Why We Need To Listen To Tavis, Cornel On Poverty

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Last week, there were rumblings about Tavis Smiley’s PBS program, “Reawaking America.”  The program was designed to encourage politicians and citizens to deal with poverty in America, which continues to be ignored by the powers-that-be in Washington. In fact, in last year’s State of the Union Address, President Obama was the first Democratic president since Harry S. Truman not to mention poverty for the entire address.

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As expected, Cornel West joined Tavis as one of the panelists for the event.  West is a long-time political partner in crime with Smiley, and in spite of any criticism they might have received for their challenges to the Obama Administration, you must give them both credit for being lone voices in the woods on the important issue of poverty.  With 40 percent of Black children living below the poverty line, African Americans cannot allow the political elite of Washington to fool us into forgetting about those who are suffering the most.

One thing that seems to keep Tavis in power is that even when Black people are tired of hearing from him, there’s always a group of powerful white folks who love him to death.  Joining Dr. West on the panel were financial guru Suze Orman and filmmaker Michael Moore, both of whom had something to say about the issue.

Orman is certainly a well-branded financial expert, but not an expert on poverty.  Ryan Mack’s objection to Orman’s seemingly exploitative debit card serves as additional evidence that Orman was only on the panel because she’s famous.  There’s not much in Suze’s track record to confirm, on any level, that she cares one bit about Black people or poverty. She should have been replaced by someone who has a history of actually giving a damn.

Tavis’ efforts on poverty are being applauded by some, including Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College for Women:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hated poverty. He described it as ‘an abomination greater than cannibalism.’ Tavis stands on the shoulders of Dr. King in his fight against poverty, and I commend him for his efforts.

Over the last two months, the Obama Administration has received credit for the fact that the unemployment data for the entire nation has improved.  During the same time period, Black unemployment has actually gotten worse.  This is the headline that the Obama Administration does not want you to see, but it’s the only headline that any of us need to see as it pertains to our people.

One of the challenges that Tavis and Cornel are set to face in their fight against poverty is that America is not a country that is wired to take care of the poor.  Capitalist societies are structured to focus almost exclusively on maximizing shareholder wealth, even if it is at the expense of workers, customers, and the environment.  Also, the distorted values of our society have led us to a place where we seem to believe that greed is good and that there’s no reason to care about our fellow man.

Washington has given up on its fight against poverty, and I’m not optimistic that they will ever escape the grasp of corporate greed.  Now that the Supreme Court has told political leaders that corporations can feed their coffers in excess, we’re going to see our society crippled by economic inequality unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.  Income inequality could ultimately come to destroy America as we know it, and no one in Washington seems to care.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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