Ding, ding.

The Tavis-Sharpton on air fight over whether or not President Obama was going to have a black agenda started out with a bang and ended with a whimper. What could have been one of the more substantial debates on the state of Black America, quickly disintegrated into a battle of the ego.

In one corner, Tavis ‘Less than Smiley’ and in the other Al ‘The Perm’ Sharpton. Smiley appeared on The Tom Joyner Morning Show and stated that some black leaders had begun “singing a new hymn” and hadn’t given him the sheet music to sing along. Some have said that Smiley was reacting to a recent meeting between Sharpton, Ben Jealous of the NAACP and others at the White House to discuss support for the Healthcare and Jobs bills from a Civil Rights perspective. It’s also possible that Tavis was upset about Sharpton’s recent New York Times quote where he said that “Obama was being smart not to ballyhoo a black agenda”.

Whatever the reason, Tavis must have hit the right button and got Al’s perm in a tizzy. And trust, I know from my pre-going natural — there is nothing worse than having your fresh perm get caught out in the rain.

Sharpton stormed into his afternoon radio show like a man on a mission retaliating against Smiley’s morning comments. Before long, Smiley called in to the show and in one of the most candid displays since Jesse’s castration slip, the two men started to throw down. With Smiley shouting out his upcoming conference like Funkmaster Flex on a mixtape and Sharpton getting into his Sunday morning at the pulpit upper range, the debate got heated.

Some coverage of this event has hyped this argument into representative of a major split amongst black leaders. In his piece on The Grio, Dr. Boyce Watkins pointed out that the fight between Smiley and Sharpton was part of “the great black divide” spilling over from the fallout after the Democratic Primary. But you have to wonder — if Hilary could get over losing the primaries and join Obama’s cabinet as Secretary of State, why are our black leaders who did not support Barack’s candidacy in the first place unable to find their own common ground to work and move forward. Frankly, I think this is nothing more than a grandiose argument about who is Obama’s BFF. As my favorite commentator Charles Barley would say, “These guys are lovers, not fighters.”

Ok so let’s be real. No one is coming to blows. Even if Smiley and the Perm were in the same studio, they were not going to get it crackin’. So then what is this? What round are we on again?

I think most people and I have lost count. I’ve come to a point now where I merge these squabbles in with the rapper beef and model catfights. It’s not that I don’t respect these men. They have dedicated years of their lives to furthering the work of Civil Rights and improve the lives of blacks in America. But honestly – Al Sharpton just got into a tweet war with Gilbert Areneas. If the Perm is going after people by @ replying them, I think we all are going to be a little less prone to take these outbursts seriously.

So what are most black people actually concerned with? Let’s see. Black America’s never ending recession?

At the start of this global financial crisis, Algernon Austin wrote in his report for the Economic Policy Institute, that Black America was trapped in a “permanent recession.” The report paints an abysmal picture of life for Black Americans “In the best of times, many African American communities are forced to tolerate levels of unemployment unseen in most white communities.” In a New York Times op- ed, Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad write: from 2000 to 2007, as black employment decreased by 2.4 percent and incomes declined by 2.9 percent… That was the black recession. What’s happening now is more like a depression.”

Even in the years where most Americans experienced prosperity, Black America has still struggled to achieve success. The truth is that even when the nation as a whole comes out this recession, we will still have a long way to go.

To see the timeline of black unemployment throughout the recession check out www.timetoast.com.

The truth is someone needs to tell Smiley to chill and tell The Perm to relax. The truth is that both men are arguing for the same people, and hoping to bring them out of the economic, social and educational turmoil that is plaguing our community. Instead of the faux-beef, let’s move on to get the work done.

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  • Jigga

    I agree with most of what ClnMike said. Rev. Sharpton was not picking a fight with Tavis. He was correcting Tavis because Tavis was mis-quoting him on national radio and telling millions of people that he was going to be doing something he never agreed to. If that wasn’t enough, Tavis also tried to make is seem as if the Rev’s meeting with Obama was less than fruitful. Not sayin that what happened in the meeting will change the whole world for African-Americans but they did discuss the money that actually IS being set aside for HBCUs and also discussed how to target the issues with unemployment in the African-American community. I would say that both of those things are worthwhile. It has been obvious for a long time to those that have been paying attention that Tavis has a grudge against President Obama for some very seemingly selfish reasons. As was mentioned by others, President Obama is the President of ALL the people, NOT just African-Americans. But the issue of unemployment in the African-American community must be addressed. And it’s not just about African-Americans being less educated or not having the job skills to compete. I know people with Phd’s and Master’s degrees who have real skill and knowledge who are unemployed. There has been a backlash by some of the whites making hiring decisions at some of these companies. When I was laid off, I had no idea so many African-American men even worked at the company I worked at until they were all being laid off in mass. I am in the Information Technology field. So some of this is just plain discrimination that is going on. But back to the topic . . . Rev. Al was simply saying that Tavis seems obsessed with the title “Black Agenda”. But the truth is, as long as President Obama does something to target the employment issues of African-Americans, it does not matter what it is called. I believe President Obama has taken some really good steps towards the problem. More can always be done, but people like Tavis should not be allowed to act like President Obama is doing nothing when the facts say otherwise. He needs to put his petty grudges on the back burner and get with the program.

  • Mason

    I have no use for Tavis Smiley. Legitimate disagreement is fine, but Tavis comes from a place of jealousy.

  • Deloris

    Tavis is an opportunist. I feel sorry for him not only is he out of the loop but he is envious of Barack Obama’s success within the black community and outside of it. Tavis personifies the crab in the bucket mentality. He hides under the guise of a black agenda but where was he during the Bush administration? I have watched Tavis on his late night show, as well as listened to him on Saturdays on NPR. Never has he been more critical of the presidency than he is now. President Obama can not be held accountable for black america. We need to hold ourselves accountable. We can not expect to progress vicariously through the president but we must make the efforts to move forward ourselves. I am an optimist and I see this new wave of progressiveness across the nation within our own communities. But we can’t allow poison such as Tavis to upset our core. At least Rev. Al Sharpton knows enough to support our president because if he fails it means that we have failed as a people. That’s what Tavis doesn’t get it’s not about him and his ego it’s about the nation.

  • Lynne in Alabama

    Tavis Smiley is a great disappointment! He adored the Clintons and I never, ever heard him hold them to the fire. He is an opportunist who wants to sell books. Al’s got it right, support the POTUS and work on the ground. We ALL will be receipients as long as Resident Obama works for ALL Americans! Tavis’ time is up and his hole-card has been peeped. Stop draining Black America with your pseudo love for us and your genuine love of money!