Collateral Damage In Rev. Sharpton's Quest To Become White America's Black Leader
The recent back and forth in the mainstream and N.Y. media between and about Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton is pathetic. To think that in the year 2001, grown Black men feed into the American political and media establishment's game of divide and conquer is as revealing as it is sad. Unfortunately, establishment Black leaders like Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jackson seem to covet the position of White America's Black leader today as much as Booker T. Washington relished the job in the 19th century.
We point to Booker T. Washington not to diminish his greatness but to point out the reality that Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton's silly competition for the post of White America's Black leader really finds its genesis in the political career of Booker T. Washington. What Rev. Jackson was for America through the Democratic Party and evidently what Rev. Al Sharpton aspires to be today, is exactly what Booker T. Washington was for America through the Republican Party in the 19th century and part of the 20th.
Booker T. Washington's relationship with the Republican Party and Presidents Taft, McKinley and Roosevelt is the prototypical relationship with a Black leader that White America's establishment wants. The relationship is quite simple. White America, through its political and media establishment needs a Black leader that it can deal with the Black electorate through. They want one leader that they can control, in the political realm, and through whom they can manage temporary episodes of societal disequilibrium that are inherent due to America's inability to solve its race problem - which stems from slavery. In the spiritual realm, the American establishment attempts to use Black pastors in the same way.
The Black leader, of the political variety, has to be brilliant, has to have credibility among his people and he also has to be a pragmatist of the worst kind.
He has to have enough access to power to satisfy his ego but not enough to actually run the show. He is the ultimate manager and consultant. He has to be wise enough to tell a White president among what Blacks the spoils should be divided, what Blacks should be appointed where, whose advice should be considered, and what Blacks should be invited to the White House dinners. But he also has to be wise enough to calm the masses when things get a little heated in the streets.
Being White America's preferred Black Leader is a balancing act of immense proportions.
The individual has to be able to speak many languages at once; he has to be able to move in and out of the business, religious, political and cultural communities in White and Black America with great speed and fluidity. He has to know which "radicals" in the Black community he must make himself available to in order to maintain his street credibility but at the same time not scare White America. And he must be a coalition builder of immense proportions - uniting people across races, creeds, and ideologies at the least revolutionary points of agreement.
It has been so interesting to see Rev. Sharpton's evolution within the past 2 years. His movements, activities and work have been a case study in the journey that one must take from grass roots Black leader to White America's preferred Black Leader. He speaks the revolutionary language, does an excellent job on criminal justice issues, raises powerful class and race issues, and then, allows his mini-revolution to be absorbed by the Democratic Party.
True to form, he flirts with endorsing the White Democrat who more closely represents the interests of the bottom half of the Democratic Party - Bill Bradley - but doesn't endorse him after getting both Al Gore and Bill Bradley to have a "Black" debate in Harlem. He is the ultimate gradualist and pragmatist in revolutionary clothing. He also is a master of symbolism and the dramatization of social and political realities.
He says that the Democratic Party takes Blacks for granted and then he riles them up and rounds them up for Hillary Rodham Clinton in her Senate race in New York, allowing the First Lady to not even have to break a sweat and be in position to get 95% of the Black vote. She meets with Rev. Sharpton privately, calms her White and Jewish friends about it, knowing that Rev. Sharpton, in exchange for access to Clinton and a growing profile and respect inside of the Democratic Party, will use Black New Yorkers distrust of Mayor Giuliani to ensure a Black turnout for the Party's candidate.
All along he casts his eyes on the presidential race. He does not like or trust Al Gore after what Gore did to Jesse Jackson in 1988 and so he keeps his distance from the Gore campaign, appearing to be a little stand offish. He even invites Green party candidate Ralph Nader to speak at his Harlem headquarters, but of course, remains the loyal Democrat, pointing out how Bush is more dangerous than Gore, even though more Blacks have been locked up under Clinton-Gore than were locked up under the presidencies of Reagan and Bush I, combined. Keep in mind the fact that no Black political leader has demonstrated the public commitment, sacrifice and dedication to criminal justice issues like Rev. Al Sharpton.
But after compromising in the Democratic primary and for much of the presidential campaign, he reverts back to revolutionary form, continues his work with the Hip-Hop community and participates in a Source magazine Hip-Hop summit. He even begins to speak glowingly of Cuba and of bringing Hip-Hop artists to Cuba with him on a special trip.
But then he turns his eyes on the Sudan, begins to openly court the favor of the anti-Black, anti- Hip-Hop, and anti-Muslim New York Post and turns the near-miracle. He so influences the New York Post and a few members of the anti-slavery in the Sudan coalition that the Post runs an op-ed of his explaining why he is going to the Sudan. They even praise his trip and his courage, sort of. And Rev. Sharpton as the guest of Christian Solidarity International gets a guided tour of Sudan, with the help of the Sudanese opposition group, backed by the US government, the SPLA.
Rev. Sharpton returns and pulls the ultimate revolutionary/White America 's Black Leader move. He simultaneously speaks to the White press playing up that he had seen slavery in the Sudan of the northern Arab slave master/southern Black Christian slave variety and, at the same time, briefs the Nation of Islam on his trip where he reveals that he in fact became aware of reports of Blacks and animists in the South enslaving one another as well as Blacks and Arabs in the north of Sudan. Up to the very day that he went into jail, Rev. Sharpton allowed the two points of view to coexist - one for the consumption of "radicals" and Muslims in the Black community and another for the consumption of White America and Black Christians.
Then, it all becomes a little clearer when Rev. Sharpton hints that he will run for President in 2004 but lo and behold, as a Democrat. Of course, he makes clear, again, how unresponsive the Party has been to Blacks but instead of holding out the option that he would run as an independent, Rev. Sharpton waters down his potential impact by fitting his movement into the confines of the Democratic Party.
But along the way, Rev. Sharpton reportedly stumbles a bit in his power brokering in the New York City mayoral race in an attempt to craft a nominal Black-Latino coalition. The effort gets so jumbled that New York Post Reporter Jack Newfield reveals that Rev. Sharpton has been a source for his reports regarding Sharpton's plans to back a Latino candidate for mayor. Newfield claims that although Rev. Sharpton was saying that others were the source of Newfield's information - it was Rev. Sharpton all along who was feeding him the dish. It was a rare moment in Black-White unity in journalism - a White reporter outing his Black source. But not a shock for anyone who knows Newfield's history, as Rev. Sharpton should.
Then, in his own incomparable style and true to the skill level required to become White America's Black Leader, Sharpton repairs some of the damage done to himself, in a dramatic and public way via the Vieques protests, giving the Black and Latino communities a badly needed public display of unity and emboldening his efforts to run for President in 2004. It was a good move and one that deserves a great deal of credit. Rev. Sharpton even goes to jail for 90 days for his bravery and commitment.
But then Rev. Sharpton does it again. Talking to the same Fox News Channel owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the New York Post, Rev, Sharpton drops heavy innuendo on Rev. Jackson regarding a story that has lived in legendary fashion in the Black community. Rev. Sharpton gives this information to Fox News who has been rabidly attacking Rev. Jackson for over a year. Rev. Sharpton raises information that makes Rev. Jackson look bad in order to defend himself from charges against him regarding the Tawana Brawley controversy.
But Rev. Sharpton should be careful casting innuendo at Rev. Jackson. Why? Because for years stories have floated in the Black community about a supposed temporary and cozy relationship between Rev. Sharpton and the FBI. Innuendo cuts Black leaders both ways.
This whole affair continues to strengthen our belief that envy and jealousy, and not White America, maybe the worst enemies of Black leadership. It is unfortunate that a man as wise, valuable and experienced as Rev. Sharpton would fall victim to the oldest strategy used on Blacks in America - the Willie Lynch method of divide and conquer. Nowhere is this anymore evident than in the quest of a few to satisfy the need in the White political establishment for One Black Leader whom they can manage, absorb and control the movement of Black America through.
It is pathetic to see Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton involved in a private and public scuffle over the crumbs that one can obtain from having access to the table of White America's political and media establishment.
Using Rev. Sharpton's unbridled ambition and more, they have caused division among Black leaders once again.
The more things change the more they stay the same.
Thursday, June 21, 2001