Last week, civil leaders from throughout the Black community came together in New York City to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. While it was President Obama’s appearance at the organization’s gala that got many people talking, it was a debate between Sharpton and Dr. Cornel West that took center stage Sunday afternoon.
In a televised panel titled “A Stronger America: The Black Agenda,” Sharpton, West, were joined by NAACP President, Ben Jealous, Democratic Strategist, Karen Finney, TheGrio columnist Jeff Johnson, the National Urban League’s Marc Morial and journalist Karen Hunter, among others. The discussion was moderated by MSNBC anchor Ed Schultz- an odd pick for the cable news network whose midday programming is anchored by a female reporter of color, Tamron Hall.
When the discussion turned to the subject of Black leadership, Sharpton and West got into a heated argument on the role the first African-American President has played in the efforts to improve conditions among Blacks in America.
The scene of two black men arguing on television could have proved cringe worthy, but the dialogue between the two men seemed to be coming from a genuine place of concern and care. Both Sharpton and West have placed their communities needs at the forefront of their careers and their debate seemed driven by that prioritization than anything else. However, in a forum meant to bring together thought leaders from within the community, their disagreement highlights a major rift that has formed in with the ascention of Barack Obama from legislator to executive power.
President Obama’s administration has been criticized for not doing enough for Black people. It has been criticized for dealing with race only in instances where a higher economic class pushed an issue onto the President’s periphery as in the case of the wrongful arrest of Henry Louis Gates. But the President has also become a marker in a debate that it is unclear how he can contribute to: the varying views of his so-called obligation to fellow African-Americans.
Though heated, the debate is a necessary one if only to serve as a display of the myriad of viewpoints within the Black community concerning the role of its leadership in its future.
What are your thoughts on Sharpton and West’s great debate? Was it a civil disagreement or another show of nasty infighting? Give us your take Clutchettes- share your thoughts!