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Tavis Smiley Fights Back Against Allegations at D.C. Forum on Sexual Harassment

Whether he was on BET or PBS, Tavis Smiley has always enjoyed assembling panels of experts for televised forums to discuss issues affecting African Americans.

And such was the case Wednesday at George Washington University when the veteran journalist brought together a lawyer, an economist and behavioral therapist to discuss the growing #MeToo movement, in which women are standing up against sexual harassment.

The latest stop of the Smiley-organized national tour — titled “The Conversation: Men, Women and the Workplace” — featured Harvard Law School professor Stephanie Robinson, economist Julianne Malveaux and behavioral therapist Julie Kantor.

“Have Black women [have given up] their agency to be heard?” said Smiley in terms of how women are being treated in the workplace. “They are being marginalized, they aren’t at the table in most places.”

While Smiley was a skillful moderator, some things were very different. In December, PBS cut ties with Smiley after allegations of sexual misconduct were made by unnamed sources. Though Smiley maintains all acts were consensual, the only outlet to broadcast Wednesday’s event was Facebook live.

“I don’t know anymore today than I did eight weeks ago. I don’t know who the accusers are,” Smiley said. “My whole career has been about creating these democratic spaces [in which] we can have dialogue.”

During the forum, Malveaux and Robinson held up Smiley as an example of an African-American male who is unfairly convicted in the court of public opinion. Robinson pointed out that of all the celebrities accused of harassment, African-American men face harsher criticism.

“Do a Google search and you will see that ‘predator’ comes up when you type in ‘Tavis Smiley,'” said Robinson, whose comments surprised even Smiley.

Smiley said the #MeToo movement has forced corporate America to redefine what is politically correct. He said interactions  between men and women such as sharing cabs, booking different rooms in the same hotel and even the office lunch are now under review or being scrapped.

Cantor said that she welcomes the change in many cases, but cautions that good relationships like men mentoring women may also be a thing of the past.

“Alcohol and mentoring don’t mix well,” she said.

Malveaux said it is time for women to go on the offensive, but acknowledged that African Americans have always been demonized and Black women marginalized.

“A white woman could have sex with a Black man and she would lie when she got caught and he would be lynched,” Malveaux said. “As Black women, we had no virtue. It goes back to ‘Birth of a Nation.'”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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