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Tavis Smiley and Cornel West Go On An Obama Accountability "Poverty Tour"

Photo via Smiley & West. I have no clue why teen singing sensation Justin Bieber is in this picture or why he oddly looks Photoshopped into it. But, hey, the Beebs must know his audience.Author, First Officer of Accountability Tavis Smiley and Professor Cornel West are taking their Obama Doesn't Care About (Black) People Tour on the road. (FOX News adorably called them "Black Leaders," as if there was ever such a thing. I used to joke that if we have leaders, who elected these people? And can we hold them responsible in some kind of way because they're doing a really shitty job.) Smiley and West will be visiting 15-cities as apart of an "anti-poverty" tour, visiting a Native American reservation, soup kitchens, shelters, housing projects and other places where the destitute reside. I hope they'll be bringing medical services, food and some jobs with them, as the complaint regarding Obama is that he has not done enough of these things. 

Or, I'm sure West and Smiley will bring speeches. Speeches are nice ... if they spread awareness which leads to medical services, food and jobs. But if they're speeches for the sake of Obama didn't call me to say thank you, I dunno, guys. That might not be helping. But if it brings attention to how so many people are struggling in America and gets politicians to actually use the word "poor" to describe people (not just middle class or "working families"), that might be nice.

Smiley and West state their goal is to get poverty to be part of the 2012 agenda. In a story by Jesse Washington of The Associated Press, there's a lot of chatter about the mixture of pride and frustration African Americans have when it comes to both the economy and our President. People want him to succeed, but people also want things to get better. The recession has been a depression for most African Americans, where our jobless rate has always been higher than the national average and frustratingly in double-digits.

But a quote from radio host Warren Ballentine really sums up the Obama Criticism Paradox most African Americans (myself included at times) are trapped in:

"Black folks expected him to fix the problem," he said. "The problem is lack of jobs and opportunity in poor communities in this country. They're blaming the president for not having jobs, but they don't want Tavis or Cornel or anyone else to attack the president because they didn't have jobs before the president came into office." (Emphasis mine.)

That's really the key here. It's not that the President isn't deserving of a critical eye, but to expect one man in less than three years to fix something that has been persistent and systematic in this country for centuries is a tall order. He can't do what he never promised in the first place. "Deliverance" was not on the agenda. And compared to past presidents, both Democratic and Republican, I feel that he's actually done quite a bit more to acknowledge and find solutions to the problems that plague our poor.

But he's fighting a problem that is decades in the making with a Congress who thinks not raising the debt ceiling is some chaos theory fairytale. This doesn't mean that the President can't and shouldn't do more, or can't and shouldn't be criticized, but you have to acknowledge that because of his race, expectations were a lot higher for Obama over past presidents. He's been relatively scandal-free and despite opposition, made more progress in his campaign promises than past Democratic Presidents, which is more than you could say for Bill Clinton's first controversial two years in office before the economic boom and relative peace made him indestructible.

I still have high expectations for Obama, but I don't necessarily expect him to start popping Eric Cantor in the mouth with a rolled-up newspaper while handing out reparations checks anytime soon. Fixing No Child Left Behind might be nice though, since tying teachers jobs to test scores has only lead to widespread incidents of teachers rigging the test scores. Also, the way we prosecute our drug laws leaves a lot to be desired. Sending a user to prison doesn't do much for taxpayers or stopping crime since it would be a lot cheaper to make low-level offenders pay a fine and do some basic community service than our current system of mandatory sentencing and saddling them with prison records that keep them from getting employment once they are released.

As for the poors, though, West and Smiley are coming to a depressed area near you to show you some love. According to the AP, they will visit, "Hayward, Eau Claire and Madison, Wis.; Milwaukee; Chicago's South Side; Joliet and Pembroke, Ill.; Lima, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Columbus and Clarksdale, Miss.; and finish in Memphis."

So, poors, plan your daily schedules of job search and food foraging around the bus tour accordingly.

Side note: Seriously, Tavis and Cornel, I may not agree with you two all the time, but you have to take my honest opinion and fix this web site. I can recommend some folks. Or you can find your own folks. Or you can download some nice free Wordpress layouts on the web then get some young cousin of yours to hook it up, but this site is just unacceptable. When bloggers with zero-out-of-zero dollars with sites via blogspot domains have better layouts and designs than you, you have a problem.

Side note #2: Someone's got "Bieber Fever."

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Reader Comments (19)

They should call it the "we need attention" tour.

It's not about them dissing Prez's about their true reason for it, which IMO was because they got snubbed for that conference they had.

oh and DEAD at "popping Eric Cantor in the mouth with a rolled-up newspaper while handing out reparations checks anytime soon." LOLz

That picture speaks volumes...and Danielle I am so with you on this whole topic of having "Black Leaders"...who is choosing these people just WHO!...I don't remember voting for anyone other than Obama....And while there was a good period where I respected Dr. West I know for a fact that I in no way endorsed Tavis Smiley to lead me into anything....I honestly dont' know who I would pick b/c sadly everyone is after their own agenda.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I'm hoping the tour just does what it says it will, provide a call to conscience. Not so much for the disenfranchised, but also for those who can do better to actually do better. I'm sure on some level this tour is in response to the criticism talking heads like West and Smiley always get as far them not "doing" anything tangible. It boggles my mind that talking and consciousness informing isn't considered doing something. I think that speaks more to the receiver not actually listening and allowing their consciousness to be swayed and changed.

I think the movement behind Obama's presidency is what initially lured the likes of Cornel West in the first place. We live in a time where you don't see a lot of mass movements like what you saw behind Obama's campaign. I'm not saying Obama sold the American public a bill of goods, but certainly the zeitgest surround that moment in time would make folks believe he had a little magic in his pocket. No, black folks didn't have jobs before Obama got in office, but I'm trying to find out how the tacit acceptance of this fact makes Obama impervious to criticism from other blacks.

The fact that Warren "The Most Average and Mediocre of Negroes" Ballentine stumbled on this quote somehow proves my point.

Sure there's money in it for them and they'll get nice speaking fees and probably will be sleeping in the downtown hotels of the major cities they stop in, but again, hopefully this will prove to be a step in the right direction for us as a country.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Uppity Negro

No you didn't just quote Warren Ballantine, lol. But at least he seems to get it on that topic. What happened to the good ol' days when everyone was criticizing Obama for doing too much? 'You need to focus on just x, y, and z.' So he focuses on x, y, and z but that's doing too little. Whatever. Funny how everyone loved him for being the Anti-Bush - reasonable, intelligent, bipartisan - but after he got into office, people expected him to be the Black Democrat Bush: stop trying to compromise, just do it, wave your magic president wand and force things to happen w/o regard to consequences or legality. You're the most powerful man in the world - you don't need congress. F that checks and balances ish!

If Tavis and Cornell are so concerned about the state of black america and the poor then stop selling books, hitting news shows, and going on tour and run for public office. Let's see how easy it is to change America in 2 to 4 years. Of course, that would make THEM accountable and heaven knows they don't want that!

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJMac

Hi Danielle. Your comment, "you have to acknowledge that because of his race, expectations were a lot higher for Obama over past presidents." Really made me think. That is true. However I have a hard time reconciling that with the fact that his administration now oversees the largest military spending coupled with the largest cut in public education. He happens to be part of the declining American empire at a time where we really need to begin renewable energy dependence and ending military occupations. It just hurts so much that he lacks the willpower to not spend billions in Libya while cutting public schools. Our expectation for him not to do so is not unreasonable. Thanks for getting the gears turning. -RF.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRhone

I'm wondering if Tavis will be talking to any of the people he helped push into poverty through his 'peddling of sub-prime mortgages in the "black community." The irony!!!!

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren R.

I'm really sick of these two haters pretending that they care about Black folk when they are only upset because they feel snubbed by President Obama. Move on!

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkhrish

Friend, have you ever checked out Black Agenda Report? Obama's been more shitty than you might think:

July 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

I approve of what Tavis and Cornell are doing. I don't see them as leaders and I really don't think they consider themselves as our leaders. They are only being consistent with their viewpoints about Pres Obama. They haven't wavered about their feelings about him since he's been in office. I don't get why anyone has an attitude at these guys. They haven't changed.

I think the President should mention the poor. I think the President should at least speak about African American unemployment and joblessness. He barely even mentions US at all. I mean aren't the statistics high enough to garner some attention and conversation from him? I think US blacks should get off of this high horse about having the first black President in office and really take a good look at who he really works for. He's not in office to change anything for minorities. Tell the truth....he has compromised so much in order for the rich to stay empowered. Isn't that what every President does?

So my last point is, isn't that the reason why a candidate is elected protect the rich? It's not his assignment to relieve the stress and sufferings of poor black folk or minorities. His assignment is to protect the rich!!! He's doing his job, we just don't understand the game but we'd better learn quick. And since this is how the Presidential game is played we need to get behind Tavis and Cornell and hopefully we can get this first black President to at least mention our ills. The word is out on black folk, we don't fight back. We accept any and everything that is told us. Was the Hope and Change message targeted for blacks or was it just a good message? We love good preaching.

August 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

I read that last post by Stacey and I wonder what she hears when the President speaks and the bills that he has been trying tio get through the congress. With all the things for healthcare, education and all those things, who needs them most? Black folk. Why is it necessary for him to say Black or African American? Don't we know who is in the most need of all these things? Cornell West keeps his seat at a university which is not an historical Black College or University. What else is he doing......what else is Tavis doing to benefit anyone but himself. He was a part of this whole mess, yet he finds it advantageous to travel around with this crap about what the President hasn't done for Black folk.without including his part in the mess to harm many Blacks. They are a bunch of clowns who should know the obstacles that this man is facing and should be out there trying to explain this to others who don't get it instead of helping the Republicans attempt to make President Obama a one term president. Who are the people going to turn to : Michele Bachman...Shame on them. How can they look themselves in the mirror and walk away with a positive image. No, the president hasn't done all that I would like for him to do, but many other presidents who didn't have the racist people in the legislation to deal with. What was their reason? We need to stand back and think of our everyday minority men and women who work so hard to get a job, keep a job and the crap that they have to endure. What is wrong with us?????

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkhrish

Tavis and Cornell are literally journalists covering a story. They don't have the resources to fix anything and honestly they never said they could repair the unemployment rate, housing crisis, joblessness, and poverty among minorities. They are only covering the story to bring attention to the matter because in their opinion the people who have the resources to address these issues aren't addressing them. From Day One both guys had a difference of opinion on President Obama and they haven't changed their views yet. What is wrong with that? President Obama is not a Pastor or Bishop where they tell the congregation to "Touch Not Thine Anointed!"

The average person that voted for Pres. Obama, the average African American, believed that he would literally be the
change that our race needed to get ahead, not to mention he never said he was our MAN!! He never said one time that he was running to fight for black folk. President's don't fight for any race, they fight to protect the banking industry and Wall Street.

Pres Obama won't even mention the drastic decline in the African American community since he's taken charge of the Presidency. Whenever he has an opportunity to speak to an African American crowd he enforces his opinion and personal beliefs about us which are honestly that we don't work hard enough, we don't have education, we have too many unwed babies, father's are not being father's etc. You've heard his speeches directed towards African Americans.

If you want to see the type of leader that we black folk elected, look at his largest donors to his campaign, look at who he selected to direct him face to face on a daily basis within his administration. When you see this, is there any difference between him and past President's? He's put in office to protect the rich and the banks. These are facts. Just follow the money trail.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West it really saddens me that when things began to tumble and crumble for the so-called "the new poor are the former middle class" where was your bus then. This downfall started 8 years ago but I truly did not see either of you rolling out the buses then to make your voices heard to fight for the poor!! You sat on your talk shows complaining but not taking any action. Now that President Obama is in office and facing road blocks left and right you want to ride the bus and make noise. Will the real men whom stand for what we the people really stand up. Make heads turn by standing up against the republican party whom stands up bodly & says they truly could careless about the "middle class, poor or the needy" Now that would be monumental. Standing up against "your" President is not making any waves believe you me this here is old news my friends. Make a difference with your buses and come thru your chosen cities with "Help" not "Bad Talk"

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDesireallhelp

You are so right about standing up. They know that it's safe to stand up when President Obama is in charge. They didn't have this urgency to travel around with their speeches when Bush was sticking it to us. They knew better. I have no respect for either and still feel that these are personal vendette because they feel snubbed. That's exactly what I think of them and it would take much more evidence for me to believe that they care one iota about the state of Black America, other than the money they, themselves can make.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkhrish

I have a question....what was black folks hope for Obama becoming President? Wasn't it that he would stand up for us? Wasn't that the feeling every black person felt when Obama, a so called black man, was elected President? We thought he would address SOME issues in the black community. Be honest, isn't that what we all hoped in? We voted him as President for our own selfish reasons. We were expecting, if you'd be honest, a whole lot more than what we're getting regardless of the many crises he's faced.

Look at how much he has tried to do for the gay community. Can anybody deny he has been the most vocal President for gay rights? Well, what about our rights? If you're black you know what we struggle with everyday. He pushes the gay agenda on a weekly basis now but has yet to mention the phrase "African American!" Isn't there something wrong with that?

All I'm saying is why can't the man mention US from time to time. Did not we expect the Republican party to block every move he would make? Why are we surprised at how they are seemingly blocking everything he's doing. He simply wants both sides, the Democrats and Republicans, to come together but he knew they had no intention of working with him before he became President. We're not shocked and he isn't either.

It's all a game to control all of us and to leave black folks fending for themselves. Just open your eyes and see what's going on. We are the weak link of society in the eyes of the President and his government. Barack ignore them black folk. White folks raised you, not them blacks. You don't owe them anything. This is the conversation of Washington.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Ok let's be real since that's where we are going. I say how about you Stand UP for yourself!! Stand against what the Republicans and the Tea Party are doing to you as a person. Yes, we wanted a man of our color in office, yes I was and am still proud to have an African American man/woman to stand as the leader & chief mainly because it wa said one never would be. I have been on both sides of this coin and realize that things are hard no matter how you look at it. When I lost my job I was truly devastated but at the end of the day I truly did not blame the President! I blame the nonsense that I saw going on. What company do you know that decided to do lay offs because the economy was downturning, when the downturn became an upturn for them did they decide to re-hire? Tell me the ones you know of?? No they decided that they made it with making the workers they kept, that now are doing the job that took two people to do in the past! Might I say for less pay. My son went and fought for this country as a whole, Repulican, Tea Party, Democrat, White, Black, Poor, Rich etc and he did a heroic job because his commander and chief expected it of him. Please TOOT a horn of something that is positive and how to stand together to make a Change instead of the nonsense...

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDesireallhelp

It's not nonsense, its simply the facts. It's no surprise that blacks are getting discriminated against the most during this recession. We are easily looked at first for firing and last for hiring. I'm talking about every since 2008 when the markets fell, this is the way business looks at US. And our poor black men have the world against them. It's a different type of discrimination for them.

We have no choice but to stand up for ourselves BUT it sure would be easier if fairness was fairness. Gays are getting what they want but blacks aren't getting nothing. If you have some good news to share about blacks coming out of this hole then please share. Here is exactly what I'm talking about with this article that was released today...

Black Lawmakers Pursue Jobs With or Without The President’s Help

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Understand I have nothing what so ever with a "Gay" person having rights to the american dream or whatever. I have two african american men that I have raised in a very racial and unfair society but am I just going to keep preaching to them how unfair things are or am I going to tell them to never ever except no for an answer. My oldest wanted to be apart of the US Military, not because he had to or because it was his last choice, he wanted this since he was young. He made a career decision for himself. Know that when he return home there was no job waiting for him and he had a wife/baby etc to support. My son did not get discouraged he just went out to find whatever type of work he could because everyone was struggling. He has not been home for long is is due to go back. I truly in no way shape or form to I want him to go back but it is what he must do. I don't blame President Obama for this I blame the 'Nonsense" that began this whole scandalous bunch of lies that got us here!! Get out and push for what changes that need to be made instead of word pushing. Let see how many of us will get out and push for what our people really need since we are "getting discriminated against the most during this recession."

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDesireallhelp

I truly love what you just said. In essence you just said that what Tavis and Cornell are doing is a good thing. They are out "pushing for what our people really need." Another thing you must realize is most every black person is in so much debt or their credit is jacked up due to the fallout of the economy that they don't have the time to push a street agenda. That is why we sent President Obama to the White House to make a difference for US while we're out trying to deal with our society.

I don't know why black folk keeping saying the same thing, "If you don't like what the President is doing, then you do something." No, I'm going to complain about him just like I would complain about President Bush taking his sweet time coming to the aid of the Hurricane Katrina victims.

President Obama is not your Pastor or my Pastor. Somebody started this, "You can't talk against leadership" in the black community and it has forced us to lay down like docile sheep to everybody. If you can't start a street movement like Tavis and Cornell then voice your opinions online.

President Obama compromises too much. He has no fight and is reluctant to stand up to the Republican party and the banksters. He gives me the impression of being WEAK! All I'm saying is I already know he is limited in what he can do but at least mention US from time to time. At least make me think you are concerned about the black community.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

"Tavis Smiley and I had been talking for a year about how to dramatize the poverty and humanize our perception of poor people in America." C West

They've only been discussing poverty for a year when this problem has been going on for decades. Steve Harvey's question " Where was the poverty bus tour during the Bush years" is a very good question. Also, why are these two behaving as if poverty began under Obama? Why are these two only blaming Obama and not the job killing policies dating back to Reagan? West and Smiley are failing to address the historical problem of poverty(which dates back to the reconstruction period read Du bois- The Souls of Black Folk), while remaining silent on how the u.s poverty rate was driven to this low point today. These two are reminders of the traveling snake oil salesmen found in earlier americana, where one guy presents the "healing to sick" theme on a soapbox to an audience while the other guy selling bottles of whatever on the side. The keyword is "selling" these two are surely selling books and themselves while professing to unmask the face on poverty....are they giving their profits from the book sells back to the impoverished people they interviewed?

August 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhappy trails
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