It was announced Friday morning, April 11, that Tavis Smiley will leave his twice-weekly perch as a commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS). I think this is a big loss (disclosure: I've appeared on Smiley's PBS television show). His departure is disappointing and reveals what happens when one has the audacity of independent thought. Tavis has the temerity to think for himself, ask Black people difficult questions, and avoid the temptation to look at matters through rose-colored glasses. But, alas, no good deed goes unpunished and Smiley's prize has been blistering, often off-based criticism from some longtime TJMS listeners who think that Tavis crossed the line for not joining the fawning over Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign. I can't help but believe that listener reaction to his position pushed him out of the door. I know it's being played as a scheduling thing, but the reality is that Smiley speaks to more people on the TJMS than on his radio and television shows combined. It's a valuable outlet, so I don't believe that he wanted to give up access to such a large audience.
There are plenty of people who can do commentary -- but very few who can do it intelligently -- and I'm sure they are salivating at the opportunity to fill a plumb vacancy (disclosure: I've been a weekly commentator on WVON-AM in Chicago and the Cliff Kelley Show since June 2005). The reality is, however, that Tavis is an original and almost singlehandedly created this role for Black commentators on national radio. Black-formatted radio shows all over the country have taken the TJMS lead and now have regular commentators/analysts talking politics. That's an important contribution in an arena where such talk has been sorely needed. He used his notoriety to branch out into his own television and radio shows, which he has used to bring much needed Black voices to America's ears and, for that, he should be commended. In this way, he's the embodiment of DuBois' "Talented Tenth."
Bon voyage, Tavis. You've done well. You were brave to take the stances that you have over the years, including your wait-and-see approach to Obama. You were right not get caught up in the hype and seek accountability from all, regardless of color. Too bad your people didn't appreciate what you were trying to do. Worse, still, is that they took your approach for hatin' on Obama or, ridiculously, that you're in the Clinton's pocket. Sadly, one of the lessons of the Democratic presidential nomination fight is that we can't have objective conversations about Obama; you get fired when you try.
I know better, Nupe, and wish you well.