Tavis Smiley

Courtesy Photo

Tavis Smiley

PBS’s Tavis Smiley on the Politics and Practices of Race

Progressive Activist Speaks at UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion

Tavis Smiley, an important voice in the progressive activist community, will be speaking at UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion on Tuesday, November 17. Smiley has taken a strong stance against the government’s role in perpetuating the problems associated with institutional racism. He offers deep insight into the plight of socially constructed minorities, the role of leaders, and the ideal dynamic between citizens and their government. Recently, Smiley squared off with conservative commentator Ann Coulter on immigration issues.

Smiley currently hosts programs on both Public Radio International and PBS, and runs the Tavis Smiley Foundation. I was able to briefly speak with Smiley to discuss the effects of racialization in American communities, and how politics can either aggravate or relieve them.

Forty-four and four-tenths percent of Santa Barbara County’s population is Hispanic. As someone who resides in Los Angeles, do you see any parallels between the black experience and the Latino experience? Oh yes, the similarity is very simple. It’s all about humanity and dignity. When you see this kind of bastardizing of immigration and undocumented workers, we black folk understand full well what it means to be dispossessed and disenfranchised. The real challenge for people of color these days is how to navigate and craft a meaningful life when their vulnerabilities outnumber their possibilities.

Do you think government policies and institutions, from immigration to the police force, have control over these experiences? Well in terms of police brutality, unemployment, underemployment, the assault of women in our public policy, students and less affordable education, the government is able to influence all of them.

Has the Obama Administration, in any way, failed to combat these issues? Yes, they failed. That is not to say that the administration has not made progress. I don’t want to downplay the significance of the first president of color. However, this administration hasn’t measured up on the three primary issues threatening our democracy: racism, poverty, and militarism. When you grade this administration on these issues, it has not done well on any of the three fronts.

In terms of the upcoming election, what do you think of the candidates in their ability to alleviate some of the obstacles nonwhite communities face? Bernie Sanders clearly is addressing the issues of income inequality and accountability. By raising those issues, he’s also done a good job of making Hillary more progressive. Neither of them is right on everything, but can I live with Bernie Sanders as president? Absolutely. Can I live with Hillary as president? Yes, but she would have to be pushed. So much also depends on what the alternative is — Hillary over Ben Carson or Donald Trump? Absolutely.


Tavis Smiley will speak at UCSB’S Corwin Pavilion on Tuesday, November 17, at 7 p.m. Call (805) 893-8411 or visit for more information.

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