He also was able to refute all of the right-wing critics who said the he wasn't tough enough on terror. As it turned out, the President was walking softly and carrying a very large stick. Although I never thought his re-election was in question, this move, along with a steadily improving economy, should put him over the top. The only remaining question for me, however, is what it means for us to be celebrating the death of bin Laden in such dramatic fashion. There's no doubt that Osama was a bad guy, and the world is definitely safer without him, but I come from a tradition that doesn't celebrate death, even of our enemies.
EBONY.COM: Why do you do television?
I believe that in the 21st century so much how people engage the world is through images--through television and the Internet--and for me television becomes an opportunity to intervene and offer a different perspective. So much of what's on television doesn't show Black people's humanity, they only show us as a social burden, as violent, as anti-intellectual. So I think my presence in the space can offer a different image of who we are. On my show I feel like I can be an agent to offer an alternative to persistent plays on our pathology, to show our progress, to facilitate alternate and deep conversations.
EBONY.COM: Your TV career began and flourished at Fox, who are notorious for their bias. Why Fox?
When Fox News made me an offer to be a regular, I had a lot of anxiety on being on a network so notoriously right wing. I called Jesse Jackson and said "Rev, what should I do?' He said 'I don't know a lot of doctors that hang around well people, you have to go in there and do something.' That's how I looked at that role, as one of combat, that I was going into hostile territory almost as a public defendant of sorts for our people. I believe those spaces are toxic and dangerous but that there are things we can add to them to make them less so. So when I go on Fox news to debate Bill O'Reilly I'm offering a perspective, not to convince him to look at the world differently, but to get a viewer who might be on the fence to look at the world differently, that's my goal. I do believe that going in these spaces and offering a more humane and just perspective can make the world different. Even if it doesn't make it better I hope it stops it from being worse.
EBONY.COM: Fox News fired you after a right wing blogger accused you of supporting "cop killers" because you had a picture of Assata Shakur as your Twitter background. Can you talk about being fired?
There was an internet right wing grassroots campaign that targeted me because of my politics. I've been unabashed in my support for Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur, both of whom I've publicly and privately supported as wrongfully convicted political prisoners. Fox's viewers demanded of their shareholders that I be fired. The irony of course is a year later they'd make a big show of support of Juan Williams after he was fired from NPR for his politics. I wasn't surprised they'd only want to protect the free speech of conservatives, but they certainly proved that point. I was genuinely and perhaps naively shocked that they fired me so transparently for my politics, usually there's an attempt to come up with some other reason. I learned a valuable lesson about media and politics in that regard. It's a very different world than the academy.
EBONY.COM: You've talked about the skepticism by the academy of people who act as public intellectuals, who do things like go on TV.
There's this belief in the academy that if you're too public that you must not be a serious intellectual. I think that's a flawed way of thinking about it; I think there are weak intellectuals who never go on TV and that there are brilliant intellectuals who are only ever on TV. I think the challenge is to decide what your role is in the public. TV is seductive so I do take the criticism and skepticism seriously and am constantly checking my motivation about being public, not confusing it with desiring celebrity but wanting to make a difference in public discourse.
EBONY.COM: What do you mean when you call yourself an activist scholar?
Some would argue that writing a really powerful book that inspires people, like Michelle Wallace's Black Macho and The Myth of The Superwoman, is activist scholarship. Some would argue that engaging in debates in public spaces, be they lectures or on TV is being an activist scholar because of the impact it has on people. But for me the work I do