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Yvette Carnell: A Final Word on the Tavis Smiley vs. Tom Joyner Controversy

by Yvette Carnell

My highest goal has always been to get to the truth of a thing, preferably as quickly as possible. When you have a platform though, thattom joyner and tavis desire for a brisk conclusion can hamstring you, allowing you to make indefensible assertions and breathtakingly flimsy arguments in real time.

During a radio discussion with Dr. Boyce Watkins regarding the rift between Tom Joyner and Tavis Smiley, I allowed myself to fall into that trap when I called Tom Joyner a “ridiculous” person. He is not, as a human being, ridiculous, and it is just as deplorable for me to attack Joyner personally as it is for Joyner to level personal attacks at Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley.

The thing is, Joyner is flesh and blood, and he, like all of us, makes miscalculations, and reacts without thinking. One of the most unfortunate miscalculations came when Joyner called Dr. Cornel West, a respected professor, Tavis Smiley’s “side piece” in an opinion piece. Another came, in the very same article, when Joyner blamed Smiley for pundit Mark Halprin calling President Obama a d*ck. And most recently, Joyner leveled additional criticism at Smiley,  accusing the PBS host of being  “fascinated with his own legacy.”

Let’s be clear about a couple of things. A “sidepiece”, sometimes also called a side chick, is a s*xual partner that a  person maintains on the side, in addition to the partner in their committed romantic relationship. Mark Halprin, best known for the book ‘Game Change’, which he coauthored with John Heilemann, has been known to make snarky, even nasty comments, so nothing Halprin said about Obama had anything to do with a stance Tavis Smiley has taken. Both of these assertions are very unfortunate to Joyner’s argument, and both get at the core of explaining why I lashed out at Joyner during the discussion with Dr. Watkins.

You can’t just make things up because someone doesn’t agree with you. You can’t just insinuate a gay relationship between two men, especially two black men, because of your desire to buttress an argument.

I’m not lamenting Joyner’s criticism of Smiley because Joyner doesn’t share my view of Obama’s policies. I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is how Joyner attacks Smiley personally. What I’m not fine with is how Joyner’s comments stirred me to the point where I joined the fray, contradicted my own personal ethic, and attacked Joyner personally. I regret that. But this atmosphere is toxic, and since Joyner began this race to the bottom, I think it’s time he end it. Tavis Smiley is a complicated, some would even say compromised, man.  I don’t know him. I don’t know his heart, or what he’s “fascinated” with, and I dare say, neither does Joyner.

It’s time now for Joyner to reassess how best to employ his powerful radio platform. He’ll certainly continue to get cheers for taunting Smiley, who has been largely ostracized by Obama supporters, but that’s easy pickings at this point, and only beneficial if Joyner’s engaging Smiley on the issues. The real question is this: What’s the end game Mr. Joyner?

The energy from this rift in the black community will continue to reverberate long after Obama has exited the world’s stage. Joyner’s view has been narrowly focused on Smiley for four years, but now it’s time to open it up a bit, and  become more expansive and thoughtful as it relates both to Obama’s future legacy and Smiley’s appraisal of that legacy.  Joyner’s choice is a choice between continued recrimination, which serves no one,  and beneficial dissection.

Being human is about making mistakes, accurately assessing those mistakes, and then growing to embody the lessons learned from those mistakes.  I have no problem coming out front and admitting that calling Joyner “ridiculous” was an unfair criticism. Now it’s time for Joyner to reevaluate his criticism as it relates to Tavis Smiley. I would remind Tom Joyner that Tavis Smiley isn’t the only one with a legacy. Joyner has a legacy of his own,  and he should question whether  he really wants to be remembered as the guy who took the low road, and spent years using his powerful platform to ridicule his former friend for disagreeing with him. For my part, I can only hope to lead by example.

Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer turned writer. She is currently an editor and contributor to Yourblackworld. You can reach Yvette via Twitter @YvetteDC or on Facebook.



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