Tavis Smiley’s Slaves

Racial privilege, guilt and oppression.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on the radical left and Islam.

PBS personality Tavis Smiley stopped by Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a private “Hidden Ivy” with a modest $45K tuition and was asked about whether slavery might make a comeback.

“Mr. Smiley, do you believe that given the crisis state of our democracy, we black folk could ever find ourselves enslaved again?” a student at this elite institution asked the millionaire.

Smiley assured readers of Time Magazine, the flagship product of a multi-billion dollar corporation headquartered near the World Trade Center, that slavery could very well make a comeback.

Why? What possible reason did Tavis Smiley have for anticipating the return of not merely Jim Crow, but cotton plantations and chains? Because the Senate has yet to act on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  The South will rise again… because a judicial nominee’s confirmation was delayed. It’s the sort of thing Senate Democrats used to think was good clean fun.

One of the victims of their judicial delaying tactics was Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a sharecropper's daughter, who was blocked for years. Judge Garland, unlike Judge Brown, is white. Why does blocking him from tilting the Supreme Court further to the left represent the return of slavery?

Merrick Garland, a man whom Tavis Smiley, like the rest of the left, couldn’t have been bothered to sneeze at a few years ago, is now suddenly the litmus test for the return of slavery. It’s not about Garland. It’s about Obama. And, more specifically, it’s about the insecurity and guilt of the Smileys.

The curious characteristic of this current wave of angry activism is the privileged nature of the activists.

Consider Colin Kaepernick with his $114 million salary standing up to oppression, the $150 million social justice activism of Black Lives Matter, Yale students shrieking themselves silly over Halloween costumes and a dialogue between a millionaire PBS host and a student at a prestigious college over whether slavery might be coming back. These people are not oppressed by grinding poverty, deprivation of civil rights or any other plausible metrics of discrimination. They are oppressed by their privilege.

Tavis Smiley has a hefty salary and a development deal with Warner Brothers. He has a forum at Time Magazine and gallons of power and prestige. If anyone ought to be less likely to fear the return of slavery, it’s him. But this latest wave of black fragility comes largely from the black upper class.

Smiley sees the defiance of Obama as a unique threat. He isn’t alone in that. The idea that Obama ought to have unlimited power with no checks and balances by judges or legislatures is oppression. It’s not oppression of Obama, but by him. And that is the real point. It’s not the kid in the ghetto who is paranoid about anyone who dares to defy Obama’s unearned privilege.

Rather it’s the bearers of unearned privilege like Tavis Smiley and students at prestigious colleges who, like Smiley, know that they aren’t there on their merit, who fear the loss of their privileges the most.

They identify with Obama so closely because he too is the benefit of vast realms of unearned privilege.

To understand that, we must also rethink who is oppressing whom. Tavis Smiley is not in any danger of being hauled out of home with its treasure trove of autographed Muhammad Ali memorabilia to a cotton plantation. Smiley however does have slaves. They’re known as taxpayers.

PBS is funded by taxpayers. These taxpayers have no say in whether their earnings will be seized by them and turned over to PBS personalities, whether it’s Tavis Smiley so he can buy more Muhammad Ali souvenirs, or any of the other collecting of left-wing thinkers and talkers. They are slaves.

The beneficiaries of affirmative action, whether on campus or Capitol Hill, know that what they have was illegitimately seized from others. Their paranoid fears of oppression are just thinly disguised guilt. They manifest in typically petty ways. Take the microaggression, a form of oppression so microscopic that it requires the sort of misinterpretation usually practiced by paranoid schizophrenics confined in closely guarded institutions. Or Smiley’s irrational belief in the return of slavery. An insane notion.

One way of describing it all is projection. Guilt easily becomes anger. When we have hurt someone, we can either apologize and atone, or we can accuse him of all sorts of irrational wrongdoing to make ourselves feel better. In Smiley’s essay, he flirts with the notion of acknowledging the anger of the Trump supporters enslaved by a liberal regime that confiscates their earnings to pay for its agenda.

But he can’t acknowledge it. Instead he throws out paranoid claims about the return of slavery.

Why is Trump so uniquely threatening to Tavis Smiley and so much of the liberal elite? His platform does not include a return to slavery. But it does include a call to break up much of the establishment.

And the establishment greatly values its illegitimate and unfair privileges.

Smiley and others like him are suffering. They have enough of a sense of themselves to feel guilty. The student on a prestigious campus who beat out more qualified students who had the misfortune of being born white or Asian knows that he exists at the expense of an injustice being perpetrated against others.

He copes with this guilty by taking refuge in hate. Like so many slave owners, he must hate and fear and rage against the people he has oppressed. His hatred is just guilt congealed into rabid denial.

Americans have been enslaved by Obama for the better part of a decade. He has gleefully spent their money, destroyed their future and wrecked their country on every level. His triumph was not a narrative of the wretched of the earth coming into their own, but the unearned privilege of a spoiled brat who got by on charm, on political connections and finally on the convenience of a privileged racial identity.

Is it any wonder that there is so much fear among the beneficiaries of unearned privilege that the party might end, that merit might replace racial hierarchies and that the oppressed will rise up against the oppressors. It’s a scary thought if you happen to work for PBS or attend a campus because of your own unearned privilege.

It’s so scary that you might even decide to pretend that your slaves are really plotting to enslave you. After all that’s what you did to them. And to justify it, you must believe that they would do to you what you did to them.

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