Strange Bedfellows: The Case of Tavis, Wells Fargo and the NAACP (Guest Post)

Tavis Smiley hosting 2009’s State of the Black Union. Behind him is a curtain with the names of his sponors, Wells Fargo and Nationwide, one recently accused of discriminatory lending practices.

By Genma Holmes

While I was reading over the lawsuit filed by the NAACP for predatory lending practices, my eyes kept returning to Wells Fargo. My something-smells-funny nose kept sniffing until I looked across my desk and saw the program guide from the recent State of the Black Union (SOTBU).

In large font was the Wells Fargo logo. They were the title sponsor of the event.

I wondered if the NAACP had any dialogue with SOTBU founder and organizer Tavis Smiley prior to the lawsuit being filed? After all, the bank being sued for institutionalized racism sponsoring a think tank for black folks? You cannot make this stuff up.

(More after the jump.)

Wells Fargo has sponsored the SOTBU for several years, Smiley’s brainchild, birthed from his weekly commentary on The Tom Joyer Morning Show. Last year Smiley quit the TJMS claiming it was to move on to other pressing projects in need of his attention.

One of those projects is to hold President Obama accountable for his political record and campaign promises made as outlined in Smiley’s recent book, “Accountable.”

During the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, while I was still the resident political commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, I caused quite a stir among the listeners, who are largely African-American, by insisting that we hold then Senator Barack Obama accountable for both his political record and his campaign promises. I wasn’t singling him out, but rather applying the same standard to him that we should apply to all.

I feel now, as I did then, that it is our responsibility as engages citizens to expect now-President Barack Obama to live up to the promises that made him an appealing candidate… As Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail reminds us, ‘Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes from the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.’

So, let us take Dr. King’s lead… and go forth and make real the promise of our democracy.” — Excerpted from the Foreword (pages xii-xiii)

In addition to this, the SOTBU Website states that the symposiums purpose is to gather “(s)ome of the most influential thinkers, entertainers, and political leaders of our time gather each year” to discuss issues affecting the black community.

The site states the event is meant to “educate, enlighten and empower America by bringing people together and engaging them in thoughtful dialogue, leading the way to constructive action.”

Here is the man who has written a book titled Accountable, who has accepted sponsorship for years from a bank that is being accused of forcing blacks into subprime mortgages while whites with identical qualifications got lower rates.

Class-action lawsuits were filed against Wells Fargo and HSBC in federal court in Los Angeles this month and Los Angeles was the host city for the State of the Black Union.

My words may come off as harsh but this is equivalent to a child molester opening up a neighborhood daycare center. It is this type of irony in the black community by leaders and organizations that keeps people from making progress. Here we have “leaders” who play nice and accept money from the very organizations that cause the most harm. This happens in many communities but it is perverse in the communities of color.

Does this means Tavis is going to turn his journalistic intuition on Wells Fargo and hold them accountable? I hope so. These are serious charges being leveled at a time when bad banks are receiving TARP bailouts. Is he going to compile and research the number of loans that were given to blacks vs. whites and present it to the board of directors of Wells Fargo? Will he ask for their resignations? Their explanations? Will he demand action?

Will he help them be a better bank by calling for an examination of how they conduct business with people of color? Will he turn down their sponsorship next year and take their logo off his Website with a link to their mortgage department? Is this not what several of the panelists often ask when others accept sponsorship or advertisement from organizations that do not toe the line when allegations or perceived racist misconduct occur?

It happens all the time.

Tavis has always asked his listeners and viewers to be watchful and test everything and everyone. How did Wells Fargo alleged predatory practices go unnoticed by Tavis who would not allow then Senator Obama to campaign without a thorough scrutiny of the issues and his character? President Obama who has been on the national political scene less than ten years is being examined microscopically by Tavis, while SOTBU, Tavis and the same panelists who appear year after year have held meetings with very loud megaphones on radio and television, sounding the alarm on many issues, yet remaining silent regarding the business practices of Wells Fargo and others, practices that have gone on much longer than President Obama has been in the White House according to the NAACP lawsuit.

I mention these things, not out of malice, but out of my intimate knowledge that we can do better. My beloved grandfather started the NAACP in our town in Mississippi. He stepped out on faith and held meetings when it was considered a death wish to do so. He stood by his principles and gained the respect of everyone including his critics. Not one sponsor paid for meetings that enlightened, encouraged and empowered his fellow man. He received numerous awards and accolades for his work in the field of civil rights.

Daddy received letters from Presidents, Governors and other notables as well as those that made a difference that wore no title at all. “Fair is fair,” he said often. “Don’t have a rule for one that you can’t have for the other.” Daddy’s motivation for working hard to ensure others had the right to vote was based on his love for mankind. Daddy was all about fair play, even if it meant ticking off folks who sat on panels.

I learned from the best.

I like Tavis and his work. My critique is exactly what Tavis asks of the public. I will be the first to say he has done much for many, but those precious sponsorship dollars have a way of making folks look the other way. Demands cannot be made of one person when the rules are not applied to all.

That includes corporations who sponsor think tanks regarding accountability.

As “engaged citizens,” we need to hold each other accountable, seek transparency and make sure we are doing due diligence with everyone. Since Tavis has rightly challenged everyone to hold our President accountable for promises made, let us make sure Tavis does not stop with the President who has resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue less than three months.

I do hope Tavis will get back to us with any research on Wells Fargo and the outcome of the lawsuit by the NAACP. I hope his findings would be included in the next State of the Black Union.

I’d suggest getting Jon Stewart from The Daily Show to be host. Now that I would pay to sponsor, no questions asked.


Genma Holmes is the author of the blog Genmaspeaks. Based in Nashville, she is a mother, entrepreneur, writer, activist, philanthropist, model, actress, speaker, political watchdog and news junkie.

50 thoughts on “Strange Bedfellows: The Case of Tavis, Wells Fargo and the NAACP (Guest Post)

  1. Without going into Smiley’s ties with Wells Fargo, I simply question his motives in his self-appointed role as watchdog of the Obama administration. While I used to appreciate Smiley’s commentary, I now find him a self-serving and untrustworthy person who seems to enjoy tearing at Obama’s reputation. It turns my stomach to see him on TV.

  2. Well, let’s take the positives from this first:1) Tavis was right for holding Obama accountable and other elected officials2) It doesn’t bode well for the SOTBU that it was being sponsored by Wells Fargo (but we do need to realize black folks wouldn’t put up no money to sponsor this).I don’t think it’s best to be pointing fingers at Tavis, it comes off as hatin’ on the alleged hater. And it elevates Obama to some god-like status as though he’s above reproach.

  3. Interesting post Gemma, thanks for the thought. Contrary to what he may have said, Tavis Smiley did not leave the TJMS because he needed to move on to bigger better things, he left because Tom Joyner hurt his feelings by implying (rightfully so) that it was utterly ridiculous of Tavis to get an attitude because President (then Candidate) Obama would not attend the SOTBU. His self appointment as Obama’s watch dog comes more from hoping and waiting for a ‘gotcha moment’ that will can Tavis feel he gained retribution for being slighted (in his eyes, as if he was ever a serious consideration) by Obama. I think it is quite hypocritical of Tavis Smiley to accept sponsorship from any corporation without applying the same standard of accountability to them as he implores us to apply to Obama. As you said, the rules need to be the same for everybody. I hope Tavis doesn’t try to brush this off as if we won’t notice; he likes to run his mouth about everything else, so he needs to address this too.

  4. My sister is one of those closet conservatives who spent last year complaining about Obama, finding fault in him, calling him a empty suit, etc.. I don’t pretend to be anything but a biased liberal. If that’s construed as hate, then perhaps someone is projecting his own personal attitudes onto me. Obama is nothing but a man to me, and I don’t expect anything from him. I admire his principles and ideas. He won’t disappoint me. I ain’t waiting for the Messiah. He’s not coming.

  5. Tavis is self-serving. And I say pot meet kettle. No one is saying that Obama is the Messiah, I am just saying that Tavis’ ire was raised when he felt Obama snubbed him. Period. I can be real vigilant about people who snub me. Trust me on that. He didn’t want Michelle Obama to come in his stead. He felt slighted, and you can’t tell me that doesn not have any bearing on his message.Tavis critiquing Obama is like Monica Lewinksy talking about modesty and virtue. whateva!

  6. NO, the PRESIDENT is not above anything, but, who is TAVIS to be nit picking! he has a personal problem with the PRESIDENT, and he let’s it be known, TAVIS has been around for a long time, when the PRESIDENT was unknown, TAVIS SMILEY was up front, as long as TAVIS is trying to call BARACK out, I will not support him, now if it was AL SHARPTON, it would be different, AL has been in the trench’s with AFRICAN AMERICAN’S, TAVIS SMILEY is a SNOB! i have seen him in action, and forget about HUMILITY, the word PRIDEFUL suit’s him best!

  7. I am sorry but I can’t help but question his motives. He is so darn sanctimonious. And I just don’t like sanctimonius men. Maybe "I" and being unfair to Tavis. However, Tavis is like most people I know. We all have double standards. I write reviews of companies. I never badmouth them because I want the freebies and the giftcards. So tavis, I see you. I will give positive reviews of the products, unless they are straight up horrible, but on some things I can’t compromise. I will not write a positive review for bad literature, bad music, or bad movies, or bad education initiatives. Pick your line in the sand and stay behind it.

  8. @ AllWhile I know it’s tempting to turn this into a "What is wrong with Tavis" thread, what I found interesting about Genma’s article was the ethical question she posed: Can you speak from the moral high ground if you are taking money from entities who may be benefiting from the suffering of others? To me this situation is no different from how for decades black publications like Ebony and Jet relied on money from liquor and cigarette companies to stay in print. Now their advertising is much more diversified, but historically cigarette and liquor companies have been the ones to "support" black media. The only problem is black people disproportionately suffer from problems with cigarettes and alcohol. Yes, you’re getting a quality magazine, but you’re also helping a company peddle poison to an overly poisoned people.Do the ends justify the means? Does it matter where you get your donations from as long as you get them or should there be a better way of pulling off an event like SOTBU without being so overly reliant on corporations who often have different plans/agendas for our community? Their plan is profit. Our plans are usually about healthcare, education and jobs. Wells Fargo is being accused of doing something that holds successful black people back, which is the old bank loan boondoogle. For decades it was hard for blacks to even get a loan. Now that we can we get pushed towards the most unfair ones.How does that look to take money from a company who has done that from the same people whose issues you want to address?And why is it that we aren’t able to fund more of these things without large corporate endorsements? I can understand smaller endorsements from companies to pay for specific things, like a deal with a hotel for rooms and whatnot, but are there other resources Tavis could have tapped into pull off the event where he could have avoided looking compromised? Is it better to settle for a less "fancy" event if it means your message is clear?Or was there another way where he could have got what he wanted and the money he wanted and avoided the indictment that he’s yet another prominent black pawn that can be bought off and manipulated?

  9. I knew that logo stood out to me when I watched the show. I’m sure the folks at Well Fargo are confused and bewildered by the NAACP’s action. I think one of two things could be at hand here:1) Wells Fargo does in fact target minorities with subprime mortgages2) The NAACP is just doing making a frivolous lawsuitAlso, both could be true. It wouldn’t be surprising that a firm seeks out minorities to make a quick buck, and try to seem like a firm that is helpful to minorities by sponsoring these events.

  10. "Interesting post Gemma, thanks for the thought. Contrary to what he may have said, Tavis Smiley did not leave the TJMS because he needed to move on to bigger better things, he left because Tom Joyner hurt his feelings by implying (rightfully so) that it was utterly ridiculous of Tavis to get an attitude because President (then Candidate) Obama would not attend the SOTBU. His self appointment as Obama’s watch dog comes more from hoping and waiting for a ‘gotcha moment’ that will can Tavis feel he gained retribution for being slighted (in his eyes, as if he was ever a serious consideration) by Obama."____________________-This is completely wrong and categorically false. To make this assertion is indicative of the falsehoods that continue to be promulgated. Just because someone says something with conviction (like above) doesn’t mean it’s factually accurate.I suspect that the person does not know either Tavis or Tom on a personal level, so there is no basis for them in which to make such a statement. I know them both personally. That nonsense above couldn’t be further from the truth.

  11. I see that point Genma was making, although I see Smiley’s ulterior motives overshadowing the ethical issues. Corporation sponsorship is a dirty business. K-Mart uses under-aged kids in Asia to make clothes in sweatshops. PuffDaddy promotes booze in commercials, just like Billy Dee Williams did at one time. Oprah caters to a white audience with bourgeois topics. Hillary Clinton takes big money from drug companies. Our favorite politicians become lobbyists after leaving government. Who’s clean? If Budweiser offered you a million dollars to run some ads on your website, would you take it, Snob? Personally, I rather get on Smiley’s cheap shots at Obama. Peace always

  12. @ dukedravenOh, ethical questions abound whenever you’re trying to underwrite a product or service with corporate money, the problem in Smiley’s case is that the service he is trying to underwrite is under the guise of public service and activism. It’s like "The March on Washington brought to you by Tide." Traditionally grass roots activists have avoided corporate sponsorship because it can cause too many conflicts or even cloud their overall message. Most things of this nature are underwritten by individuals, foundations, universities and charities to avoid these complications.If publications like Ebony/Jet or even this blog had any sort of out in accepting dubious advertisers it was based in the fact that none of us were attempting to launch a grass roots movement. The mission is different. The problem I would run into would be self-censorship in the case of not wanting to offend my advertisers, yet wanting to speak frankly, an issue all publications have to work with, around and against if they want to produce unfettered opinions.The whole point of activism is that you are supposed to only work for the people you claim to represent. Activists aren’t known for living lavish lives, making a lot of money or even having a comfortable life. (If you’re not kind of broke and miserable, you’re not doing your activism right.) I think Smiley wants to have it both ways, he wants to be a producer, an author and reap wealth, but he also wants to fancy himself an author/activist in the vein of historical writer/activists like Ida B. Wells, WEB DuBois, James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. The only things is those individuals wrote primarily in black publications and relied largely on the support of the people they fought for.I don’t know if Tavis wants to live on an actual activist’s diet.

  13. I don’t think Jackson and Sharpton are crying poverty, and they’re self-proclaimed and recognized activists. I’m sure the NAACP is geting corporate donations and it speaks out against institutionalized racism. I don’t feeling care personally if March on DC had been funded by Mobil, for instance. I would say great, thanks for helping people get to the location. BTW, some of the favorite spiritual thinkers (Chopra, Walsch, Tolle and Osteen) are very wealthy men. They made huge amounts of money from advice that could have been given freely to people. Does that make their hands dirty?

  14. Also, I think activists may take issue with being regarded as "miserable," Danielle. Cesar Chavez may have fall into your stereotype, but others would disagree.

  15. @ dukedravenI would argue that there have been times in the modern NAACP’s history and in many instances regarding Jackson and Sharpton where they have been accused of compromising themselves as activists because of who they have aligned with and who they have taken money from. They are actual examples of how money does complicate things and cloud focus if you claim to be working for the benefit of individuals. The danger in an activist taking someone like ExxonMobil’s money is what happens when Mobil wants to store the waste from their refinery in a poor black neighborhood where the residents can’t afford the move and can’t afford the legal council to fight it? Do you turn your back on the people you have sworn to serve because without Exxon’s money you can’t put together your meetings and programs? Also, you can’t confuse influence and motivating people with actual activism. Some activists are motivators, but not all motivators are activists. Both have their place in inspiring people, but being a writer or philosopher is very different from activism which involves a great deal of sacrifice and in extreme classes, assured unpopularity with at least half the population — or even within your movement — because activists tend to be polarizing (see Sheehan, Cindy). Deepak Chopra makes people feel good and inspires people, whereas someone like Gandhi was deemed a threat because he couldn’t be bought and gave up the comforts of life to be married to a movement much larger than himself. From someone who looms large in the world of activism, like Nelson Mandela or Fannie Lou Hammer to a smaller figure like your college kid who goes to Israel on their break to throw things at Israeli soldiers on the border fence, there’s zero out of zero dollars in the effort. In fact, you run a real high risk of getting arrested or worse. And if you’ve ever read anything Cindy Sheehan has written you know these individuals aren’t working to make people "feel good," they’re working to enact radical change. In some cases they’re actively trying to piss people off to get a response. (See almost every protest against the IMF since 1999’s historic Battle in Seattle.)People criticize Sharpton and Jackson because they are perceived by some to have made compromises. While neither are poor, neither are rich either and Jackson especially still relies on much of the black community for support. Sharpton, on the other hand, has been criticized in the past for his money/tax situation which does involve donations from corporate entities.Perhaps we have different interpretations of what constitutes activism. My statement about "misery," wasn’t so much about martyrdom or that these individuals are joyless, but true activism is a hard thing to undertake due to the level of commitment and sacrifice. From Mother Teresa to Martin Luther King Jr. to even your basic minister who runs a homeless mission or a person who volunteers with at-risk youth, when you are dealing with some of the most extreme and painful cases in life you do go through moments of personal struggle and doubt. Especially when you believe there is a huge crisis and most people would rather look the other way.If Tavis simply wants to write, inspire dialogue and raise money for his causes, that’s fine. There is very much a place for that. I just don’t think he should grab the activist mantel. True activists put themselves on the line, often risking relationships, careers and livelihoods — even if they do find the work more rewarding in the end. If Tavis DOES fancy himself an activist my point was that in working with Wells Fargo he has compromised himself in the essence that an effective activist needs moral high ground to operate from. He cannot maintain that ground and take money from a controversial sponsor. But I’m operating from the belief that true activism involves sacrifice and a set of rules very different from those a writer, politician, journalist or social worker might live by.

  16. I’m sure Smiley views himself as an activist and sees no wrong in having corporate sponsorship and, likewise, many people would agree with him. Danielle, it’s your right to challenge his position, although many people like me don’t have a problem with allowing Smiley to wear the activist label and taking corporate sponsorship. Having Wells Fargo as a sponsor doesn’t sit well for some, but for me, that’s the least of Smiley’s sins. His relentless pursuit of Obama is what I question.

  17. When he was at Georgetown, we weren’t allowed to ask him any questions about this ties to the bank (or Big Healthcare and Big Pharma and Big Oil)hat; either as faculty members OR especially since I write for the (and our senior editors were there…he definitely didn’t want to talk to them). He had the place packed with bammas (who had no affiliation with the university) who asked this church-themed questions. But how to press him on it? The churchfolk need to hear it on Steve harvey and Tom Joyner (their version of the blogsphere).

  18. @ dukedravenI think my passion in regards to pseudo-activism by folks who don’t actually sacrifice anything at the alter of progress probably would match your distaste for Tavis’ brand of criticism regarding the president. I understand that. It’s just one of those things that drive me crazy as most activists, by and large, work with little-to-no media coverage, don’t make much money, but believe very passionately about their work and it drives me batty when people confuse punditry and book writing with actual physical involvement in pushing for radical change. I have a similar beef when people apply the label "hero" to people who haven’t actually done anything. Because then the word means nothing if everyone is a hero. But OBVIOUSLY I could go on and on as it is such a pet peeve of mine. Mostly because I admire actual activists who do the heavy lifting on my behalf, don’t get near the publicity others do (and to be honest, some prefer it that way wanting the focus to be the issues and not them) and I realize I don’t have that kind of fortitude or dedication to drop everything and dedicate my life to something like literacy and poverty in rural Mississippi or fighting for health care in Haiti.@ ChrisThat is such bollocks. I hope you write about it. The man is supposed to be a journalist. How does it look when someone who asks questions for a living can’t handle the questions of others? It’s a legitimate critique, especially if he is claiming the "Accountability" mantel. As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to claim the moral high ground to judge others from if the ground you’re standing on looks a wee shifty.He should just address the mess head-on and take the flack. It’s not like it’s going to kill his symposium. No one is going to sic Jon Stewart on him and make him the poster child for "dubious relations with a corporation."BOLLOCKS, I say.

  19. Kudos, Danielle, for trusting someone to take the wheel for awhile. I know it must feel scary but also relieving. It’s risk. It’s growth. It’s letting go.Kudos, to Gemma! I have been trying to get Black college students to understand what transparency was as well as people that were kind-of supporting me years ago. I believed they should know where their money went as well as show the world how processes flowed (or not). I found however that most Blacks are so used to being disenfranchised from information, they instantly think it is a burden to know or they are afraid for prying. I realized it was a latent dsyfunction passed along as legacy. I wanted students to start to ask questions of their "beloved" professors and I used myself as model to try to nudge them into feeling authorized to do it of their educators and their schools because I saw the schools had to much power in keeping the students ineffectual to become progressive thinkers.On my website I used to put up where their donations went. I put up where I went and who I talked to. I remember when It got so bad and I was losing my apartment even when I had inventory, I put up where the daily donations went in me figuring out whether to pay a vending fee, put gas in the car, and foregoing maxi-pads I really needed. I went without pads and used washclothes. It was bad. I put up who fed me and what bills I was not going to pay and which ones I had to pay. I put up what was said and what I held back. I put up who was shitting me and who was triangulating to shaft me. I put up who was supporting and who was wavering. I then got people chastizing me that I should have not opened up because it was too much. I realized our people did not want to be smarter. They did not want the responsibility of knowing what I was going through because knowing then summoned heir cognitive responses in responding to reciprocate in solidarity. People don’t want to lead like that in responding the same way they don’t want to notice anything suspicious about Tavis or anyone in the Black Esablishment. They just wanted presentation without the messiness of what is real and what manipulates them that really could be their tools for empowerment. They want people they believe in…the celebrity…the heroes…just not themselves…to have to do THE WORK…any work. They will look at Tavis, Tom, and even Obama and Michelle to see what they want to see. Our people have been taught to be loyal to blind-faith of magicians but we will doubt rather the real prophets.I love how you are asking us to trust in trying to be more courageous in being transparent. We have to have courage to question and challenge our heroes. I know that anyone in the Black Community trying to put on the same type of event will need sponsors because we will not support our own. However, I posed to a young woman, Monica Mason, an idea of a transparency conference for Blacks as a project of social innovation that I wanted to do when doing Uppity Negro. If I ever produced a symposium, EVERYTHING would be transparent. That is not what Tavis wants. It’s his FREE MARKET product and not an altruistic venture. Whereas he is not losing a scent of money/wealth he hoards, he is gaining income and underwriting his celebritydom and access of power. I want people to have more power in seeing everything right down to my anger, frustration, and fears. Tavis does not want you to see but one dimension of himself and that is the Tavis in presentation. Where you are coming from…you are light-uears ahead in rendering concepts our people don’t understand in the normalized ways of living. But…seeing that another voice is speaking of it, you are making the "idea" of transparency more probable to stick. I have a Tavis story that runs deep into understanding his operation but my purpose and obsession has not been to tear him down or see him fail. I rather just get Tavis to do right. I think though from all I have seen of him is that he really is not that innovative and does not know how to get there. The smart people he knows even are stunted. And as much as Tavis produced an evil aura we all see, it’s his own ego and selfishness that blocks the brilliant and innovation from someone like you or the people offering ideas and ideology here that does not reach him. It’s the problem of being in a self-righteous bubble of echoes telling you what you want to hear.Tavis would not even understand how to physically challenge himself or any of Corporate America because he believes in them and vouches for them. He can’t draw the line. He believes the hype they produce in their messaging. He just thinks there are complications. It’s up to the people to teach Tavis. Here is a great start. Now only if this what you wrote can ripple from the bottom to educators at so many colleges that safeguard and defend his FREE MARKET approaches, that then would make a paradigm shift. Too many educators and administrators are cut from the same cloth as Tavis or they want to be touched by his graces. A decentralized meme would have to permeate in your language like here to get to them who have the ability to saturate messages to their lemmings in their classes and those who look to them as quasi-celebrities in their own right.Christopher Chambers is always right.

  20. When is Tavis going to be held accountable for peddling Wells Fargo to the Black community? Tavis needs to be called out and questioned for his ties to these folks by Black Radio and media.

  21. Tavis takes advantage of Community Reinvestment dollars to do what he does. All banking institutions, Wells Fargo included, are required to reinvest those dollars in the black community. Instead of giving it to small black businesses in communities that really need it, they are giving it to Tavis. (See Wells Fargo reinvesting in the black community – look at their logo behind Tavis.) Trust, Wells Fargo knows exactly what they are doing with Tavis.

  22. This is to you young LADY, DANIELLE BELTON, you define yourself very well, I’m glad you’re out their, I read your profile, you don’t back down, GOOD, SPEAK! you are what I would call the "TRULY LIBERATED BLACK WOMAN" and trust me I say that with KNOWLEDGE, I’ m from the old school, when I was younger, I was what you may call a "ANGELA DAVIS WANNA BE" (smile) I believed in the (CAUSE) and I still do, so continue to write DANIELLE BELTON, we need you, you are the new voice, you may not have the BIG AFRO, like ANGELA, but, remain committed.

  23. Basically, we’re all on the same page. We don’t like what Smiley is doing. Danielle, when I recently called Obama my "hero," I was using the term loosely. You could have substituted the word "idol" and the meaning remains the same. While this is a hero-worshiping society, I was taught long ago to follow no one. I admire and look up to some people, and nothing more.

  24. @ dukedravenI didn’t realize you used the word "hero" in one of your comments. I thought I was just going off on my usual "once-a-day," random-ass tangent. That statement wasn’t about you. I was thinking of my general disdain for the over usage of the term by politicians and the media.

  25. Danielle, Wells Fargo called. They want to run some ads on your website. They want to know if $250,000 is an acceptable figure for you. Is it? What’s your price? Think it over.

  26. @ dukedravenI already stated that my issue was with claiming a mantel of activism and taking corporate money which in turned caused an ethical conflict of interest. I’m not purporting that my blog is a platform where the proceeds go to charity or to fight "the man." Everyone knows up front that I’m a writer and any money donated goes to keeping up the blog. I’m not an activist. My point was that Smiley isn’t an activist either. (Even though he would probably describe himself in that manner.)If I ran into trouble with advertising on the site that would be along the lines of an advertiser threatening to no longer pay for ads if I kept writing content that disagreed with them. In my mind, those are two different things. I would have to make a different ethical decision as a journalist. Re: what was more important — making an advertiser happy or writing what I feel like writing?I accept advertising (cash in full up front with no taksies-backsies) with the understanding that I’m going to simply write whatever I want. If someone becomes unhappy with my content I simply lose a client.But, once again, I’m not operating under the auspice of activism where someone like Smiley has created an institution that needs funding to function and claims it to be for the community. But if that same funding keeps him from speaking out on the community’s behalf when they are wronged what good was he as an activist?That said, I’m with Google Ads. For all I know Wells Fargo has already popped up on this blog. So do conservative Web sites, weird crap like "African Dating," TurboTax and Skype. But I still write whatever I want, if I’m truly offended by an advertiser I can request that their ads not be placed on my page. Either way, my content stays the same because that’s the ethics of journalism — to still write what you want while accepting advertising revenue, knowing sometimes you’re going to lose revenue based on what you write.On SOTBU, Tavis is not working from the journalism sphere. He’s claiming to be hosting an event meant to better the cause of African Americans. Would he have been able to keep his sponsor if there had been a panel on predatory lending and someone wanted to call out Wells Fargo? That’s the problem. If he takes the money, but then can’t speak out on the behalf of the people he claims to be fighting for he’s not an activist, hence he has lost the moral high ground he needs to push his argument from.So to answer your question if Wells Fargo was foolish enough to pay me to mock, bash and berate them I would let them do so. Yet, somehow, I don’t think that’s the understanding they have with Smiley given that, as Chris pointed out, he won’t even take questions on the matter.The money has spoken.

  27. @ thisisbsNo I do not know Tom Joyner or Tavis Smiley personally, nor did I claim to. However, I do distinctly recall listening to the TJMS the morning after Tavis announced that he would be leaving the show and hearing Tom Joyner and crew laughing (I was laughing right along with them) about Tavis writing in his own book that he did not speak to his mother for years because she would not allow him to participate in a school activity that she felt was affecting his grades. Tom said if Tavis stopped speaking to his own mother when he felt he was right and she was wrong, it was no surprise that he would leave the TJMS when they did not jump on the “Accountability” read "I hate Obama" bandwagon with him. Tom Joyner and crew continued to unequivocally support President (then Candidate) Obama after he turned down Tavis’ invitation to SOTBU because they understood (as any sane person would) that Obama was kind of busy at the time. Tavis was so full of himself and the grandeur of his idea that SOTBU is the end all be all for discussion on black life that Michelle Obama was not a sufficient substitute (also completely ridiculous). And for the record, with the exception of your own proclamation, I doubt that anyone else who has commented here knows Tavis Smiley personally either, why did my comment strike such a nerve?

  28. I won tickets and attended a Tavis Smiley event in Chicago called the SuccessSoul back in 2005. Guess who was the keynote speaker….then senator Barack Obama!!! It was all smiles and accolades then.What happened? The apparent snub at the SOTBU. Period. Also Wells Fargo reps, speakers, and logo were all up and through the event. This hypocrisy is why black "leaders" have lost credibility with the black masses. This is why they mis-gauged the support of African Americans for Hillary Clinton versus Obama.

  29. Activist:Noun: an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, esp. a political cause.Snob, I understand your point on an emotional level, but not intellectually. Yes, it rubs me the wrong way, something just stinks about all of the self-serving, ego-driven, spotlight addicted "activists" who are not just famous for being famous, but claim to be all about "everyday people." That said, I also recognize that my desire to have "activists" be all about their cause, not bought & paid for, is a fantasy. In the real world, I realize that even if something like the State of the Black Union weren’t corporate-sponsored, the money from individuals, charities/foundations, and any other entity would be just as tainted. Just where do you think individuals and foundations earn their money? If we want to have a litmus-test for how money is earned in this world, I doubt many of us would pass. Foundations/charities and individuals are just as likely to have dubious reasons for sponsoring an event as a corporation. 501(c) 3 status is a tax code, not a moral compass.That said, was Wells Fargo a wise choice as sponsor? Nope. Did the event require such a sponsor? I haven’t a clue. I do know that the issue was brought up at the SOtBU and a response, albeit one sentence, was given. Regardless, I’m far more concerned with our elected officials being bought & paid for than any one-day event.@MrsTIf Tom Joyner had read Tavis’ book, he’d know that the reason Tavis wasn’t speaking to his mother was because she allowed his step-father to beat him nearly to death. He was hospitalized & put into foster care, along with his sister.

  30. Tavis Smiley is a moochie mouthded, twitching, hating, hypocritical, pontificating windbag. I bet you a dollar to a donut he will not utter one single word on this issue. Accountable indeed….

  31. @Lady JI’ve never read a Tavis Smiley book and I never intend to, therefore I have no idea what can be found on their pages. That said, I was unaware of Tavis’ story of abuse, that part of his book was never discussed on the TJMS when I listened that day. Its good to know that Tavis was able to overcome such a horrific situation. I find it highly unlikely that Tom Joyner has never read any of the books of his former collegue, but I can’t speak to his reading habits either. I’m not sure why they only chose to highlight the portion of Tavis’ story regarding the school activity, but that is all I heard, so that is all I can comment on.

  32. I agree with Lady J and Duke Draven.Black Snob. Love you like a fat kid loves cake but whomever calls someone a sell out has never been given an offer. No Tavis didn’t have to associate himself with a predatory lending bank but we are all outsiders looking in. If you want in you’ve got to play the game of money and power and with that comes concessions. Its the way of the Western World.

  33. @AnonymousBut that’s Snob’s point, you can claim moral authority when you make concessions. How can you hold other people accountable when you aren’t willing to be held accountable. I don’t care who you take sponsorships from but don’t try to act like you are morally superior than everyone else when you are making the same concessions that everyone else is making.

  34. @ Anonymous & Lady JI’m understanding that organizations take funds for charities and causes. That wasn’t the point I was arguing. Corporate money serves a purpose especially when they donate towards local charities. I was arguing over Tavis claiming the mantel of activism based on my belief of what constitutes activism. My argument was only about him claiming this title when he’s more of a public speaker, writer, journalist and social commentator than an activist. And that if he was claiming to be such, the Wells Fargo thing damages him because activists need moral high ground to operate from, otherwise their ideas and works are shot down and discredited, or worse, compromised, keeping them from helping the same people they claim to serve.(Re: My Exxon gives you money so when Exxon wants to store toxic waste in a poor black neighborhood there is a good chance Tavis would have little to say.)I’m very realistic about what organizations go through to get the funds they need to help people. It’s just many charities and organizations do try to avoid ethical conflicts of interest or, when they get stuck in a situation like Tavis is in, are forced to either risk losing a donor or stay silent and be rendered useless. My overall point was that what Tavis does doesn’t constitute to activism and this incident further muddies any claims he may have made to it. I never used the term "sell out" at all. People who take corporate money for causes aren’t sell outs. My point was that activists tend to operate with a "people first" ideal and if you can’t speak out against an entity that has done something to harm people for you are not a very good activist.Activist organizations like the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Innocence Project don’t get a lot of major corporate donations because corporations don’t give to groups that might drag them in court one day or oppose them politically. Or groups deemed "controversial." That was my point with Smiley and arguing that there is a difference between putting together a symposium and actually, physically doing something to enact radical change. If Tavis was pushing something that was challenging the system major donations like that would be much, much harder to come by because corporate sponsors want to buy good will and good publicity. The man is hosting a glorified public chat group that does make everyone look good, normally. But that’s not activism in my opinion and that has been the ONLY point I’ve argued.If Tavis can’t take interview questions about it it really casts him and his endeavors in a very selfish light, implying that this is really for him and his own aggrandizement and not the people. And that’s me calling him shallow. I almost never accuse people of being sellouts because that would mean I’m in their head and know their true motives. I don’t know that and I don’t purport to. I’m merely saying this is an ethical problem for him if he wants to be an activist.If he just wants to be a nice guy who puts on "chats" about black folks, he’s in the clear with me.

  35. It’s a few hours before our board debrief at the job so I really have no time to detail what I want to say. But reading your recent comment above, Danielle, is actually the first piece of written expose I have read in the years I was active and inactive as an activist. No, periodical., media organization, or scholastic institution has even treid to educate the Black public about what is an activist and what is not. I had no idea that we were so confused and ignorant as a block until after I already dedicated myself which affected my finances, my reputation, my safety, and my comfort and sanity. A few years ago a woman wrote an article about the fraudulent ideas of my generation and your generation that don’t understand the concept of The Talented Tenth but reappropriated it for their own desired measurable meaning–not what Dubois was intending. Well, we have seen that time and time again with people not understanding what MLK was and that hardly any of the people on the panels of the SOTBU are truly applicable by definition to be considered authentic activists. They are some just preachers, some just politicos, some just pundits, some just policy wonks, some just educators, and some just wise men. Occasionally there are a few innovators like Omar Warsaw, who obviously has ideas and applications he would like to apply to the Black Community but our people are not acclimated to understand visionaries so Tavis keeps his model pretty much the same proliferating ideas that the SOTBU is activism showcasing activists at work. Thank you for explaining this much so far. I know all of this but people don’t listen to people they don’t trust. And telling people things they don’t want to hear which is usually what comes out of my mouth is what you said. I asked and begged and nudged (Cass Sunstein) students for years to question and investigate the models they were taught as de facto life as the way it is. I have found that our people just take what is popular as authentic, absolute truths when in this case especially for 40 years since King was killed, activism became a cottage free market industry for not only Blacks but Whites too. Everything became commoditized after his death and GenY was born into it actively in execution believing that if it exists, it is right. Scientifically charged, it took you trusting to allow Genma to serve in a fudicuary role to not disrupt or disrespect your blog and out of it she added nuance and texture. It gave the blog more brevity of more than one voice of something in a subject aht really required more than a single voice. There is a consensus building here to validate readers and posters here to see a new thought they may never have seen or taken seriously because what she wrote and you wrote is not…popular talk. It’s paradigm shifting to expose the transparency of what is the reigning system. I have more to detail but I have to get to the debrief on time because if I don’t the external staff will see who shows up late up on screen. Today is not a day to be late. I’ll type more in the afternoon.

  36. My problem with Smiley is that he did not turn his microscope unto the other candidates, republican or democrat with the same intensity he turned on Obama. It turned would could be a reasonable and responsible call for accountability into a witch-hunt. Distrust for the slick talkin’, shiny "new nigga" in town. The bias was clear, and as a journalist, it’s not a trait he can morally have. Furthermore, denying Michelle Obama the stage at his SOTBU said a lot about him. He didn’t just snub her, he snubbed all those attending his symposium who was interested in learning from her. And now this Wells Fargo thing. According to what some responders have been saying, it’s fine to excuse Smiley for accepting money from people accused of slighting the same black people whose interest he claims to seek. We should forgive and forget because being effective at activism requires resources that only corrupt corporations can provide? I’m sorry but I don’t buy it. This whole issue has made him out to be a biased, selfish, hypocrite. And I’m holding him accountable.

  37. When he was at Georgetown, we weren’t allowed to ask him any questions about this ties to the bank (or Big Healthcare and Big Pharma and Big Oil)hat; either as faculty members OR especially since I write for the (and our senior editors were there…he definitely didn’t want to talk to them). He had the place packed with bammas (who had no affiliation with the university) who asked this church-themed questions.But how to press him on it? The churchfolk need to hear it on Steve harvey and Tom Joyner (their version of the blogsphere).__________________I attended the Georgetown townhall…#1, it wasn’t packed. #2, there weren’t any "Bammas" it was mostly Georgetown-affiliated staff, professors and alums. #3, there was ZERO admonition about how/what questions could be asked with the exception that the person ask A QUESTION, not give a comment only. The Q&A lasted more than 45 minutes and everyone in line was able to ask their question.Chris Chambers, you’re lying on all accounts.

  38. Thanks for your response Snob. You are one heck of a writer and a thoughtful one at that.At the end of the day we all hold onto our beliefs about what defines what. Tavis Smiley, activist or not, has a megaphone attached to his ego and for whatever personal reasons (could be the snub…I dunno) has waged his displeasure toward the Obama name. On the outside he appears to be hypocritical, maniacal and a tad insecure; but perhaps he knows something we don’t. Whether we like it or not we’re all capitalist by default (gotta make that paper!) and we’re all are longing for a way to get paid doing what we love to do. Some of us give it a try and many of us fail while continuing to work at a sucky ass job getting paid in lint balls. Paperback Prophets, Poverty Pimps, and expensive BET dinners are where its at when it comes to the bottom line of Black intellectual success. In otherwords…to be on the other side of popping shit (using those big college words) and to be on stage doing it; is a capitalist dream come true. Somewhere in the Universe I doubt if the people on those panels (speaking fees!), Well Fargo Bank and Tavis himself really shive a git about what we think true activism really means. They are all finding a way to get paid to do what they love.Wherever the chips may fall I’m glad to be alive to witness a new day where we can have these types of conversations.

  39. Tavis’ s segments on Tom Joyner’s Show were also sponsored by WalMart, and we know about their shady dealings. Tom does a lot of good work for HBCUs and I guess it’s good to know WalMart is sponsoring that. This is a good ethical argument-do you accept money from whomever if the money is going to a good cause?

  40. @ AllWow! I didn’t realize this was at 46 comments. (Granted, a ton of them are my lengthy dissertations on activism, but still!)@ ShazzaTom is a radio show host, so he’s operating under different rules. In the world of media, you need advertising to keep your show on the air. It’s fine to take Wal-Mart’s money if his bottom-line is the show and only the show. Any moral stance he chooses to take would be an individual ethical choice based on his own values. (Like when the NAACP was boycotting Adam’s Mark Hotels and many black businesses, organizations and media refused to stay at the hotel or run advertising for them.)To me, the only time corporate money because a problem is when the money directly conflicts with the community you’re trying to serve. Like if Tom can take Wal-Mart’s money and if he chooses, still do a show where he might criticize Wal-Mart for something like how they handled the Jamaican immigrant who was trampled to death during an after-Thanksgiving sale in New York last year, that’s pretty typical in the world of media and journalism. Taking ad money, then sometimes actually having to call out a sponsor on the air. Then it’s up to the sponsor to decide if they want to pull their money or not.That’s usually how it happens because the personalities often have zero to do with advertising. The network has ad reps who recruit and handle advertising accounts. At the newspaper I worked for it was amazing the differing mindset because as reporters, we wrote pretty much whatever we wanted and often what we wrote would cause them to lose the very clients we needed to keep the paper in business, but the ad department had no power over what we wrote. They could only complain.As for raising the money for HBCUs, if Wal-Mart is giving the money without conditions that could hamper how the HBCUs use the money, I think that’s great. Wal-Mart can be an awful company to work for and is often bad for the environment. The LEAST they can do is help out some HBCUs. But if Wal-Mart was giving money while at the same time doing something to hurt black college kids, then I’d say there’s a big, big problem. Also, whether Wal-Mart is "good" or "bad" often depends on who you’re talking to. If you’re a poor person who needs inexpensive goods and lives in an area where there isn’t a lot of access to stores or good jobs, you probably WANT a Wal-Mart. Usually the people who hate Wal-Mart are the people who can "afford" to hate Wal-Mart. My Granny, who lives in Newport, Ark., home to one of the original Wal-Mart’s, has a very different view of Sam Walton’s enterprise than, say, some folks I knew in California who were always fighting Wal-Mart for a myriad of reasons. To my grandmother, Sam Walton is the man who bought American Lantern and saved my Grandpa’s job in the 80s and gave her town a decent store where some of my relatives worked. Yeah, she has some complaints, but I’d say she’s more for Wal-Mart than against it.

  41. Don’t we all need to view ourselves as activists? If we hold to the idea that "radical change" and "authentic activists" and eating an "activist diet" and complaining about what others are or aren’t doing as opposed to being the change we wish to see, is it progress? Activism isn’t a Eurocentric/patriarchal narrow idea – it’s holistic. We are all activists and we’d better start believing that or we’ll continue to run in circles.

  42. Lady J,Activism and sociallly do-gooding has been a liberalizing trend of elitist Liberals or elite seeking Liberals. Conservatives do do-gooding work as social architects to retain dominance in conservative design of the country’s market value. For us, Blacks, especially, we have tried to tie on this philosophy of validating our assimilation with do-gooding activist claims when it is subjective. Everyone is pushed to do it. It’s just not the college crowds that are pushed to speak this defensive language. Even knuckleheads proliferate the scripts without understanding that what each person sees as activism is a variant tone and shade of perception instead of what is definable and unquestionable.How we live, especially after this recent presidential campaign, everyone that signed up to social network or donate $5 got a the bonafides to claim they were activists. Obama made the model produce easier to attain goals for those not really interested in risk, sacrifice, and commitment. But what really happened is that it was not activism for most people in the end result. It was momentary and it was definitely clandestine to reach a desired result through marketing schemes of giving people what they really wanted to see of themselves in being able to wear a noble badge for once and be recognized for it. Obama did not really insist in far-reaching benchmarks for people to reach in noble sacrifice. He made everyone a winner if they just gave $5 and promoted him which had a ripple-effect of belonging to a winning team that was viral…infiltrating and could overwhelm and over-power. It was a successful movement.Still…not everyone is an activist but they may think they are. And of this there are so many uneducated, educated individuals brokering to try to lead and be heard and be seen when most people don’t even know what is needed is not them in the roles of how they think activism actualizes. We are, yes, essentially activists promoting our opinions to live the ways we want and we try to influence others to follow our ideas but that is not what Danielle or any of us is talking about because what you are saying is actually supporting still the individualized activism when what we need in centralized consensus building in less individualism as a community. It’s scientific and mathematical. It’s stupifying. It’s a defective model we have been trying to make make sense because it makes us singularly feel powerful but it prohibits forward movement. It’s continous chaos and circling. We need a centralized governing system and that is possible and that can be democratic but that is not what Tavis was to take on in structurally offering the Black populace. In 1972 there was a first atttempt at creating a Black Congress but it fizzled. The males did their male thing and shafted Shirley Chisolm. I think it was a great idea and even the knuckleheads should have kept it going. They got frustrated and felt into the model of feeling like entrusting the Democratic Party to structure Black life in America was going to be the only centralized model we could depend on. The Jews have a Congress and so can we. And I don’t think it will be perfect and easy but we have more educated individuals who have lived through watching the past 40 years of chaos that we know what to expect. Instead, all we get is Tavis’ model of the chat show to talk about a problem and meet next year to talk about the problem. How Tavis and even the others who vy to be a part of it can grandstand and showcase after all these years of no programming progress in the model baffles a lot of us. And yet people think that is what is activsim when it is just a show…edutainment…and church. It’s communion Sunday service and revival all wrapped up into one.You can talk about needing hoslitic practice of activism all day but that does not have any market value in the end of the day that amasses social capital as a networking system within the Black Community or any people. We need governance and that is organized proxy.In order to get to building a system with oversight, we need radical change to propel the dynamics to fuse. Just thinking and channeling activism is not THE WORK. THE WORK is what authentic activists are trying to get self-anoited marketers to do and stop advertising that they are activists. It’s clearly free market approaches in using competition to deflect interest and anxiety from the long commitment to the sometimes unrewarding hard work that is THE WORK needed to provoke social change. Marketers make it easy for the people to have tangible feelings that they have achieved results but dumbing down and watering down the proprietory value of what is required in human capital from the people.

  43. Well someone has to pay the bills. I understand the premise of what is being said but would we feel the same way if we were slaves and our slave master bought us tickets on the freedom railroad?I guess what I am trying to say is at some point and time we have to stop complaining about if and everything and use what is readily available to get what we need and to where we need.Another example isIf you were laying on a stretcher and needed a blood transfusion, and the only person that was your blood type and willing to give you the transfusion was a leader in the kkk. Would you accept the transfusion and live? Or would you adopt the same mentality of the oppressor and die?

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