There’s a saying that “there’s at least three sides to every story”. Well the recently launched “Poverty Tour” headlined by Dr. Cornel West and entrepreneur Tavis Smiley certainly meet the test. The apparent three sides include the promoters themselves, the President of the United States in the form of Barack Obama, and the poor and disenfranchised whom the tour claims it seeks to highlight during this time of “economic deprivation and political cowardice“.
Some in the Black community are attacking the promoters. Tavis and West are being called everything from “playa-haters” to “Uncle Toms” by loyalists to President Obama. (listen to audio below where radio host Steve Harvey calls West and Smiley “Uncle Tom’s”)
However, there is also a group within the Black community that is supportive of the promoters. Dr. Cornel West is bonafide brilliant, a genius who burst on the scene with his book “Race Matters” in 1993 and has established his legitimacy in speaking “truth to power”. Tavis Smiley has had past “run-ins” with President Barack Obama, even prior to Obama ascending to office. People point to 2008 when Barack Obama declined to speak at Tavis Smileys’ State of the Black Union but offered to send Michelle Obama instead as one of the pivotal moments in “Tavis’ hate”. Hilary Clinton did participate.
Whatever the root cause, Smiley’s observation that President Obama has not mentioned the words “poor” or “poverty” in his recent “State of the Union Addresses” is dead on (he has also not used the words African American if we’re counting). Unfortunately many Black folks, “cannot separate criticism of policy from the symbolism of Barack Obama being America’s first Black president.” I’m sure this fact is not missed by the President’s advisers and speech writers. In addition, many recognize that President Obama inherited a mess of an economic reality. In addition he’s accomplished a helluva lot against tremendous odds. Some of his “all American” policies including healthcare will benefit Blacks who are disproportionately uninsured.
The poor and disenfranchised are the third side of the story. The harsh economic climate has indeed impacted all Americans. However, African Americans have suffered the greatest loss of wealth of any ethnic group. University of Pennsylvania economist Dr. Bernard Anderson estimates that up to “40% of the wealth of African Americans has been wiped out by the home mortgage crisis”. This is because a disproportionate share of Black wealth is tied to equity in their homes, versus stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other financial investment tools. A large share of Blacks are still “underwater” in regards to their homes and are increasingly falling out of the “middle class” and into the ranks of the “poor and impoverished”. Blacks were specifically and directly targeted by the senior executives and management of major, global banking entities in a scheme some termed “reverse redlining“. Yet, there were no criminal penalties for this marketing behavior. In fact the majority of these banks were “bailed out” while Blacks were left to move out.
Today Black unemployment is on pace to exceed 20% by the November 2012 presidential elections. Black youth unemployment is approaching 50% and unemployment for Black men is above 30%. These are epidemic unemployment rates and cannot be sustained. In fact some economists (including white economists) have argued that there needs to be “specific economic policies and programs directly targeted to the African American community“. During other epidemics, say health, when there is a “swine flu” outbreak and a vaccine becomes available. It is not uncommon to provide the available protection to those that are most likely to be infected or the weakest in society. In this case often these vaccines are provided FIRST to the “women, children, and the elderly”. This is “targeted” care and often considered a wise approach and acceptable without much dispute or great debate. Why wouldn’t economic policies follow the same logical approach? Obviously what we’re trying now is NOT working. Even as unemployment for other groups has stabilized, as jobs are created, African American unemployment continues to rise.
At this rate the “Poverty Tour” may soon be appearing to sellout crowds, and not be considered organized by “sell out” promoters.