September 17, 2011

Assessing America's 1st Black President

Bo and Z. discuss assessing America's first Black President in this segment of 

Recently, Tavis Smiley was labeled a "critic" of President Obama.

Z: I give props to ‘The Grio’ for inviting Tavis Smiley to discuss the notion that he is a “critic” of President Obama. Whether Smiley is a critic of Obama or not, I think that a more interesting question is whether one should be labeled a critic if one points out that the President could or should be doing a better job in particular areas. I.e., does recognition of areas that can be strengthened mean that one wholly disapproves of the President? Particularly, does this recognition coming from a Black person mean that the individual doesn’t appreciate the historical progress of America having its first Black President?

Bo: I feel that everyone is entitled to their own opinion & once you exercise your right to voice your opinion, you have to be prepared for the backlash that comes with free speech.  There is nothing wrong with pointing out areas that need improvement. I do it to my kids regularly. Does this make me a critic? Maybe to them, but in reality I'm there biggest fan.  My true intentions are not to put them down, but to make them the best that they could be. Does brother Tavis have these same motives with President Obama? That I don't know.  

Z.: Exactly, we'll never know what Smiley's true motives are. But, I tend to believe that he is sincere--not because he says he's not a critic but because of the reasons that he provides. He points to widely available statistics to support his argument that a better job by the President should be expected by all Americans. To me, it seems that some Americans are treating the "1st Black President" situation, labeling people "critics" if they disagree with some issues, just as some treated protesters of recent wars; calling them "unpatriotic." I believe both are inaccurate and unfair.

Bo: The jury is still out for me on Mr. Smiley...obviously he's very bright and is capable putting a spin on his hate if such is the case.  I used to listen to him on the TJMS before Mr. Obama was elected and I thought I smelled a tab bit of hate. Even so, we are individuals and are allowed to think as such. I respect him for having his own opinion whether it aligns with mine or not. It is always easier to armchair quarterback, than to take the hits on the field. Again "free speech" is just that. We are free to speak intelligently and some will love it and some will hate it. Just as we are free to speak ignorantly and some will love it and some will hate it. Inaccurate or not, fair or not; it is what it is.

Z.: What stands out for me are the facts: Blacks are suffering worse unemployment, the bad economy is affecting us more severely (e.g., the loss of our homes), and recovery is going to be much more difficult than for the rest of America. Smiley’s personal agenda notwithstanding, I believe that his holding the President accountable speaks well of him as a professional journalist. Some seem to be of the opinion that because Obama is the 1st Black President that America should “go a little easy” on him. And it seems that Blacks who criticize areas where improvement is needed are especially scrutinized.

Bo: I was much more critical of the President while he was running for office than I am now. There were plenty of things that were done and said during his campaign that I thought should have been done differently, yet he still won the election. I know 1st hand that being the "1st" comes with baggage. This man is under an atomic micro-scope and I have cut him some slack on certain issues. Jackie Robinson was 1st in Major League Baseball and had to put up with some stuff that would have set others off. Rosa Parks was the 1st because she had the personality and background to make the bus boycott successful. The way I look at it, Obama may have been given the keys to the white house, but it seems like it was the spare set, judging by all of the disrespect that he has had to endure being the 1st. He has eight years of Bush to clean up and there is no way that he can do that in 1 term. My thoughts are that he's hoping to get much more done in his 2nd term.

Question: Should Americans, particularly Black Americans, be labeled "critics" if they form and express a judgment of the merits, facts, etc. of the current presidency? Is being a "critic" a bad thing?

"Left of Black" host, Mark Anthony Neal, is joined by noted economist William "Sandy" Darity, Arts & Sciences Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Duke University. They discuss the Obama Administration's methods of tackling the economic cirsis and reveal Darity's own approach to combating unemployment via a guaranteed jobs program. They also talk about he Project Bright Idea, a program that aims to educate youth by providing gifted-quality education.

"Left of Black" is a weekly Webcast by Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University. 

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