To be born in poverty and then die in poverty is an American nightmare. So I applaud West and Smiley for using their platform to draw attention to the often overlooked problem.
But if they're motivated by personal grievances, shame on them for displaying their pettiness while touting important policy critiques.
First of all, it's self-serving.
Second, it's obvious. Earlier this year Tom Joyner, who once featured Smiley on his syndicated radio show but parted ways with him after his unjust attacks on Obama in 2008, said, "Tavis is fascinated with his own legacy, and that's not good. He wants more than anything to be remembered the way Dr. King was, and to somehow make that kind of mark on the world."
Translation: It's all about Smiley.
When Obama didn't accept the invitation to speak at Smiley's forum in 2008, Smiley interpreted it as an affront to his influence in the black community. When Obama opted not to attend in 2009 -- although he did address the crowd via video conference -- that was the proverbial final straw.
Smiley and West have been aggressively attacking the president, sandwiching legitimate concerns about poverty in between over-the-top comments that far too often detract from what they claim is their primary focus -- helping poor black people. Their comments may grab headlines and land them on Sunday morning talk shows, but how have they engaged with the administration in finding solutions on poverty?
Instead, Smiley and West appear to be two egocentric men who believe they alone are the face of black intellectualism. And any black talking heads who don't side with them have, in West's words, "sold their souls."
Welcome to the ivory tower version of black on black crime.
Again, I'm all for fairly criticizing the man in the White House. But it feels that West and Smiley are more upset that Obama didn't kiss their rings before he walked through the door than about anything he's done since he got inside.
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(Note: An earlier version of this article said Smiley was fired by Joyner; Smiley announced that he had resigned although Joyner's staff said the radio host elected not to renew his contract.)