “African Americanness” will not influence my vote, but his degree of liberalism and progressivism will. It is wrong for people of any color to support Barack Obama because he is black. It is equally wrong for the people that voted for Hillary Clinton and John McCain because they are white, which would have been done in spite of Barack Obama’s “African Americaness.”
I am happy that Barack Obama is president and not John McCain, but that does not mean I am forever indebted to the support of Barack Obama. It also does not mean that I have to be happy with his presidency. You can critique failed policies without hate and you can critique a person from a loving perspective. Steve Harvey should know this.