For three hours last Thursday at George Washington University’s Lisner auditorium, radio and television personality Tavis Smiley moderated his much anticipated forum, America’s Next Chapter. It started out as an intellectual exchange among a multi-ethnic, mixed-gender panel of thinkers, experts, and writers from across the political spectrum, and covered much ground, from the economy, the war, healthcare and immigration reform, to civility in rhetoric and other topics.
Throughout the issue-packed discussion that was at times heated, and always very lively, panelists kept returning to the concept of America’s Exceptionalism — the American ideology that says that America is, arguably, the greatest nation on earth. Panelists discussed the tenets of this exceptionalism, and explored whether it was eroding on the heels of the nation’s economic downturn. They even questioned whether America’s creditor and greatest competitor, China, was poised to replace us as the next greatest Superpower.
True to form, panelist and author Dr. Cornel West, delivered fiery, righteous talking points, and did it in a quick-fire manner that poetically flowed off his tongue so fluidly that you would almost forget he was calling into question America’s position as the greatest nation on the earth.
No doubt, the debate featuring West, Arriana Huffington, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, financial writer Maria Bartiromo, Republican journalist David Frum, Christian Broadcast Network’s David Brody, Voto Latino founder Maria Teresa Kumar, and global trade company Sybase president John Chen, provided much food for thought to millions of viewers who may be wondering whether the best days of this country are indeed over. Though some may have found the program scattered in its unrestrained lack of transition between subjects, I found it all refreshing because of the variety of opinions espoused by the panelists and the angles at which they chose to approach the topics. All were comfortable in calling it like he or she saw it.
However, if the purpose of the event was to gather the best minds to frame the issues, provide context, map policy and make predictions about the political outlook for America, it was missing a key demographic: Black women. Considering that Black women make up 60% of the 34 million African Americans that live in America; head 45% of households in that group; own nearly half a billion businesses which generate $25 billion in sales annually and have buying power that exceeds $400 billion, $500 billion if you consider that women influence 80% of buying decisions, it was a missed opportunity to not have any Black women on the panel.
Black women make up a formidable part of the United States economy. At the same time, we often struggle with a disproportionate amount of health issues, and receive disparate and inequitable pay and advancement opportunities compared to our White and male counterparts, yet we still manage to hold families together and provide the glue to keep our community intact. Clearly, Black women have a very obvious stake the future of this country, and how it is shaped and formed. There are more than an ample amount of women who could have represented this group, replaced anyone who may have had to back out last minute, and could have added a fresh perspective into the dialog. If those aren’t good enough reasons to include Black women in the discussion, I would at least think it appropriate to pay homage to Black womanhood during this event, especially since the grandmother of all civilization, Lucy, the oldest human remains ever found on earth, belonged to a Black woman.
I tried my best to intellectualize the void, and pondered whether we are a victim of our own bravado. No doubt the stereotype exists that Black women have bad attitudes, are divas, are too demanding, too demeaning of our own men, and are too vocal and too opinionated. Maybe we are too much for a three-hour panel to handle.
Admittedly, that line of thinking perhaps is a stretch. However, it was one I had to make because I’d rather an oversimplified explanation over one that would suggest that we have no value for driving policy and whatever outcomes were expected last Thursday. It wouldn’t require digging too far back in history to discover the myriad ways that black women drove the agenda, blazed trails and birthed organizations that benefited all races and both genders.
Indeed black women have a vested interest in this type of conversation and when I think of black women pioneers who have contributed greatly to American society, such as activists Dorothy Height and Marian Wright Edelman; authors Ida B. Wells and Pulitzer Prize Winner Gwendolyn Brooks; and politicians Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm to name a few, I think they, we, deserved a seat at the table.