Welcome to Operation Reach B.L.A.C.K.

Operation Reach B.L.A.C.K. is a Pan-African Blog with an acronym that stands for Building Leadership Awareness and Cultural Knowledge.

The goal of this blog is to become a "Blog of Black Thought" focusing on matters of social, economic and political awareness through education (re-education), self-affirmation and cultural expression. Above all, this blog will DEMAND respect and appreciation for one another as black men and women.

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(Opinions, Observations, and Commentary)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Someone tell Dr. West that Rev. Al was right

There's been a lot of back and forth over the latest spat between Dr. Cornel West and Rev. Al Sharpton over the weekend.

Long story short, Dr. West challenged Rev. Al to be more critical of the Obama Administration, and even said he worried Sharpton might be manipulated by the White House (well, isn't that a tad passive aggressive).

But, this isn't about President Obama. This isn't about the plight of Black America, or speaking truth to power. No, on a basic level, this is about territory. In other words, who ranks where in the pecking order of "black leadership."

For his part, Rev. Sharpton stated what should've been obvious to everyone in the room, namely the fact that all of these problems (and you can make a long list) that impact the black community existed long before President Obama got into office. But what wasn't said is even more important. Not only have these problems existed before President Obama got into office, but they'll continue to exist long after he's gone. President Obama is not the issue. However, even more than territory, the real issue is the failure of black leadership to capture the enthusiasm of the 2008 Presidential Election to cultivate a sustained movement.

And therein lies the paradox.

If the purpose of the discussion is to teach the past. . . if the purpose is to inform the present, then Dr. West has a point. He articulated the vice that still grips the black community from the prison industrial complex to unemployment. He spoke with passion. There's just one problem with Dr. West's approach, however. The larger discussion of the status of Black America must be forward thinking.

Indeed, the focus of the MSNBC special was supposed to be the "black agenda." Thus, the title denotes some type of a plan. It implies a plan of action. . . note, I said "plan" and "action."

In the context of government a "plan" is most often associated with some type of legislative agenda, whilst "action" is best described as voting. Dr. West's problem in this clip is that, rather than act to enforce a plan, he simply restates the problem. He articulated the issues, but did not propose a solution. Instead, he acted as if the solutions are already there, but the President just doesn't want to act (this was a topic of discussion on a recent edition of "Blacking it Up" with Elon James White).

What good is it to regurgitate a laundry list of social ills without a realistic plan of action? Yes, President Obama could speak more about the prison industrial complex. The point being . . . ? I mean, by that logic, the President could speak more about teen pregnancy and HIV. The President could speak more about drug abuse and mental health. The President could speak more about a host of topics, not because he doesn't care, but simply because these problems exist. In other words, there will always be a market for complaints so long as social ills exist in our communities.

However, to imply a motive, to assume silence is acquiescence, is disingenuous. This President has chosen to tackle the large issues as best as he can. That he hasn't spent more time on the prison industrial complex cannot be attributed to indifference any more than one could argue that immigration reform has not been tackled because the President hates Mexicans. Maybe. . . just maybe there's only so much a President can do in his first term in office.

Therefore, the responsibility to lead on issues that are not at the forefront of the national dialogue rests with us. Yes, WE the people. Laying everything at the feet of the President is a cop-out. Again, restating the issue is not action.

So let's talk about action. "Action" as it relates to policy is all about votes. You either have the votes or you don't. In fact, it's really pointless to discuss policy without an honest assessment of the vote-count. So, for example, the public option sounds nice, but Democrats never had the votes. Critics from the Left refuse to acknowledge this point because it completely undercuts their argument. It completely dismisses their premise that the solutions would be realized but for an alleged lack of leadership by President Obama.

And this has been the dividing line amongst the Democratic Party since the beginning of President Obama's first term in office. Whereas the line of demarcation had been liberal vs. conservative, the dividing line now rests between theory and pragmatism. The division represents those who wish to build off of what can and has been done versus those who wallow in the pity of that which has not been accomplished.

To take a spiritual approach to the subject, it's the constant fight to resist the temptations of self-pity. It's been said that the devil makes you focus on what isn't, rather than work towards the possibility of what might be. Well, it's the same in politics. When you are tasked with the responsibility to create change, the easy way out is always the option to throw up one's hands in despair over what hasn't been accomplished. After all, it's much easier than working. . . note, I said "working,". . . towards the possible.

And Dr. West and the rest of Obama's critics from the Left will continue to fail in their arguments unless and until they come to grips with the realities of governing. It's a numbers game. Plain and simple. And, over the past few years, to continuously suggest that more progressive actions have not been taken for anything less than a lack of votes is . . . well. . . damn offensive. To claim some unsubstantiated insight into the man's innermost thoughts is a useless exercise. As much as some of us might wish otherwise, none of us are inside the President's head.

Trust me, a President Kucinich or President Howard Dean, would be stuck in the same predicament as President Obama. I don't care how much you use the bully pulpit, it won't make a Tea-Party Republican from a safe district, or a Conservadem from a red district change their votes. So you can either rejoice in the political theater that is the 24-hour news cycle or work to get what you can when you can get it. I choose the latter. I can not, and will not, put faith in a leader who won't settle for anything shy of that which he or she can not obtain. It makes no sense and I will not waste my time.

This constant and aggressive dismissal of any and all progress made under this President only works to demobilize the public. Focusing on what you don't have at the expense of what you have accomplished can never be a recipe for success. It's like smacking your momma for buying discount "Air Jacksons" from the shoe store when you asked for a pair of Air Jordans. Nevermind the fact that you didn't have shoes last week, it's the style that counts. Right?

Instead of coming up with a long term plan, a strategy to get those Jordans, you complain about the plight you're in. I mean, you could save your allowance. You could cut your neighbor's grass and save money that way. You could could hope they go on sale or put them on lay-away. But, rather than be proactive, you sit back and give a long dissertation on the state of wack sneakers. You hold your breath and stomp your feet. You demand a response - why didn't momma get me that $200 pair of sneakers? And when the answer is clear as day, you refuse to accept the obvious . . . she didn't have the money.

There is no conspiracy to deprive you of your right to floss in front of your friends on the first day of school. She's not begrudging you your swag. She just didn't have the money to buy the shoes you wanted. And to the extent that she did have a couple of extra dollars, forgive her if she used that capital to save some of the more basic needs that you already had - you know, like clean underwear and a fresh pack of tube socks.

Well, the answer to a lot of the Left's complaints is just as clear. . . we don't have the votes. We never had the votes in Congress to get everything we wanted, and the 2010 elections made things twice as hard. Did we come close to having the votes? Absolutely. But, close doesn't count. And when you have to rely on Conservadems from red states to enact progressive policies. . . well, we shouldn't be surprised that some hopes fall a little short.

And, as was the case with those Air Jordans you never got, the President and pragmatic liberals are not concerned with brand names and style points. We could care less about the pundit class and their constant bickering over subjects that have no purpose other than to fill a 24-hour news cycle. Nope, at the end of the day, we just want to make sure your feet are covered. We can always work to make things better so long as we fight to preserve what we have.

When the Tea-Party/Republicans hold an insurmountable vote lead in the House. . . when they have the power to "shut it down," you're damn right the President's going to make a compromise. He's going to save what he can while trying to avoid sacrificing the gains we've already made. It's that simple.

Dr. West is wrong because it appears he thinks we make progress by restating our plight. It's as if he thinks things haven't changed because people just don't know how bad it really is in the real world. It's an assumption that the masses are sleep-walking rather than down-trodden. It attributes our circumstances to a lack of fight, rather than a lack of resources. Sorry, but you don't need a PhD to graduate from the school of hard knocks. Life kicks your ass whether you choose to theorize the subject or not.

However, what we need is an ability to bring theory down to practice. We don't need lectures, we need ideas. We need policy ideas. . . strike that. . . we need pragmatic, realistic policy ideas that have the votes in Congress. And, to the extent that we don't have those votes, we need people like Dr. West to put their intellect to better use by galvanizing new voters and finding fresh candidates to run in the general and mid-term elections.

It's a daunting task. It's filled with anxiety and uncertainty. And like President Obama, you won't get credit for the good while you're blamed for the bad. Leadership is a thankless job. But, some of President Obama's more vocal critics should listen to what Rev. Sharpton had to say . . . "If you scared, say ya scared" and we can work from there. If you don't have the answers then say so. There's no crime in that. The offense comes when you attack the imperfections of other people's plans when you really don't have a plan of your own. So, say what you've got to say. Criticize if you must. After all, we might benefit from your ideas if you're willing to put them in action. But don't work to dismiss, ignore, or undermine the progress that has already been made.

And whatever you do, make sure you bring something to the table with you. Understand that what you want, and what you can get, ain't always the same thing. And learn to appreciate the first steps towards realizing the dream, however modest or trivial you might think they are. Above all else, please use your energy and effort to cultivate the ideas of your brothers and sisters rather than tear them down. If you've got the resources to help, say so. If you've got the experience to lead, show it. But do not . . . I repeat do not dismiss the actions of another just because you think they're imperfect.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Rev. Al isn't stopping Cornel West, Tavis Smiley or anyone else from acting to better their communities. No one's been censored, in fact, Dr. West and Tavis Smiley seem to have no trouble accessing the microphone as frequently as Rev. Al. No one's stopping them.

So, someone please tell Dr. West that Rev. Al was right. Someone please tell him that the plight of Black America does not exist for lack of understanding the problems, but for lack of creating real-life solutions. They exist for lack of encouraging others to give their ideas. They exist because we've trivialized action to being no more than passion and a catch phrase.

And as for the main reason why Brotha West is wrong . . .

All of those problems. . . all of the social ills that he so eloquently ran off in his debate with Rev. Sharpton . . .

They'll still be there when President Obama finishes his second term in 2016. They will still be there. They were there before he arrived, and they'll be there after he's gone. You had bare feet before your Air Jacksons and you'll have bare feet after they've worn away. The challenge isn't understanding the plight, it's what are you going to do about it. What are WE going to do about it?

You may disagree with the approach. But, until you can come up with something better, don't step on someone else's shoes for trying.




Video: Perspective Piece