Harry Belafonte has been described as one of the greatest entertainers of all time and an American treasure. He has lived the kind of life most of us will only see on television or in the movies, but one of the roles that he is most proud of is his role as an activist and humanitarian, speaking out for the rights of all people — in America and across the world.
Recently Roland Martin sat down with Mr. Belafonte in his New York office to talk about the plight of poor people.
MR. MARTIN: Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”
Harry Belafonte has been described as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. I call him an American treasure. He has lived the kind of life most of us will only see on television or in the movies, but one of the roles that he is most proud of is his role as an activist and humanitarian, speaking out for the rights of all people – in America and across the world.
I recently sat down with Mr. Belafonte in his New York office to talk about the plight of poor people.
MR. HARRY BELAFONTE: I don’t think there’s any group in the world that works harder than do the poor. I think the poor are the hardest-working citizens in the global family wherever you find them – the poor in Asia; the poor in India; the poor in Africa; the poor in Latin America, the Caribbean; the poor in America. All day long is spent [doing] nothing but trying to find a way to break out of that bottleneck of oppression that poverty represents. And I think it is absolutely ludicrous that somebody could ever say that people in poverty are there by – because it is their choice to be there, that they’re lazy, that they’re indifferent, that they want to live off the state. Nothing could be further from the truth.
And my commitment to the issues of poverty is – a lot of people say, “Well,” you know, “you’re a communist.” “You’re a socialist.” “You’re” – you[’ve] got all these titles they want to heap upon you because they don’t want to hear the truth.
MR. MARTIN: Labels.
MR. BELAFONTE: That’s – and I say to you – [unintelligible] – we live in this capitalist system. I ask one, simple question in defining the greatest flaw of that system. If the system has got to find cheap markets in which to build its power, in which to build its future, that means somebody has to be poor. Somebody has to be at the bottom of the ladder. Where do you find cheap markets? Where people are undereducated, people are undernourished, people are suffering deeply.
Now, if you take that equation away from what capitalism needs, maybe capitalism stands a chance because it’s not the way[?] – King would say, “I have nothing against the rich – nothing at all. I just want everybody to be rich.” And when you take a look at capitalism, the minute I hear you have to go to India, or China, or the Caribbean and find cheap markets in order to outsource America’s working responsibili- — wor- — responsibility to American workers, something’s flawed. And I look at that as one of the greatest difficulties in trying to extricate ourselves from poverty. You[’ve] got to change the rules.
MR. MARTIN: What would you say if you had an opportunity to sit in front of those Republican candidates o- — on this issue, or that of civil rights? And then follow that up with, what’s that one, burning question or challenge that you would want to give to Pres. Obama?
MR. BELAFONTE: I would like to just simply put before Barack Obama the thought that I didn’t come to fully appreciate until I had grown with Dr. King. Politics is not an indifferent science in the fact – in – in the way that it is something you do. There is a moral consequence to what you do politically. There’s a moral implication. And if you do not make your decision on what to do politically based upon some moral measure, you’re more often than not prone to perpetuate the – the evil, or perpetuate the pain.
I think what has failed Barack Obama – or, [what] Barack Obama has failed to evoke is a strong, moral point of view on a – o- — on the plight of the poor. He hardly ever mentions them at all. He mentions the middle class. He mentions losing the middle class to the poor. He mentions everything but the poor.
What is your difficulty here? Why can’t you talk about the plight of the poor and let the rest of the world see that, perhaps, there’s a moral undergirding to your view of how to fix what’s wrong politically? If you fix what’s wrong for the middle class, that means you’ve still got a whole class of people that are be- — to be exploited at the bottom rung of the ladder, because you have to have a cheap market. That’s the whole conflict with work, the whole conflict with labor. Most of the 1 percent believe that the workers are getting too much money. Well, I don’t know too many workers that have yachts. I don’t know too many workers that are finding themselves living the luxury [sic] in the South of France and going away for – for fat vacations. And I like to go to the South of France –
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MR. BELAFONTE: — you know. But I think there’s a lot of things here that are in the American – in the American culture that [have] to be seriously challenged.
[RETURN TO STUDIO.]
MR. MARTIN: You’ll be able to see my entire interview with Harry Belafonte on Easter Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern, right here on TV One. And trust me. It’s an interview you do not want to miss.
We’ll back with more “Washington Watch” after this.