Exclusive - Tavis Smiley Extended Interview

January 13, 2016 - Rand Paul and Tavis Smiley 01/13/2016 Views: 25,504

Tavis Smiley explains how the U.S. has failed the black community over the past decade in his book "The Covenant with Black America - Ten Years Later." (7:56)

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My guest tonight

is the hostof PBS's Tavis Smiley.

He's also a best-selling authorwhose latest book--

uh, which is an update to anearlier version-- is called

The Covenant with Black America- Ten Years Later.

Please welcome

Tavis Smiley.

-♪ -(applause, cheering)

Hold-hold up, first of all...

So the senator gets,like, serious libation...

and I get a half a cup of water?

Is-is that-is that how brothersget treated around here?

Well... Well I got the otherhalf of the cup of water.

Oh, okay, okay.

-And, uh... -Well, I don'tfeel so bad, then, I guess.

Thank you so muchfor being here.

-Thank you so much. -Mypleasure, thanks for having me.

-You know what...-Congratulations, you're doing

-a great job. Doing a great job.-Thank you very much.

I appreciate it, man.Thank you so much. I, uh...

I have to tell you,everyone in the building

is a huge fan of yours.Everyone's like, "Tavis Smiley's

"coming-- this is so amazing!Tavis, he's so amazing,

he's inspirational."Uh, and then I...

and then I read your bookand I was like, "It...

This is inspiration?"

No, because your bookis about how America

has failed black peoplefor the 240th straight year.

Yeah, pretty much.

How close is Americato breaking that streak?

Uh, not close enough.

Um, this book, as you mentioned,came out ten years ago,

and it laid out the ten issuesthat are most important

to African Americans.We... It's really a...

a national plan of action forwhat we can do to hold ourselves

responsible and otheraccountable. So, of course,

on the tenth anniversaryyou go back and you ask

the obvious question:how have we done?

And sadly-- and it pains meto say this--

black folk havelost ground, Trevor,

in every leadingeconomic category

over the last ten years.

So these issueswere clearly on the docket

before Obama shows up.

That cannot be right.That fact cannot be right.

-I'm sorry, brother, it's right.-I've seen...

-Drake says it,everyone says it. -Yeah, yeah.

-25 sittin' on 25 mil.-Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

I don't even knowhow much I made last year.

-I can't even count.-Yeah, yeah, yeah. (laughs)

What are you telling me?

Yeah, well,that works for Drake.

Um, but that doesn't workfor the rest of us.

Uh, and unlikeMary J. and Jay Z,

I ain't knockingnobody's hustle.

Um... But-but at the endof the day,

the majority of AfricanAmericans have lost ground

in every major economiccategory. Here's the thing--

these issues clearly were on thedocket before Obama shows up

and wins in 2008,but they've gotten worse

over the last ten yearsand so you can't

miss the parallel, obviously,to his administration.

Not all his fault,but more could've been done.

But at the end of the day,when you have a constituency

that significant in the countrythat's going under, we can't

just ignore that or rendertheir suffering invisible.

Here-Here's my question--and it-it's interesting

that you bring up PresidentObama, because you-you've been

very critical of the man, right?But you were also a supporter

of his, and-and that'ssometimes, I think, uh, a nuance

that is lost in conversation.People go, "You can't support

a person and be criticalof them." You do support

President Obama,but at the same time,

you're critical...critical of him.

What do you thinkhe could have done different,

especially consideringthat Congress oftentimes

has limited his power?

-On black issues, specifically.-Yes.

Uh, and I judge all presidents--not just Barack Obama--

I judge all presidentsby this Kingian standard.

Dr. King, who I regardas the greatest American

this country's ever produced--that's my own assessment--

challenged Americato deal with three issues

that were gonnatear this country apart

if we didn'ttake them seriously.

King called them, Trevor,um, the-the triple threat.

-Mm-hmm.-Racism, poverty and militarism.

Racism, poverty and militarism.

The president gave a greatspeech the other night.

And let me be clear--he's had a serious headwind,

more than any president ever.

-The obstructionismhas been real. -Yeah.

He's had death threats.I get all of that.

But at the end of the day,if you judge him--

he loves to quote King,he did it

in the State of the Unionaddress. "Unarmed..."

Uh, "Unarmed truthand unconditional love."

Great quote. But if you judgehim by that Kingian standard,

by what he's done on racism,poverty and militarism,

you got a very differentconversation.

Oh, I-I ask you this 'cause thisis what I loved about the book,

is that often people write booksand go, "This is how bad it is,

this is how things have gonewrong, this..." This is a book

that has numbers, statistics,but more importantly,

suggestions as to howthings can be fixed.

So then, I ask you,in terms of racism,

how do you fix racism?

First of all, you have to admitthat it's a real issue.

Uh, and while some see it asthe most intractable issue

in the country, somethingis wrong when, in the era

of the first black president,black boys and black men

are still being shot downin the streets like dogs

and too many copsare getting away with it.

-Something is wrong...-(applause)

...when black womencontinue to die,

disproportionately, from toomany preventable diseases.

Something is wrong whenblack children can't get access

to an equalhigh-quality education.

Something is wrongwhen environmental racism

is still this real.Something is wrong

when the digital divideis still this broad.

Don't tell methat we can't do something

to redeem the soul of thiscountry by saving black America.

So you're talking aboutan institutional racism?

-Absolutely. -You're talkingabout a racism that is deeper

-than just peopleon the surface. -Ab-Absolutely.

Okay, so, uh, racism, you said,now, as well, poverty.

-Mm-hmm.-How do you fix that?

I mean, people would argue thatit's generations and generations

of a poverty divide that,you know, the... the wealth gap

has been created,you can't fix that overnight,

so how do you...how do you challenge that?

There's a class war in thiscounty that taking place

right now, and it's a warbeing waged against the poor.

The problem is that,where poverty is concerned,

there is...How might I put this?

A highway into povertybut barely a sidewalk out.

So you have three groupsthat make up the poor

-in this country--the perennially poor. -Yeah.

The near-poor-- folk who arejust a paycheck or two away--

and the new poor,who are the former middle class.

So that poverty is threateningour very democracy.

It's now a matterof-of national security,

and if we don't prioritizepoverty and income inequality--

we don't even like to saythe "P" word. We can't even

say "poverty",we won't even say "the poor".

It's always a conversation...And in this campaign right now,

about the middle class.

I repeat: the new poor are the former middle class.

And we can't even say the word.How do we get to real solutions?

And that's why I'm gladthat Bernie Sanders and others

are at least raising this issuenow and forcing America

to have a conversation about it.

Let me challenge youon something, then.

-Because it's easy for youto say racism. -Hold on,

-you-you gonna challenge me?-I'm gonna challenge you...

-You gonna challenge me? -I'm gonna challenge you.

-Okay.-I'm gonna challenge you.

You talk about racism,but you're a racist.

-Ooh! -And I know thisbecause Donald Trump tweeted...

(audience laughing)

...that...This is serious, people.

-Yeah, yeah.-This is serious.

-He tweeted...-Yeah.

...that you are a racist.-Mm-hmm.

How do you respondto those allegations?

My grandmother-- Big Mama--

said to me, repeatedly,"Tavis, baby,

be careful of stooping so lowthat you can't get back up."

And I don't want to stoop so lowthat I can't get back up.

I will say this: that DonaldTrump tweeted this,

you know, this...thing about me.

Um, I was ona morning show on Sunday,

-one of the Sundaymorning shows. -Yeah.

Within hours,he had tweeted about me,

based on-based onhis not liking

what I'd said about himon the show.

So you had probablysaid some facts.

-Some-Something like that.-It happens.

-Something like that.-It happens.

So that... so that...

A few days before I appearedon this Sunday show,

there was a white supremacistgroup that started,

uh, doing robocalls, as youprobably know, on his behalf.

A white supremacist group doingrobocalls for Donald Trump.

Now, unless something happenedin the last ten minutes

before I walked on this set,while Donald Trump is tweeting

about me and calling me a haterand-and a racist, and...

For a guy with a Wharton degree,he can do better than that,

number one, I would think.But unless something

has changed, he still has notgotten around to denouncing

the white supremacist groupthat's doing robocalls

on his behalf,but he's messing with me?

-(applause)-With me?

With you?

It's an amazing book.It's an amazing story.

PBS's Tavis Smiley airs weeknights.

Check your local listingsfor times.

The Covenant with Black America - Ten Years Later

is in bookstores now.You need to read it.

Tavis Smiley, everyone.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)