Tavis Smiley: If Obama Looked Like Isaac Hayes Or Rick Ross, He Wouldn’t Have Been President

Tavis Smiley: If Obama Looked Like Isaac Hayes Or Rick Ross, He Wouldn’t Have Been President


Photos: Issac Hayes, 1998, NYC (John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com / Rick Ross, Sept. 27, 2014, Desing Oscar / President Barack Obama, July 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama, who served in the White House from 2009 to 2017, is considered to be the the first Black person to govern the Oval Office. The son of a Kenyan man and white American woman, Obama’s presidential run sparked a debate over whether his biracial heritage made him truly the first “Black” president.

When asked recently if America was ready for a Black president of Native Black American ancestry, talk show host Tavis Smiley noted that not only was America not ready for that, but America wasn’t ready for a Black person with darker features.

Smiley became a radio commentator in 1991, and, starting in 1996, he hosted the talk show “BET Talk” (later renamed “BET Tonight”) on Black Entertainment Television (BET). After BET he began hosting “The Tavis Smiley Show” on National Public Radio (NPR), from 2002 to 2004. H also hosted “Tavis Smiley” on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and “The Tavis Smiley Show” on Public Radio International from 2004 until 2017. He was dropped by PBS after an investigation during the Me Too movement found that he was guilty of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, which he denied. He sued PBS for wrongful termination but lost the court case. The jury found he violated the company’s moral clause. The judge ordered Smiley pay PBS $1.5 million in damages.

During an Oct 18 interview on the TD Hip Hop Media YouTube channel, Smiley spoke on how America is not ready for a true Black American President whose linage comes from the plantation fields of America (Descendant of American Slavery).

“That means that America has to have a reckoning that we are not yet ready to have. It means that America has to come to terms with a truth that they don’t want to come to terms with. It means having real conversations about reparations that were slowly advancing on but not quite there yet…I just think that these are conversations that America is really not yet ready to have and my point is this if we’re not yet ready to have these conversations then when do we get to a point where we can elect someone with you know the linage,” he said.

Then he used the election of Obama to make his point.

Saying that if Barack Obama, armed with all that Harvard and Columbia pedigree, and looked like that of Negro had the phenotype of somebody like Isaac Hayes or Rick Ross–even after the weight loss..that Negro would never have been president.” According to Smiley, Obama being light-skinned and biracial helped get him into the White House.

When people were polled in 2014 about whether or not Obama was Black a majority of Americans said no. According to data in a Pew Research Center study, a majority of Americans said Obama was “mixed race”; just more than a quarter (27 percent) said he was “Black,” The Washington Post reported.

Whites were much more likely to describe Obama as “mixed race,” while a majority of African Americans viewed him as Black. 

Obama said he viewed himself as Black. As the Associated Press reported in April 2010, Obama “did not check multiple boxes on his U.S. Census form, or choose the option that allows him to elaborate on his racial heritage. He ticked the box that says ‘black, African Am., or Negro.’”

There has long been a light-skinned privilege in the U.S. as light-skinned Black people are often looked at by American society as more “acceptable,” many experts say.

Darker Black people are often stereotyped more by whites in the U.S., and there is a particular fear of a dark-skin Black man, noted Paul Butler, a Georgetown University law professor, in an interview with NPR in 2015.

Butler relayed an experience he had.

“[I was] walking home in my beautiful upper-middle-class neighborhood in D.C. when the cops started following me —kind of like this cat and mouse thing. They are in their car, and you know, every time I move, they move,” he recalled. “And we get up to my house, and I just stop on the street and say, ‘what are you doing? And then they say, ‘what are you doing?’ I say, ‘I live here.’ They say, ‘prove it.’ They made me go to my porch, and when I got there, I said, ‘you know what, I don’t have to prove anything.’ I knew this because I am a law professor.”

He continued, “They said, ‘we are not leaving until you go in the house because we think you’re a burglar.’ I say, ‘you’re doing this because I am black.’ They said, ‘no, we are not; we’re black too,’ and that was true. These were African-American officers. Even they were racial profiling me, another Black man.”

Light-skinned privilege also affects the workplace and careers.

In a study published in the journal Social Currents in 2015, Villanova University professor of Sociology & Criminology Lance Hannon found that, all things being equal, white interviewers deemed lighter-skinned Blacks and Hispanics more intelligent than darker-skinned people who had identical educational achievement, vocabularies, scores on a political test, and a variety of other factors, Vox reported.

The study found that lighter-skinned Black men with bachelor’s degrees have a distinct advantage in job application processes over Back men who have MBAs, and also that lighter-skinned Black women in North Carolina received lighter prison sentences than their darker peers, among other differences.

Hannon called this “white colorism.” As Hannon wrote in the paper, “The history of white colorism runs as deep as the history of white racism in U.S. society. For African Americans, the skin color hierarchy is firmly rooted in the slavery regime, where white owners gave certain work privileges to slaves with more Eurocentric features.”

Photos: Issac Hayes, 1998, NYC (John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en) / Rick Ross, Sept. 27, 2014, Desing Oscar,https://www.flickr.com/photos/99222736@N02/  /   President Barack Obama at a White House news briefing, July 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)