Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tavis Smiley: A Victim of Political Opinion?

Earlier this week, author and media personality, Tavis Smiley resigned from The Tom Joyner Morning Show. By all accounts Smiley’s departure was unexpected and it’s widely speculated to have been prompted by the backlash he’s received with regards to his opinions and observations on presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama. In February of this year, Smiley invited Barack Obama to his State of the Black Union symposium; Obama declined due to his campaigning schedule and instead offered his wife, Michelle Obama, to fill in for him. Smiley rejected Michelle as Obama’s stand-in, and that decision coupled with his perceived lack of support for Obama, snowballed over the last few months. Many of Tavis’ listeners felt that he should have allowed Michelle to attend the symposium and that he allowed his ego to affect his decision-making, as well as many of his overall statements regarding Obama.

I personally think it would have been nice to see a former First Lady and a potential First Lady discuss issues that are important to the black community, but at the same time I do respect Tavis’ right to host whoever he chooses at his own event, for the purpose of achieving the event’s mission. However, I think that the rejection of Michelle Obama should have been weighed a little more heavily, if for no other reason than the fact that she could potentially be the First Lady of the United States and would have been able to speak on behalf of her husband.

Although Tavis has not commented on whether the Obama backlash was the reason he resigned, I personally think his resignation shows just how difficult it can be in this election to voice your opinions without becoming demonized or having your opinions being grossly misconstrued. That applies to the candidates as well. I’m not saying that Tavis should have gone unchecked or that he was necessarily right, but you need only to listen to some of the audio recordings from the bi-weekly show, or read Tom Joyner’s own admittance that Tavis’ opinions were viewed by many as not just anti-Obama, but anti-Black. It seems that if you are Black and don’t support Obama or have the nerve to question him or his ability, or if you are a woman and don’t support Hillary, then you are enemy number one in the eyes of some, which is a shame. It seems that the very two issues that were used against us not so long ago, to prohibit our right to political freedom, are the same tools we are using against each other today, race and gender.

-Tremaya Reynolds

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