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April 29, 2008

Message to the People: Obamamania wants your soul. Just ask Tavis Smiley

While Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to slug it out (Clinton winning the latest round in Pennsylvania), a nasty war rages in black America against the few blacks who dare not only to support Clinton, but even ask questions about Obama. The latest and most public victim was radio and television personality and political commentator Tavis Smiley. Let me be clear: To date, Smiley has never said Barack Obama is a bad candidate or that he supports Clinton. Also, be clear that Smiley is no shyster, bum or intellectual lightweight. Neither is he some self-hating black man who avoids issues of race. To the contrary, for more than two decades, Smiley has fought the good fight for black folk in multiple arenas. From local California radio to Black Entertainment Television to National Public Radio to the Public Broadcast Service, Smiley has always spoken clearly and powerfully to issues affecting black people. He has done the same in asking legitimate questions about where Obama stands on some of the most pressing issues facing African Americans.One would think that Smiley would have gained a certain amount of trust among black folk and his questions would be well received. Wrong! In fact, Smiley has been roundly criticized by many blacks because he has not hopped aboard the Obama train without question. The worst has been the response of listeners to the nationally syndicated “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” on which Smiley has served as a socio-political commentator for years. In response to Smiley raising points for voters to mull over, black people have responded not with appreciation and curiosity but with flat-out anger. This isn’t Obama’s fault, but some of his followers are simply out of control.Obamamaniacs have accused Smiley of being jealous, a “cry-baby,” “hater” and “bitch.” For goodness sake, the man and his family have even received death threats! Ultimately, Smiley announced his resignation from Joyner’s show. Is it just me, or is this going too far? To be sure, Smiley is not attempting to prompt black people to ask questions of a known commodity. He’s asking them to take a long, hard look at a man most of them hadn’t even heard of until four years ago. He’s asking them to ask questions of a man who, unless forced (two words: Jeremiah Wright), avoids speaking to issues of race at all.I’m sorry, but the Obamamaniacs’ argument that Obama can’t win if he says anything about black issues doesn’t hold. No one is saying Obama should run a campaign in which he only addresses black issues. That would be foolish. However, he should also not expect blanket black support if he is a candidate who takes every opportunity to distance his agenda from difficulties hampering black progress. Would Jews, Hispanics or any other constituency give him the same pass? No! Blacks shouldn’t either, but they do. Why? Because many (NOT ALL) are still largely steeped in voting for him primarily because he’s black. That’s not politically mature.Of course, many use the “spook who sat by the door” argument and posit that Obama will magically become a champion for their causes once he secures the desired position. I remember that argument for another black public figure when I was a senior in college. His name was Clarence Thomas. Now, I’m not saying Obama is Thomas — he is not. But I am saying that I would hope Americans in general and black folks in particular would have learned some important lessons from McCarthyism, Vietnam, Reaganism, Bushism, 9/11, Iraq, etc. Always, always ask questions and never condemn those who do.I swear, every time I take a step toward Barack Obama, Obamamaniac foolishness like this prompts me to take two steps back. Be clear — come November, I WILL vote for Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination. But, what I have realized is that many of Obama’s followers don’t just want our votes — they seem to want our souls! Well, you can’t have mine! And, by the way, you owe Smiley an apology.Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools. Dr. Ricky L. Jones is chair of Pan-African Studies at U of L. His LEO column appears in the last issue of each month. Contact him at blackvanguard@hotmail.com