08/15/2011 07:02 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2011

Criticism and Confusion

My friends have called me one of the blackest black guys. I take that as an endearing compliment. As an African-American man, I can admit that I enjoy being black. The history, the pedigree and the tradition that the Almighty used to create us as African Americans is a testament to his wisdom, so it was no surprise to many of my friends and family that I was on the Barack Obama bandwagon during the 2008 presidential election. Here was this man, a black man, with transcending ideas, that would catapult our country from missteps and miscues to greatness and glory. And why not a black man? The black man is one of the primary factors, if not whole-heartedly, responsible for the United States ascending to its height of economic dominance -- indeed, hundreds of years of free labor paid this country dividends. It could only be a black man to put our nation back on track after eight years of piss-poor decision making by George W. Bush. My wife and I made the "pilgrimage" to Chocolate City to, if I can borrow from Jay-Z and Kanye West, watch the throne and witness the coronation. That day, along with the hundreds of thousands of people surrounding me, I, too, was full of hope, optimism and encouragement. I knew that if anyone could help restore the promise of America, Barack Obama could and would. Was I blinded by the fact that he was a black man? Quite possibly. But my rationale at the time was that there had been white men who'd screwed up as president, so let's give this brotha a chance to succeed.

Yet as I reflect on the past three years of the Obama presidency, I must humbly say that there have been a number of shortcomings, just as there have been triumphs. Many often praise the president for being cool, calm and collected when dealing with folks, but others believe that he is too passive and not as aggressive as he needs to be in situations when it's necessary. Personally, I find President Obama a bit too passive when dealing with Republican opposition. Does that make me an "Uncle Tom" for thinking so? As an American, it is my right to have my own opinion and viewpoint, and if I want to disagree with the decisions and actions of the president, who happens to be a black man, I can do so, and that doesn't make me less black. Many black folks would agree that disagreeing with black folks or going against popular opinion in African America doesn't make one less of an African American. So why are Tavis Smiley and Cornel West being vilified by many in the African-American community for critiquing President Obama's policies -- particularly by radio show hosts Steve Harvey and Tom Joyner?

Let me be clear: anyone who disagrees with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West's critique of President Obama is well within their right to do so. But folks need not question the blackness of Obama dissenters who are black, or claim that they are just as bad as ignorant individuals who choose to use racist slurs and terms to describe or define President Obama. Tom Joyner said that Smiley and West did much worse than Mark Halperin, co-writer of "Game Change" and the man who called the President a dick, because they've created an environment for individuals like Mark Halperin, Pat Buchanan and Joe Wilson to make those sorts of comments. Steve Harvey said on his radio show that Smiley and West were affiliated with -- Uncle Tom Look Out. Joyner and Harvey sound more ignorant than do Smiley and West, as they suppose.

Just because President Obama is a black man doesn't mean that all black folks have to agree with his every move, and it doesn't mean that black folks cannot question his policies, motives and reasons for doing the things that he does; black folks are not a monolithic people. Are Smiley and West grandstanding? Maybe so. Is the poverty tour more about ego than substance? It quite possibly may be. But regardless of what you say or think of them both, Smiley and West have a point, and it is worth listening to. No, President Obama isn't the president of black people, but he certainly hasn't done the best job of addressing his black constituency. You can say what you want: President Obama addressed his Latino constituency with appointing Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court; he addressed his gay and lesbian constituency with the repeal of DADT; and he addressed his Wall Street constituency via bailouts and choosing to not raise taxes or close corporate loopholes. All Smiley and West want is for Obama to address his African-American constituency by addressing unemployment and helping to create jobs. What is so wrong with that?

According to Smiley and West, we, the black community, need to respect, protect and correct the president. It seems to me that Joyner and Harvey forgot the correcting part. I take that back; they remembered to correct Smiley and West. Smiley, West, Obama, Joyner, Harvey... these are all men. None of these men is worth disrespecting, nor are they above criticism. The most important thing above all the criticism is recognizing that we are living in a changing America, and the poor and working classes are suffering. The middle class is dissolving; the wealth gap increases; and folks are losing their jobs, their homes and their sanity. Things need to change in this country. Rather than simply pointing to the president to address these problems, we should point to one another in addition to the president; we must vote in our local and statewide elections as well as national elections to send representation that will deal with our issues and attack the real problem: the Tea Party and the Wall Street agenda.

Smiley and West are doing what they do, being a professor and a reporter. Joyner and Harvey should stick to what they do: planning yearly cruises and telling jokes.