First Posted: 1/15/2009
Is there a worse form of bigotry than to presume that someone must think a certain way because of that person's skin color?
Item: On Saturday night, Tavis Smiley, a political commentator who happens to be black, used the stage at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke's Givens Performing Arts Center to challenge those in a mostly black audience to make a difference with their lives.
And he did so eloquently, saying: “Write your obituary and then go out and live it. The most important thing on a tombstone is the little hyphen between the date you were born and the date you died.
“Each of us is a bundle of possibilities in the hands of an almighty God. My grandmother used to say, ‘you can live just because, or for a cause.' ”
Well said. If only there wasn't more.
It wasn't a coincidence that Smiley was at UNCP on a Saturday in February, which is Black History Month. Smiley, during his 90-minute presentation, brought forth the names of black Americans who have pretty impressive resumes where that hyphen will go.
But when Smiley brought up Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, he did so not as an example of black Americans who have achieved, but instead as black Americans to deride. His criticism of Thomas and Rice was met with cheers.
We doubt that those who applauded this gratuitous attack even understood the irony, so we will point it out: Even as Smiley was encouraging blacks to make a difference, he derided two who are doing exactly that.
The problem, of course, is that Thomas and Rice haven't followed a path that Smiley and other left-leaning black leaders would have mapped for them. Thomas is a conservative judge and seen as hostile to legislation, such as affirmative action, that some deem as critical to improving the plight of black Americans.
Rice, on the other hand, is serving President Bush, who has been miscast as being unfriendly to black America, despite evidence - No Child Left Behind, record numbers of blacks owning homes, his funding of the war on AIDS - that suggests otherwise.
Smiley isn't obligated to share the political views held by Rice or Thomas. But his implication that Thomas and Rice, because they are black, must fall in line with his political leanings because they too are black, is way worse than presumptuous. It is bigotry.