One of the really unfortunate aspects of the current battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is the apologetic position that appears to be taking root in the black community regarding Barack Obama's candidacy. It goes something like this: "We shouldn't press him too much to talk about black issues because that might mess it up for the brother." This color-before-accountability group-think has led to some sad examples of blacks turning on each other for having the audacity to ask Obama to discuss his agenda for black America. Tavis Smiley has recently been caught up in a silly battle because he had the temerity to not accept the company line regarding Obama's campaign.
Smiley has been subjected to a slew of criticism and threats since he criticized Obama on the Tom Joyner Morning Show after the Democratic presidential frontrunner announced that he would not attend Smiley's annual State of the Black Union symposium this year in New Orleans. I think the criticism of Smiley is ridiculous and have a message for him: Stand Strong. (Disclosure: I appeared on Smiley's PBS show in September to analyze the Republican presidential candidates' forum at Morgan State University).
Smiley has been nothing if not consistent. He has always advocated the importance of the issues over the candidates and has stressed the need to hold the candidates accountable when it comes to Black problems. What's wrong with that? You better believe that other segments of the electorate will do this with regard to their unique issues. Latino/a voters will hold him accountable on immigration. Jews will hold him accountable on Israel. Wall Street will hold him accountable on business and taxes. And black people are supposed to just sit in a corner, be quiet, and hope that Obama will get to our issues? I say no!! This is a hat-in-hand approach to politics that has gone on long enough. Smiley is right. If we can't seek accountability now, then when can we?
Obama has said that he couldn't appear at the forum because he would be campaigning. That's a thin argument when one considers that there is more than enough time in the day to do both. If Obama wanted, he could have gone to New Orleans, which is next to Texas by the way, spoken in the morning and been back in the Lone Star State by noon for a long day of campaigning. Candidates go from state to state all the time, so this would have been no big deal. Indeed, simple math reveals just how inefficient Obama's decision was. Let's say he held four campaign rallies during the day, each with 20,000 attendees for a total of 80,000. That's a fraction of the one million or more likely to watch the State of the Black Union event live on C-SPAN. The best use of his time, purely in terms of being seen by the widest possible audience, was to go to New Orleans. As a compromise, he could have appeared live via satellite from a convenient location.
Black America has many needs. I think among them is the need for people in positions of influence to stand up for principles over politicians. If it's wrong to ask a black presidential candidate to address black people and speak on black issues, then we are not doing our jobs as citizens and voters.
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book Republicans and the Black Vote. A registered Independent, he blogs at: www.MichaelFauntroy.com.