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Tavis Smiley – Poverty is the New Slavery!

July 30, 2012 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( 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  democracy.

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.

Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. For more information, please visit


12 Responses to “Tavis Smiley – Poverty is the New Slavery!”
  1. Don Jones says:

    Does anyone else get tired of Whining Smiley? I have always wanted to tell him, “If you want to be like everyone else, act like everyone else.” We elected a black President, so to speak. So quit whining. Of course you will not because whining pays pretty good, does it not, Travis?

    Hoe bigis the black audience on NPR? Where do they get their funds to pay you so well? Whining Smiley, now ain’t he a dandy? Gimmie, whine, gimmie, whine.

  2. Tomimot says:

    If you need a picture ID to vote, get one.

    If you need money to live, get some.

    If you need education to make it, don’t be dumb!

    Be happy and live healthy. Plug into the Powersource.

    Make it so.

  3. Satchel says:

    If Poverty is the New Slavery, then collectivly we volunteered for it. Black people spend over $1 Trillion a year, a good portion is spent on things that make us feel good, rather then on things that would advance our quality of life. Fatherless children and young undereducated mothers raising these children, while fathers are out of the childs life. The most visable Blacks with money are our Millionaire Sports and Entertainment stars. These are the roll models our young peoplesee as successful and aspire to be like while some of our adults want to seem like. We chose to be consumers instead merchants and businessmen, providing the goods and services as well as the Education and training, that is neccessary for us to be self sufficient.

  4. AMERICA I AM says:

    ROMNEY 2012!

  5. rikki says:

    Travis seems to ignore what is at the root of poverty…Black & poor people have to be forced to read, write and speak English

    We need a war on more accepting it as an alternative language.

    Make all public assistance recipients sit in English and Math classes 25 hours a week for their EBT card. I’ll bet half will quit in the first month.

    We need to eliminate all parole and early release until you can read the New York Times in front of a judge or parole board. 90% of prisoners speak Ebonics…does this ring a bell with anyone????

    It is pitiful as Americans we have so many millions who are Functionally Illiterate…some tough love in order!

  6. Marty says:

    My problem with Smiley and West is that they did not go after President Bush during his time as President in the same manner. I think of the President as being one for the entire country. Therefore, absent a specific reason, e.g., Katrina, I do not expect him to provide special treatment to a certain race. When jobs are created, health care provided, that helps everyone, including African Americans. As a people, we cannot have it both ways. President Obama is in uncharted territory and to expect him to be able to resolve every ill that has occurred over 200 years is totally unfair and unrealistic. In addition, when you have a party that absolutely refuses to work with you, and your own party who tend to often choke, that makes his job harder. Help the process instead of sitting and writing commentary.

  7. Thanks for your support Steph. I’m
    just getting started in the arena of speaking and organizing. If you like what I say here, go to my site to see and here my solutions to the problems in our community. Just click on my name above, and if you like what you here and see, pass the word. Thanks again for your support.

  8. Steph says:

    Thanks Terrance Amen for your brilliant input. I hope that you give speeches throughout the nation.

  9. Let me say this up front, I’m voting for President Obama, not because I like what he is doing, because I think he can do better when it comes to our community, and not because of what he has done for the country as a whole, but because he is a better choice than Romney, who will totally ignore not only our people, but the general population as well. Voting for him will be like voting for bush, in my opinion. Unfortunately we still have to vote for the lesser of the evils, even though we should all know the democrats totally take advantage of us when it comes to getting what we need in our community or at least what could help our community. Until we build a strong economic base inside our community, we will always be in this position, and the politicians know this. But if we have a strong economic base where 20- 40% of that trillion dollars we spend every year in every community but our own, we can do what the wealthy who run this country do, and that is to have a strong lobby with money to back whoever we want, and appoint someone who will represent us, instead of always having people we didn’t appoint represent us.

    Black Unity means financial independence and happiness

  10. carol durante says:


  11. Taxed Enough says:

    Most people, myself included, are not against helping the people who were swept up in the financial turmoil of the last few years.
    However – I am sick of paying for the other people’s problems on a long term basis. I am talking about the professional welfare crowd that goes on from generation to generation because the government pays them to do it. These are the millions of irresponsible people who think all their problems are just something else for somebody else to pay for.
    We have this $15 Trillion in debt because we spent $16.5 Trillion on Poverty Programs since the 1960’s and we got just what we paid for – plenty of poverty.


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