Tavis Smiley Takes Me To Task

This week I was honored with a chance to talk to two of my living heroes Mr. Tavis Smiley and the venerable Dr. Cornel West for their weekly Radio Broadcast “Smiley and West” from Public Radio International.

Although I expect my next conversation with these two fine gentlemen to be about my work, this week I was asked to elaborate on a comment left on their “Speak Out Hotline” regarding what I heard as their challenge to mainstream media and public officials to comment more on the long-standing hypocritical relationships our government has sustained with the now crumbling regimes in North Africa. I don’t know how our talk will be edited, but I’m posting this for anyone interested in my notes on my position.

The episode should air Friday morning and can be downloaded from their official website www.smileyandwest.com.

A Criticism of Unilateral Criticism
1. There is a difference between criticism and critical analysis, and our current climate of reductionist criticism creates an environment where something that might be subtle and complicated can easily be painted or construed as unilaterally hypocritical.

1. DISCOURAGES transparency
2. ENCOURAGES imperialist arrogance. Takes away leadership’s incentive to learn how not to disrespect and ultimately underestimate other world leaders, whether or not we agree with them.

***We don’t want to be complacent, but we have to project the sense that we are open to more multi-dimensional and sometimes very difficult truths.***

A. Yes! ENCOURAGE TRANSPARENCY. That’s what I think you’re aiming for hoping that transparency can yield more responsible decisions. But ‘m not convinced that we encourage transparency with criticism. I think we have to be more creative in our approach.

B. I would hope we could DISCOURAGE our current “SELECTIVE” IMPERIALIST ARROGANCE and ENCOURAGE UNILATERAL RESPECT, especially among leaders we don’t agree with. (For example, maybe if we had “respected” Hitler and his power among his people we wouldn’t have underestimated him…) We must be mindful about how to approach that. Acknowledge that now we’re doing it only with countries we need something from. How can we, the people, propel that into broader policy? Again, I think we have to be more creative.

For those of us who believe in the vision and peaceful warriorship of Dr. King the truths we pursue and reveal have nothing to do with being right. Now as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine for Mr. Smiley and Dr. West to go on about it because you try to speak from love and, from what I can tell of your listenership, you’re preaching to an already glorious choir. But It doesn’t make sense for us to get mad when our elected officials prove that they’ve never seen the promised land. We share this planet with them so it’s up to us to get them there. We have to show them the way, cause if we don’t, we’re all going down together.

Politicians are like crazy teenagers who think they know everything and will say whatever they think we want to hear in order to get us off their backs. Always trying to get one over on us and don’t even know it when they’re in over their heads until it’s too late. The “responsible world citizen” meaning one who still feels some degree of responsibility for creating a better human experience, can seem like the well-meaning, nagging parent that criticizes everything the child does. If we want the child to tell us the truth, we have to let them know we’re open to hearing it. Some times our anger and disdain does the opposite. So we don’t want to be complacent, but we have to project the sense that we are open to more multi-dimensional and sometimes very difficult truths.

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2 comments to “Tavis Smiley Takes Me To Task”

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  1. kenito - March 9, 2011 at 12:40 am Reply

    I am curious to see some examples of the “multideminsional truths”,that u advocate forYour argument is very well formulated,but I need real world examples from history ,or current events.Abstractions of philisophical theroey, can inform our public discourse,but reducing said theories to simpler language ,may allow for broader acceptance and understanding of your valid and positive suggestions.

    • erstedame - March 9, 2011 at 1:41 am Reply

      I believe that as long as the mass media is on spin patrol, the revelations and explications of the more complicated truths are the job of the intelligentia. From what I’ve read, I find our relationship with Egypt worth a closer look. Tavis focused on Libya and Gadhafi today, to which I could only urge “never underestimate a real thug when you meet one.” Good point on the simpler terms though. Maybe you can help me with that…Maybe we’ll write a song, eh?

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