Al Sharpton Says Black Intellectuals Don’t Respond Well To Him: Actually I do

In a recent interview with Newsone, Rev. Al Sharpton laid out some of his divides with black intellectuals. The Rev seems to feel that many in “blackademia” are not comfortable with his approach to politics, and that the divide is becoming more apparent as time goes on. During the conversation, Sharpton had this to say:

“A lot of Blacks in the intellectual circles have a problem with me because of class issues,” Sharptonsays in the interview. “I was a college dropout with a James Brown hairdo. ‘He cant talk for us!’ I mean all of the arrogance! They want to speak about the proletariat but don’t want a proletarian leader!”

I listened to the words with interest, primarily because I think I might have enough education to be considered to be a part of the “black intellectual” class to which Rev. Sharpton is making reference. I suspect that Rev. Sharpton’s remarks are driven by the heated debate between he and Cornel West on MSNBC last week. There have been other incidents in the past, but in the age of Obama, almost nothing matters before 2008.

I’ll start by saying that I am in that group of black intellectuals who has no problem dealing with Rev. Sharpton. He and I talk on his show every Monday, and I find his commitment to action-oriented solutions to be refreshing and productive. Sharpton is correct that many of our most brilliant black scholars have been fooled into sitting around in their offices writing research papers that no one is ever going to read. The abandonment of our community by black intellectuals is one of the most appalling and wasteful examples of our community’s commitment to psychological slavery.

I respect Sharpton because he is bright enough to go toe-to-toe with the sharpest minds on the planet, yet tough enough to fight a gang banger in a dark alley. This kind of toughness reminds me of my father, who was a high-ranking police official in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve often felt that true intelligence means that you are able to adapt your mind to changing circumstances and manage a variety of complex environments. Also, a black man in America must be both sharp and strong in order to survive, with much of that education coming from outside the walls of any university.

With that said, I also wouldn’t consider Dr. Cornel West to be among the group of black intellectuals who has a problem with Rev. Sharpton, at least not in a normal political environment. How to best manage the Obama Presidency has become the sticking point for West and Sharpton, who’ve worked together in the past on numerous occasions. In contrast to his more elitist colleagues in the academy, Dr. West possesses an unquestionable commitment to serving black, brown and poor people across America. His most recent disagreement with Sharpton doesn’t come from the fact that he’s a scholar. It simply comes from the fact that black leaders don’t always think alike.

I’ve enjoyed all of my long conversations with Rev. Sharpton, where he articulates interesting and insightful views on everything from politics to pop culture. I learn from our interactions and find them to be productively engaging. One thing I remember from our conversations is Rev. Sharpton’s insistence (which he mentions regularly during our radio segments), that black leaders are not always on the same page. Going back to the divide between Dr. King and Malcolm X (among others), black leadership has shared the common interest of uplifting our people, and have often disagreed on how to get it done.

The most critical fact about the recent divide between West and Sharpton is that the divide must be managed respectfully and productively. By referring to Rev. Sharpton as Obama’s black political “mascot,” Professor West opened a door of “hood fight whoop-ass” that Sharpton preserves for those who’ve come to attack him. He didn’t become the man that he is without learning how to fight. I don’t, in the least, blame Sharpton for engaging in a fierce counter-attack on West both during the segment and later in other media outlets. At the same time, I am sure that Rev. Sharpton understands that black leaders can disagree with him and still have legitimate viewpoints, as even I have disagreed with Rev. Sharpton on his show on multiple occasions. As Malcolm and Martin learned toward the end of their lives, it is important that we understand the importance of learning to disagree without working our way toward mutual self-destruction.

Both Sharpton and West are keenly aware of the importance of preserving the bigger picture. Advocating for our community is what matters most, and in that regard, they are both on the same page perpetually.


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17 responses to “Al Sharpton Says Black Intellectuals Don’t Respond Well To Him: Actually I do

  1. I have read several of your articles and really enjoy your work. As a college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, I am contemplating graduate school but I do not want to become part of the “blackademia” that seem to forget about the people in the hood.

  2. EJ

    I will be completing my MBA this June and trust me you don’t have to abandon either. You can have both. Being educated does not mean you forget the people in urban areas. It just means you are learning ways to uplift them. But that is only if you are willing to share the knowledge. I speak at homeless shelters about finances and credit to enlighten and show that there is a method to the madness or tricks to the trade. I let them know you have to play “the game” to become more successful. It is a sad truth because we all don’t want to play the game. It’s fake and changes us in some ways. Just know who you are and do what makes you feel good.

    Just sharing my thoughts. Good luck with your education

  3. Dr. Boyce,

    First, both Sharpton and West represent relics of the past. The positions of both Black pope and Black spokesperson have become obsolete and outmoded. Both positions represent an era when Black people were undereducated and politically unsophisticated. While some may take the position that the above is still the case, they’d be arguing from a position of ignorance, and betraying the fact that they too have been misled by the way we’re being portrayed in the media. So personally, I become highly incensed whenever I see either Sharpton or West on camera professing to give the “Black perspective.” It’s silly, and it’s insulting.

    Secondly, they’re both promoting corporate interests by serving as distractions. We’re currently engaged in a class war, and that’s currently the biggest threat to both Black people, and all of America as a whole. Thus, anyone who distracts us from disseminating that reality is doing us a disservice. So as I was watching West and Sharpton make a spectacle of themselves on national television, I couldn’t help but say to myself, “Look at those two damn fools.” And I’m virtually certain that was what most of America was saying – accept for the racists who love to watch Black people make a fool of themselves.

  4. Pam

    Intellectual or not all that “kissing up” from Sharpton is like my grandma use to say “so unbecomming” It’s funny how Sharpton is loving on Obama because when he( Obama) was in Springfield, Illinois announcing his presidency, “Fat Al” was at Tavis’s “State of Black Union” cutting Obama up like a cheap steak, for picking the same day and not showing up for Tavis’s “State of Black Union”. SIDE-EYED: NOBODY TAKES THESE SO CALLED “BLACK LEADERS”SERIOUSLY.

    Look at our communities, is this what these “Black Leaders” has lead us to? if so, they need to be put on “Death Row”.

  5. Siddan

    Have not always been a fan of rev Sharpton but warrmed up to him shortly after the Jenna 6 matter. At the time a few tv Networks, following Jesse Jackson, Sr’s crap, tried to dupe candidate Obama into getting mired in the Jenna 6 fiasco. Wisely he issued a letter denouncing the violence and sidestepped the trap. Rev Sharpton wisely pointed out that candidate Obama was a senator from IL seeking the ofc of president. He had no additional responsibility because he was black. I knew at that moment that Rev sharpton knew his politics 101 well unlike others so-called leaders who were pushing the emotional argument. Re Dr. West, I view him as a smart guy without portfolio. He has no organization and I’m not sure who he thinks he represents. He seems to want attention from Obama just because he’s Dr West. He has no plan to present, just like BLK Caucus members; all he does is complain but never offers a possible solution. I’m sorry his services at Havard were terminated kinda aburptly and publicly but trying to become most valued aide to Obama is not the answer. Rev Al is the man this go round so …West, you’re going to have to live with it.

  6. qboro

    Eric, I don’t thing Sharpton and West represent relics of the past based on you reasoning. Black people are NOT politically sophisticated in 2011. I do agree that they are promoting corporate interests and we are in a class war. Somebody has to be an advocate for black people. Stop getting caught up in who the “black leader” is. The debate that they had wasn’t a spectacle. It’s about time someone had some passion on the subject. If you’re thinking whites are looking at us like damned fools because of the debate, you’re naive. Whites are going to clown us no matter what. Until racism disappears, we will always need black “spokesmen”. That doesn’t mean that can just sit around, we have to work in concert with the black spokesmen in our communities.

  7. Richard Packard

    I think that both men (Sharpton and West) bring unique talents to the table of public-discourse of the black experience thats currently happening in America today. Mr. Wattree’s assertion that both these men represents “old relics” from the past appears to come from a “inexperienced youthful perspective”. Unfortunately if there is anything that the “old relics of the past” has not taught our youth, it is “respect” for our elders and the “wisdom” that they have acquired through the “hard knocks” of life. Its natural for young people to think that they know it all, but living long enough, life will teach you othewise. The “proper” combination of “youthful” engergy and strenght, and “older” wisdom and experience can take our community forward towards economic and political empowement. Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Cornel West represent “..different members but one body..” likewise, all of us who work towards black equality are “various members” to “one body”. We have to learn and understand that all of us is essential in this fight, like Dr. Watkins pointed out in his article, Malcolm and Martin realized that towards the end of their lives. Some of us represent “brains” and some of us represent “bronze”, in either case, one can’t get along without the other. Finally, another important componet in our arsenal is “humility” and “tack” amongst ourselves and each other. Dr. West in my opinion did not use tack when he referred to Rev. Sharpton as “Obama’s black political mascot”, I think that President Obama might use Al Sharpton from time-to-time as a “buffer” between himself and disenchanted black leaders. President Obama could learn a lessson or two about humility and strenght demonstrated by Dr. King in his day, Obama need to meet face-to-face with his black critics and suppporters and discuss the concerns, strategies and some remedies. To continue to ignore their concerns and complaints allows “them” to define “who” you are not, and further divide an already torn community.

  8. George

    This fight is really about others not having the opportunity at the corridors of power. What honestly needs to be done is us focusing on how to alleviate the plight of African Americans in the polity. A house didvided is a prescription for failure. The answer is not who is right but what is right for a people suffering the highest unemployment in a nation of plenty, highest rate of incercaration of their men and lack of equity in the educational playing field for their kids. Let’s move away from meaningless squabbles and self aggrandizement and work to better the economic lives of our people.

  9. This ignorance begin with Tavis/West because Obama didnot attend Black Tv program.Tavis needs to learn forgiveness, move on and stop using West to fight his battles. Obama has been insulted as a President more so than Carter. American people never thought a Black man would be President They were shocked !! Then all the descdents of KKK and Slave Masters removed their hoods and came out to destroy him along with some ignore educated blacks’Wonder how much they are getting paid.Please remember when Dr King went to Memphis and some Blacks were paid to bring chaos to the Sanitation march. Oh how we fforget!! Obama and his family was placed in White House by God. Clean family record. Squeaky clean family man. Who else could God choose. He put Dr King in as a Prophet of God.Wake up Black people!!The poor will always be with us.Americ is at the bottom of the totem pole just like sodom and gommar.Wake up America and begin to pray like your grandparents and great grandparents.GOD’S WRATH IS NOT SWIFT BUT IT IS ALWAYS CERTAIN.

  10. Elaine

    Each comment offers valid arguments, but the president is in the end a politician seeking re-election. We should never be surprised by anything politicians do or don’t do, because some of us lack the insider knowledge regarding the strength of the particular special interest that is being responded too. Yes I have a Ph.D., but I’m happy Rev. Al is there to offer his perspective, and he’s paid his dues on the front line. While I was spending my time writing my dissertation, he was on the street fighting for justice. I’m not going to sit here and second-guess motives, intentions, or expectations, but I really resented Dr. West suggesting he was being manipulated… Yes I have major disappointment with what is happening in terms of policy direction, but that isn’t all on Obama, his own party is half-in/half-out. So, what I understand now more than ever, is we need to move beyond a two-party system of governance, and don’t tell me it isn’t possible because we have seen the influence, damage and destruction of the so called ‘tea party’!!! How can we make this happen? I’m tired of supporting a party that doesn’t support the interests of the people who are in such dire situations…

  11. claudia

    I agree full heartedly on the work of Al Sharpton. I have always been a follower of him. He might be a drop out in school but he has definetely done his homework in the laws and politically fields and has led many controversial issues having successful victories. My question to you is what has Dr. West done besides run his dam mouth and used his high scholars to become recognized. I havent yet seen anything West has done to help our black community nor help our black men who are getting incarcerated every day. At least Al Sharpton is doing something good to help blacks. Al Sharpton also knows his place in this society, he knows when to speak and when not to speak. Dr. West don t know when its time for him to talk, he just talks with no action and no solution. My strong belief is in Al Sharpton, I find him to be a man who believes in himself and at least attempts to go out of his way helping as many blacks in our commmunity. He is aware of the prejudice that each black man and family faces daily.

  12. Malcolm and Martin had an overt racist white populace to deal with and a civil rights issue at the forefront with blacks afraid but willing to stand up for injustice. Today we have a mixed-race president raised predominately by white grandparents. For Dr. West or Rev. Sharpton and Tavis Smiley or us to think that now something was going to change, watch out whitey now, or he’s gonna make things better, is a disallusion. We had negroes scared of what Martin or Malcom was doing back then and when integration came they were some of the first to be swept up. Now we have white folks saying its not about race, please, and he shows no allegiance to our race when he is one of ours because thats the way nature plans it. One drop don’t make one show!

  13. Ms.Kedra

    Well I see it like this Obama has to get a backbone. He is a man isn’t he? That seems to be the just of his problems. He is spineless. He is no Dr. King or Malcom X they fought poor people. Dr. West is right to an extent why the hell are bailing out banks which are privately owned? It just does not make sense to me. Rev Shaprton is right on some of his points also. I tell you this Obama re election is going to be a up hill fight. I know I won’t be voting for him. Florida is a hard state and he is going to have a up hill fight to win us.

  14. Siddan

    Kendra, could you be a little clearer on what it is you wanted or expected when you stated the president is spineless and that you would not be voting for him. If you are going to refer to your president as spineless, at least explain to the rest of us what policies you think he failed on. By the way, even though I’m sure the president would like to have everyone who supported him the first time support his reelection, it rarely happens. If he wins a 2nd term, it is likely to be with a new coalition. I expect my section of Florida to be a part of that winning coalition. Peace be with you.

  15. Jana

    The Tavis/West hate for our President is just ridiculous. Initially we thought that Tavis would cool it since most of the community insisted only after much soul searching and giving him numerous passes, would cool down. Tavis did not and Cornell West simply took up the banner

    Dr. West is a scolar and a professor one responsible for educating our children and with that in mind and the example he should be setting it is simply appauling.

    Dr. West appearence on MSNBC during a program designed strictly to promote our Agenda was very very sad. He took an opportunity knowing the struggles we have in this country and having such an opportunity to lift up our community to take shots at the President as he and Tavis Smiley always do.

    Should Mr. Brazil even consider talking to Dr. West? Absolutely not! Our community needs to move beyond those hurt feelings playing like school yard bullies, and acting like or worse than high schoolers even at the college level who have a responsible to set an eexamplry for our children.

    Dr. West, after his performance has no business teaching our children or anyone elses, his disrespect of the Office of the President who happens to be the first Black President was just inexcusable. That’s what’s expect of our community, that’s the kind of display that holds our community back.

    None of us always agree with the President but we sure do respect and pray for him to get this nation back on track . Don’t mistake that for inaction. There’s a respectful way to address any issue.

    We would hope that if Donna has any plans to speak with Cornell West they are quickly abondon, because the community and many are talking are not expecting her to take such an action, because most truly feel that Tavis and Dr. West have done more to harm our community than anyone could do when given an opportunity to stand up for the community.

    Dr. West should not have conducted himself in such a manner and he not only owes Rec. Sharpton an apology but the President as well as Ed Schultz.

    Our community is suffering with high unemployment, and a host of issues, but this is not the manner in which to address those issues.

    We had no problem with Tavis Smiley supporting Hillary Clinton, but he had no right to tell the rest of the community who to support, thus therein lies the problem and has been for sometime.

    Both action of Mr. West and Tavis are entirely disrespectful and we can only believe at this point that Mr. West is carrying the Water for himself and his dear friend Tavis Smiley.

    Our community needs a oneness spsirit and finally after 40+ Presidents we achieved that not because the President is Black but because he’s qualified. Now it’s time to work together. The President has inherted 2 Wars and Economy in shables, heated racism which has now show it’s ugly head greater thatn it’s been in decades

    It’s interesting really that Mr. West and Mr. Smiley shut their mouths for 40+ other Presidents, never went running to the media, never stirred the community negatively against them, but now that our President happens to be Black these brothers have a huyge problem.

    We are praying for them.

  16. Kunta


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