Fly Jock Tom Joyner, Tavis Smiley drama – Who wants to be MLK, Jr.
By Dr. Boyce Watkins
I remember being in 11th grade and seeing two young girls get into a fight with one another. This was no ordinary fight, since the two girls had once been inseparable. When you saw one, you saw the other. Then, for whatever reason, a boy came between the two of them, and it ripped their friendship like a helpless pig in an Oscar Meyer slaughterhouse.
The fight wasn’t just nasty because the two women were going at each other’s throats. It was made even more toxic by the fact that they’d once been so close. All the dirty laundry and nasty secrets were tossed out into the street, and both girls ended up making themselves look silly. All the while, the boy who came between them was sleeping with both girls at the same time.
I think about that fight when I observe the now-defunct relationship between former on-air buddies Tom Joyner and Tavis Smiley. These two men were once Frick and Frack, tag teaming the most powerful Black radio platform in the country. I remember these two extraordinary men speaking up for Black people in their own righteous, albeit corporate sponsored, kind of way. While I am not a fan of “Black liberation brought to you by McDonalds,” I’ve always admired the way Tom and Tavis have been able to work their magic and make a living, all at the same time.
But like those two girls in high school, a man has come between Tavis and Tom and destroyed their friendship forever. That man’s name is President Barack Obama.
Tom Joyner has been enamored with Obama from day one, supporting every policy that comes out of the White House as if he were an employee of the administration. He defends the Obamas like they are the Black royal family, with power that is not to be questioned by any of those who dare to believe that we live in a Democracy. Tavis Smiley, on the other hand, seemed to have alliances with Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential election which led to him overplaying his hand and going all-in on the pending Obama presidency in a way that left him both defeated and marginalized after King Obama entered into the White House.
I felt bad for Tavis Smiley when he went after President Obama, largely because I didn’t feel that his attacks were always genuine. While I certainly admire his crusade on the important issue of poverty, I couldn’t help but feel that there were more peculiar motives at work. Additionally, I must honestly say that Tavis Smiley might have over-estimated the power of his own voice, since black people were unable to hear his words at that time (it’s hard to talk to anyone when they’ve fallen in love).
What made me saddest was to see Tom Joyner being forced to sever his relationship with Tavis Smiley in order to save his show from the backlash that comes with having your co-host use your platform as a daily soap box to bash a man (Obama) who millions were convinced was a political reincarnation of Jesus Christ. When you decide to raise up a stink that is going to get this kind of reaction, you should probably not do it in someone else’s house.
This week, Tom wrote an interesting article about his former friend Tavis Smiley on Black America Web. Tom Joyner found himself responding to recent remarks Tavis Smiley made about President Obama having the audacity to leverage the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King during his recent inauguration. Said Tavis Smiley:
“Obama is a politician, and a pretty good one, but King was a prophet. And while I can appreciate the president’s fascination with King’s legacy of unarmed truth and unconditional love, I’m feeling some sort of way about King being used symbolically for public pomp and circumstance, but disregarded substantively when it comes to public policy.”
Tom Joyner then replied with this remark:
… I believe that Tavis is the one fascinated with Dr. King’s legacy, but more importantly Tavis is fascinated with his own legacy, and that’s not good. He wants more than anything to be remembered the way Dr. King was, and to some how make that kind of mark on the world.
Dr. King wasn’t concerned about how he would be remembered, he was concerned with doing good and doing right. In the end, that made him great. Tavis has done a lot of good things but his obsession with becoming great is destroying him. The whole issue with the inscription on the King Memorial illustrates the differences between Tavis and Dr. King. Days before he was killed, believing that death was imminent, Dr. King dealt with it publicly in his Drum Major speech.
Dr. King knew good things would be said about him in death and he was humbled at the idea of it. Tavis is afraid of what will be said about him and it’s driving him crazy. …
Here’s what I find to be interesting about Tom’s comments: Notice that Tom Joyner pretty much focuses all of his attention on the flaws of Tavis Smiley and not on the flaws of President Barack Obama. It’s not as if Tavis is wrong about the Obama Administration’s neglect of the problems of poverty, racism and mass incarceration. The Obama Administration recently stated that immigration reform is its top priority, this in spite of the fact that black voters gave Obama far more support than the Hispanic community.
The president, even while agreeing that the War on Drugs has caused the Black community irreparable harm, has barely used his pardon power to help achieve retroactive sentencing for the tens of thousands of men and women who remain behind bars with sentences that were the result of the 100-t0-1 crack-to-powder disparity. Part of the reason we now have a culture of single parent households and so much urban violence is because the federal government supported efforts to bring drugs and guns into Black communities. President Obama is complicit with this legacy via his own inaction and anyone who has spent time in urban communities knows that this kind of political neglect is simply unforgivable.
My point here is simple: Tom Joyner, like many of us, realizes that going after the easy target makes for a comfortable argument. Tavis Smiley and his imperfections (which I can’t entirely disagree with) are the easy target. The difficult target for Tom Joyner is the Obama Administration, which has used its power to create the divisions that have undermined the quest for unified African American leadership.
So, here’s my advice to Tom Joyner: Stop talking about Tavis Smiley and start talking about the issues. You and I can agree on at least a couple of things: Poverty, violence, Black unemployment and mass incarceration are serious problems in the Black community, and we also agree that President Barack Obama can help. Finally, we hopefully agree that no president in American history has received this much support from the black community, which means that we have paid the extraordinary price to lend the Obamas an unprecedented amount of political capital that they are investing in other special interest groups.
The bottom line, without question, is that WE ARE OWED SOMETHING FROM THIS ADMINISTRATION. If Barack Obama were a white man, there would be no way he could get away with getting this much Black support without doing something for our community, so a man with a Black face should not be allowed to get away with this either. In fact, if Barack Obama had been born white instead of bi-racial, Tom Joyner would be protesting in front of the White House with his best friends, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.
This nonsense must come to an end, and we must begin judging politicians by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. So far, President Obama has played the race card beautifully, but at some point, he must produce do something to prove that he has our interests at heart. Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, no matter what their motives may be, are speaking to the issues that matter the most for our community. So, even if they have personal reasons for pursuing their agenda (which would make them no different from Obama, Joyner or anyone else), this does NOT invalidate the agenda altogether.
As far as Tavis Smiley and Tom Joyner are concerned, I don’t know if they will ever be friends again. But they might be able to learn a lesson from the two girls I knew from the 11th grade. Once they realized that they’d been pitted against each other, they apologized, rebuilt their friendship and remained friends to this day. Once they recommitted themselves to a unified front, the boy they were chasing found them much more difficult to manipulate.