Thursday, September 8, 2011

Belafonte on rights, Obama

I had an opportunity to see Harry Belafonte tonight. I have to admit that, despite all of his incredible humanitarian accomplishments, his platinum status as a recording artist, his elbow rubbing with global dignitaries, marches with civil rights icons, and those cool 70's movies with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier, I was most interested in what he would say about President Barack Obama. He didn't disappoint.

Belafonte regaled the audience at Wayne State with stories of his time in Harlem during the renaissance, interactions with President Franklin Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy, and work with everyone from Paul Robeson to Fannie Lou Hammer to Martin Luther King, Jr. He even sang a few lines from his signature classic. His belting of "Daaayy-Oh!" enlivened the crowd. He even took a moment to put the song about the oppressed, colonized banana plantation workers into context. That caused some to wonder why they always thought it to be such a happy song?!

It was when he suggested that Obama lost his moral compass that I became truly engaged. I respect his opinion, but disagree, in part. He said that the president has not done enough for black people or poor people. I can't agree more. But must add that no president ever has. Give credit to Lyndon Johnson for embarking on a poor people's campaign. Granted, pundits will say it was followed by a war on the poor. But I'll end my tour of revisionist history here.

Belafonte is one of many prominent black critics of the president on the lecture circuit these days, and I understand where they are coming from. I expected a bit more from him by this point. But I am willing to be patient, because I have to believe a second term, and some economic relief, will provide an opportunity to work more diligently on his social agenda. And, I'll ask, does anyone really think Mitt Romney or Rick Perry are more interested in helping minorities and poor people than the former Chicago organizer?

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