(ThyBlackMan.com) A new report released this week shows that poverty is the worst that it’s been since 1965. The typically embattled Tavis Smiley spoke to the issue this week on CBS, stating that we should all be concerned about the problem, and not just in a fleeting sense. According to Tavis Smiley, poverty is the new slavery, and with the data being what it is, it’s hard to say that he’s wrong.
“America has, of course, made great strides for freedom in regard to all of its citizens. But now America has regressed, and poverty is the new slavery,” Tavis Smiley said.
“The blinders are once again firmly affixed, and the necessary checks and balances have disappeared, making way for policies that coddle the wealthy, while the persistent poor, the working poor and the ‘new poor’ are ignored and rendered invisible.”
Tavis Smiley points to recent disparities between the amount of wealth controlled by the richest vs. the rest as an example of where our country has gone wrong on the issue.
“The fact that one percent of the nation’s richest individuals control 42 percent of the nation’s wealth is, to me, a stunning revelation in the wake of a recession,” says Smiley. “The 400 richest people in America, according to Forbes, have more than one trillion dollars’ of wealth. They each average $3.5 billion of net worth.”
Tavis Smiley, who has received criticism for pushing the issue of poverty during the reign of the Obama Administration, makes the accurate point that extreme wealth disparities can undermine the stability of an entire
“Poverty threatens our democracy, a democracy with a deficit dilemma that the poor are not responsible for, yet they pay the price,” he said.
What is most interesting to me about the continuous criticism that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have endured for their remarks on poverty is that while people have certainly worked hard to discredit them, no one has been able to prove them wrong. At best, we’ve been able to push them to the side as irrelevant, claiming that their personal issue with President Obama completely invalidates what they are trying to say.
It’s time to elevate the dialogue with one simple rule: You can only shut down a critic by proving that they are wrong. You can’t just call them a “hater,” or claim that they are an Uncle Tom for mentioning that our nation has the worst poverty since Dr. Martin Luther King was alive. End the conversation with intelligent debate and not by simply shutting down their right to a free Democratic voice. We must remember that while Tavis and Cornel are not perfect, they were fighting for black Americans long before Barack Obama could even win a local election. They will still be fighting for black America when President Obama has retired to Martha’s Vineyard with all the other Harvard University alums.
What is also true is that in spite of the fact that the Obama Administration is choosing not to acknowledge Tavis Smiley and West on the issue of poverty, the reality is that they are on the same side of the table. President Obama has spoken on wealth inequality as a threat to the financial stability of our nation. Massive budget deficits could send the United States into a form of economic turmoil we’ve never seen. He understands clearly that you can’t have a stable society where the rich control such a vast majority of the nation’s resources.
One can only hope that everyone can come together to deal with the reality, which clearly shows that poverty and wealth inequality are huge problems in our nation. We can also hope (perhaps naively) that all egos can be checked at the door so that productive conversations can take place. While we can readily accuse Tavis Smiley and West of focusing too much on President Obama (at least initially), we can also accuse the Obama Administration of actively marginalizing every black person who actually spoke up and asked them to do something for black people. We are not here to work for the Obama Administration: they are here to work for us.
Egos exist on all sides of the table, not just on the side of Smiley and West. But perhaps we should realize that if we continue to focus on the petty aspects of this very important conversation, we are going to watch our nation and community continue to spiral into absolute economic chaos. This is something we simply cannot afford, the data tells us everything we need to know.