Tom Joyner's Wrongful Attack On Cornel West and Tavis Smiley

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While there is certainly room for Tom to disagree with Tavis and Cornel’s critiques of President Obama (it’s ok to criticize the criticizer), Tom’s comparison of Cornel and Tavis with Halperin is entirely off-base.

[National: Comment]

I love Tom Joyner.  In case you’re wondering, in “Black political speak,” when someone mentions that they love someone, that means that they are about to crack a walnut over their forehead.

I remember Tavis Smiley telling Al Sharpton that he loved him right before he proceeded to attack him with the ferocity of an angry baby’s mama looking for additional child support.

My mouth hit the floor this week as Joyner (aka “The Fly Jock”), the man whose work ethic I respect like no other, somehow had the audacity (in a recent article) to compare Tavis Smiley and Cornel West to Mark Halperin, the MSNBC commentator who referred to President Barack Obama as a dick on national television.  You no longer need to speculate as to whether or not Tom has a personal issue with Tavis Smiley, the cat fighting is now out of the bag.

While there is certainly room for Tom to disagree with Tavis and Cornel’s critiques of President Obama (it’s ok to criticize the criticizer), Tom’s comparison of Cornel and Tavis with Halperin is entirely off-base.  Smiley and West have never, at any point, used such distasteful language and the kind of one-syllable thinking that Halperin used during his insult of President Obama.  In fact, even Smiley’s critiques have grown more diplomatic and thoughtful through time, and I still look forward to any of the president’s senior advisors taking the time to explain why Smiley and West are wrong (note: when people can’t debate the facts, they avoid the issues and simply try to discredit you).

But it is Tom Joyner himself who has joined Halperin in the ideological basement by making comments that would be better suited for a high school locker room: “I said I’d wait until something pissed me off so bad that I would have the words harsh enough to express what I was really feeling about him and his side piece – I mean side kick – Cornel West,” said Joyner.

Now, I don’t know what hood you’re from, but in my city, referring to a man’s friend as his “side piece” is usually a reference to his sexuality.  Whether Tom is trying to imply that the relationship between West and Smiley is more than meets the eye, I have no idea.  But this kind of remark has no place in print during such a critical point in the history of Black American political discourse.
Joyner goes further on his peculiar tirade by claiming that somehow, Halperin’s vulgar remarks about President Obama were encouraged by the decision of West and Smiley to critique Obama Administration policies:

“These two have done much worse than what Halperin has done because they set the tone for it, opened the door to it, and must take much of the blame for creating a climate that would make a white, professional journalist feel comfortable verbally and vulgarly attacking the first black president of the United States.”

OK.  So there you have it.  If you disagree with Obama Administration policies on dealing with the Black unemployment or mass incarceration crisis, you have now given permission to any white man in America to refer to President Obama as a dick. So, the only logical solution would be for all Black Americans to mute their Democratic voice and remain silent about any policy with which they disagree.

Tom goes deeper in expressing his personal issues with Tavis by taking us on a trip down memory lane.  He explains how Tavis went from being an empowered advocate for Black America to becoming the selfish, jealous, tortured soul who was determined to destroy black America by disagreeing with President Obama.

“I had so much respect for him before his primary goal became selling books, and, later, selling out,” said Joyner.  He also says that, “I’ve already fired Tavis and Cornel. There’s nothing either can ever do for me or with me again.”

Joyner’s remark about selling books and selling out seems a bit odd from a man who’s earned millions with his “black activism brought to you by Walmart.”  I also remember Tom’s defense of Walmart when we fought on the case of Heather Ellis, a black college student who was facing 15-years in prison for cutting in line at one of their stores (Walmart mysteriously “lost” the videotape that showed Heather being slammed to the ground by police).  As a Business School Professor, I can appreciate Tom’s ability to work capitalism to his advantage, but he is the last millionaire who should be challenging Smiley’s decision to sell products.

Perhaps Tom might consider the possibility that the reason Tavis and Cornel have endured the criticism they’ve received for speaking out is because they care for Black people so much.  In spite of their imperfections, Cornel and Tavis have an undeniable and storied track record when it comes to advocating for African American issues.  The same can be said for Tom Joyner, Al Sharpton and others who disagree with them.  The reality is that they simply have different approaches to solving the same problem, but their advocacy is no less genuine than those who disagree with their tactics.

By debasing the conversation into such a nasty personal attack, Tom has engaged in the very same dastardly behavior that many felt Tavis displayed back in 2008.  I expect more from Tom Joyner, and I sincerely hope he has the maturity to issue an apology.  Most significantly, his efforts to terrorize dissenting voices in the Black community by demanding that they remain silent is nothing short of ruthless, un-American and ultimately oppressive.  A man who loves Black America doesn’t act this way, and Tom might need to grow up.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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