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VOLUME 74 – Number 48 August 10-16, 2011 479 Ledyard • Detroit MI 48201 313.963.5522

The only person missing at the Tavis Smiley and Cornel West anti-poverty tour in Detroit Monday, which in my view was actu­ally a Poverty Pimping Tour (PPT), was Tea Party darling Sarah Palin.

And maybe if Michelle Bachman, Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner were there, it would have made for some interesting conversation around the Obama presi­dency.

Because Smiley, West, Palin and the other vicious Obama critics have one thing in common: Destroy the Obama presidency for personal reasons.

Lets be clear. Elitism is the tie that binds Smiley and West.

West, a once towering and respected Black in­tellectual who has recently been having tantrums and behaving like a three-year-old who is refusing to drink his milk and wouldn’t watch Dora and Diego (children cartoon characters), has given the intellectually bankrupt and public relations journalist Smiley intellectual legitimacy.

In return Smiley has given West much needed publicity and a platform on the national stage to unload dogma and postulations of “democratic tradition” even when they contradict West’s own existence. What a pact!

Smiley has long had a gripe with President Obama, dating back to when he was candidate Obama. It began with the intense 2008 presiden­tial campaign, when Obama could not make it to Smiley’s “Black Agenda” forum and instead of­fered to send his wife, Michelle.

Smiley refused to accept the candidate’s wife to represent her husband. Like an anointed “Black savior,” Smiley went on radio demanding to know who was candidate Obama not to show up at his function. The forum went on without candidate Obama and as it turned out it became a Smiley lovefest with Democratic candidate.

West got pissed off at Obama after re­ceiving a severe public chastising from the president that dealt a blow to his Ivy League ego during an Urban League conference in Washington, D.C. As West was reaching out to shake the presi­dent’s hand, Obama scolded him saying he (West) should be “ashamed” of him­self for telling liberals that he (Obama) was not progressive.

Prior to that, West was angry be­cause during the 2008 campaign Obama stopped calling him every two weeks. Added to that anger, West did not re­ceive a ticket to the presidential inaugu­ration and complained about the hotel doorman getting one when he — the al­mighty intellectual — could not secure a ticket for someone he campaigned for.

All of that bruised the egos of Smiley and West and now exposes the insincer­ity of their critique against the president and reduces them to nothing but two angry men who deserve to be enrolled in an anger management class.

Given that West and Smiley are in this for themselves, it leaves me to wonder, what is their democratic commitment to justice and equity? What is the personal sacrifice they’ve made to address the issues of the poor? It’s hard to believe that their mission at this point is pure.

There’s nothing wrong for them to make very comfortable livings. But the questions I want answered is what pov­erty alleviation program did they imple­ment in Detroit this week during their tour? Did they set up a million dollar employment fund to help train laid off workers to get a job and help struggling families and at the same time challenge corporate Detroit to match those funds and get Detroiters back to work?

How many Black kids in Detroit and other cities from disadvantaged families has West enabled to acquire a schol­arship to a four-year college or an Ivy League school?

What in concrete terms have West and Smiley personally offered from their rich coffers — backed by the corporate sponsors of their events — to reduce poverty in Black America in the next five years?

From the intellectually acrobatic “State of the Black Union” symposium launched by Smiley to speaking on the lecture circuit, their latest vicious at­tacks on the president is nothing but personal.

If their egos were not bruised and they had been receiving regular White House invitations, neither would be out here accusing the president of defending the same “plutocrats” and “oligarchs” who sponsor some of the events organized by Smiley and West.

Smiley, during mid-2000, teamed up with Wells Fargo to organize “wealth building” seminars in Black neighbor­hoods. Smiley, who was the draw for Wells Fargo executives, would charge up his Black audiences about how he hated banks.

The seminars, purported to help Black families build wealth when in actuality it was a well coordinated ploy to subject desperate and innocent Black borrow­ers into high cost sub prime mortgag­es. In fact, a lawsuit filed against Wells Fargo by the State of Illinois charged that Wells Fargo discriminated against Black and Latino homeowners by sell­ing them high cost sub prime mortgage loans while their White counterparts re­ceived lower cost loans.

The lawsuit by Illinois Attorney Gen­eral Lisa Madigan was the result of an investigation into possible lending and consumer fraud laws.

“As a result of its discriminatory and illegal mortgage practices, Wells Fargo transformed our cities’ predominantly African-American and Latino neighbor­hoods into ground zero for sub prime lending,” Madigan said in announcing the 2009 lawsuit. “The dreams of many hardworking families have ended in foreclosure due to Wells Fargo’s illegal and unfair conduct.”

In the Chicago area, 45 percent of Wells Fargo’s Black borrowers and 23 percent of Latino borrowers received high cost mortgage, according to the State of Illinois.

Will West rail against Wells Fargo that his buddy Smiley was promoting at the expense of innocent Black borrowers?

Because we lack a critical mass, no one dares to challenge Smiley and West since the duo have long arrogated them­selves as the oracles of the Black race and claimed exclusive ownership over Black issues.

Smiley and West are marketing pover­ty as a valuable asset and a brand boost­er for their products at the expense of a very uncritical mass that cannot see through the prism of their deceptive­ness and race-baiting game. Of course, they are using the powerful tool of race as a traveling enterprise, appearing to provide teachable moments for suffering Blacks when in truth they are playing a self-serving game.

Because President Obama appears vulnerable heading into the 2012 cam­paign as exemplified by the debt ceiling process, West and Smiley are in an “I told you so” moment to vindicate them­selves from the atmosphere they have created that has helped allow Obama to be viciously attacked by the right wing machine. In doing so, they have become the Black faces of that right wing attack machine. They are on board with the inept and unintelligent Palin who is bereft of common sense but has made a fortune out of saying outrageous things about the Obama presidency.

In using the president’s racial identi­ty to question not only his commitment to the Black race, but also make him guilty of not being “Black enough” by further questioning his masculinity as a Black man, West shamelessly attempted to deconstruct Obama as if he was an academic exercise. West’s suggestion that Obama’s association with Whites leads him to believe that the president is not a “free Black man” is insulting to any Black person with Whites relation­ships.

And if that is the race barometer West uses to gauge the loyalty of Black lead­ers, then he should use the same for Harry Belafonte, the legendary Black activist and entertainer married to a White woman. He should do the same for Julian Bond who is married to a White woman — he is the former chair­man of the national NAACP, a man who was in the trenches fighting Jim Crow long before West became a footnote in the discourse on race.

What about Frederick Douglass who was biracial? West was simply engaging in a very dangerous display of egocen­tric elitism at the expense of the masses of struggling people, while West remains protected in his handsomely paid Ivy League tower and cannot get fired be­cause he is tenured.

To see through the antics of West is to understand that he, and others like him, come from a deep tradition of elitism and egocentrism that has long pushed the narrative that nothing is le­gitimate unless it has their blessings. By demanding that unless their rings are kissed, West and his friends continue to contradict their own democratic postu­lations and posturing.

At the poverty rally held in the City- County Building the crowd was elec­trified when West started throwing names of civil rights legends and skill­fully utilizing the politics of the English language to mesmerize his audience. Obama supporters David Stephen (from the group Detroiters for Better Govern­ment), Ernest Johnson, Renette Jack­son and others gave Smiley and West a piece of their minds at the rally, alerting attendees not to allow the duo to throw dust into their eyes.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., King do­nated his financial gift from the Nobel Peace Prize to the Civil Rights Move­ment and died leaving his family in dire straits. What has West donated to poor Black families in here and elsewhere?

West understands his audience very well which is why he’s always masking under the guise of prophetic unction be­cause its a safe and revered place from which to operate. And in masking, he lists names of individuals and institu­tions that are culturally and politically wedded to our sensibilities, so we can be whipped into further frenzy and mo­mentary relief before returning to our nightmares.

How many homeless and domestic violence shelters did Smiley and West visit during their tour to highlight the silent suffering of Blacks? They raced through Detroit got people excited and left. The next time they show up in De­troit it might be another ego-boosting tour, not a ground-breaking ceremony to open a skilled center to help young Blacks prepare for meaningful careers.

Bankole Thompson is the author of the book “Obama and Black Loyalty, Vol. 1,” a trilogy on President Obama. His new book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” will be released soon. Listen to his weekly analyses Thursdays, mornings on “The Craig Fahle Show,” WDET-101.9 FM-NPR affiliate. He is a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday roundtable program, on WLIB-1190 AM-New York which is simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail him at bthompson@michronicle.com.

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