I am unsure if I am entering into the dreaded mid-life crisis; however, I do know something is amiss as my mind has begun to wonder about other career paths. Now I know that I am a trained historian that has focused his studies and writing upon the African-American experience; that much is clear to me. However, I am seeking a new challenge and considering that we only live once, that is unless re-incarnation is real, I have decided to leave my position as a tenured professor, a distinction that I have spent my entire adult life preparing for, and pursue my grandest dream; I want to be a jazz singer.
Now I am certain that a few of you may be saying to yourself, ‘Right on, pursue your dreams, brother.’ However, there is a larger population of sober minded people that would advise me to “pump my brakes” prior to leaving my career in pursuit of a dream. This population of ‘negative Nancy’s’ would probably suggest that I ask several pertinent questions prior to abandoning my present career. I am certain that their initial question would be, ‘Can you sing?’ and I will proudly answer that question ‘Yes and No’.
Let me explain what I mean by ‘Yes and No.’ Yes, I can sing, hell, everyone can sing. I saw on YouTube the other day that there was a owner who trained his dog to sing a Whitney Houston song; albeit not well. However, the weightier portion of my answer is the ‘No’ part; meaning, I do not sing well. I have never, NEVER EVER, heard anyone say, ‘Brother, you sound nice when you sing.’ However, I refuse to abandon my pursuit of rivaling Will Downing or Luther Vandross for one reason, America is the land of opportunity and I have repeatedly witnessed people being provided opportunities to do things that they have absolutely no talent or training for. These people should be considered, for better or worse, classic cases of ‘getting out of their lane.’
Quite possibly the most repeat offenders of ‘getting out of their lane’ are African-American sports broadcasters. We must never forget the innumerable times that Sir Charles Barkley did his feeble-minded best to offer relevant commentary on race matters. It must be something endemic to being a sportscaster that causes one to ‘get out of their lane’ and seriously believe that they can comment upon subject matters that extend beyond the mere bouncing or catching a ball, subjects I must add that others spend decades examining and studying prior to having any in-depth comprehension of them. The latest person to make the offense of ‘getting out of their lane’ is none other than ‘all sizzle and no steak’ ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith.
I am unsure if Smith was attempting to evoke the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he related his peculiar ‘dream.’ Before an attentive audience at Vanderbilt University Stephen A. Smith advanced an argument that I have heard others who were under the influence of some hallucinogenic drug advance, “What I dream is that for one election, just one, every black person in America vote Republican….”
Now it is obvious that Smith is attempting to offer shocking and riveting commentary regarding African-Americans seeming marriage to the Democratic Party, a courtship that began with the election of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and was consummated by President John F. Kennedy in 1960. Smith continues with his unoriginal political argument when he relates, “Black folks in America are telling one party, ‘We don’t give a damn about you.’ They’re telling the other party, ‘You’ve got our vote.’ Therefore, you have labeled yourself ‘disenfranchised’ because one party knows they’ve got you under their thumb. The other party knows they’ll never get you and nobody comes to address your interest.”
Smith goes further and uses a crude analogy that likens the vote to a trip to the mall. The sports commentator advises African-Americans to shop their vote around for the best deal. Obviously failing to understand that political principals are dissimilar from couponing as the onus is wholly upon the politician to offer a palatable deal to voters. Smith’s belief that African-Americans have not considered the Republican Party platform and found it wanting is disrespectful to the entire community at best.
Now I am certain that many of you consider Smith’s unoriginal argument valid, however, it grossly misses the mark and should be considered foolish, at best. Smith fails to realize that as long as African-Americans continue to operate in the same inefficient manner, it does not matter whom they elect. A modicum of study and reflection would have highlighted this to Stephen A.
Put simply, the politically disorganized African-American community does not have a reliable mechanism to hold those that they elect, regardless of their political party affiliation, to task for either their campaign promises or their general failings while in office. Until this matter is corrected it does not matter who they elect. One of the foremost by-products of the Black community’s inability to hold their elected representatives to task is the absence of a unified political voice or goal structure. This grievous sin must be laid at the feet of a ‘Black leadership’ that has grown fat, lazy, disingenuous, and cowardly in their refusal to speak for those who have historically been incapable of defending themselves in the land of plenty.
The fact that a prestigious institution such as Vanderbilt University would turn to Stephen A. Smith, a sports commentator, to speak on political matters speaks volumes about the contemporary state of Black political leadership. Unfortunately, the highly evocative title of ‘Black political leader’ has few, if any, qualifications other than being a regular on ESPN, CNN, or MSNBC. One could reasonably argue that the only living Black leader who did not get his public platform via his association with a white media conglomerate is the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
It is this mediocre field of African-American political leaders/commentators that have provided room for the Stephen A. Smith’s of the world. Put simply, it is reasonable to consider the cupboard bare in regards to the existence of astute independent Black political leadership.
Maybe, just maybe, if I could convince Will Downing or Phil Perry, jazz singers who have spent a lifetime honing their God given vocals to never sing again that I, the possessor of neither training nor vocal talent, could become a successful jazz vocalist. I seriously doubt that this would ever occur because unfortunately for me, jazz aficionados know their music, spend years listening to it and can immediately detect imposters or those such as yours truly who are devoid of the required God-given talent.
The African-American community’s failure to care about life-and-death political matters at such a level permits individuals such as Stephen A. Smith to continually ‘get out of their lane’ and offer commentary that will invariably damage the present state and future trajectory of African-American existence. Making this situation truly ridiculous is the reality that Stephen A. Smith has as much training as a political commentator as I have as a jazz singer; and nobody, and I do mean nobody, will ever let me go onto any stage — local, national, or international — and sing.
James Thomas Jones III