Over the past few weeks since the incident where Rev. Jesse Jackson was captured on microphone saying unfavorable things about Senator Barack Obama, I’ve had discussion where a few friends have shared their thoughts. An overwhelming number of people think that the statements were crude and that they aren’t consistent with the character of a man who, despite not being perfect, has led a life trying to help and unite others. On the other end of the spectrum are a few who say that his comments are his own – they happened at a time where he thought the microphone wasn’t on. They feel that despite the fact that it wasn’t wise for him to make comments on a stage regardless of whether the “On Air” sign is glowing or not, our first amendment allows him to make those comments as his own opinion.
The most interesting response forwarded to me was one written by a gentleman named Najee Ali. In his ‘Open Letter to Jesse Jackson’ he acknowledges Jackson’s accomplishments, but in the same breath he accuses him of being an opportunist and of hurting Barack Obama’s chances in the upcoming election. The most interesting charge was much more personal. He admits to knowing Jackson’s youngest child Ashley, and then turns the letter into a personal attack, saying that perhaps Jackson should pay more attention to Barack’s most recent message to fathers around the country.
And it’s here where my silence must break.
Whether or not we are all in agreement that the statement made by Rev. Jackson was tasteless, the last thing that we need is for one man of color to hop on the media parade and attack another. What does it benefit us? I was critical of Barack himself as he so adamantly condemned Jeremiah Wright after feeling the pressure from the court of public opinion. What happened to the days of saying, ‘Yes, I acknowledge and respect this person and they made an unfortunate statement. Haven’t we all?’ Do we all agree with the statements made by those in our circle of influence? I love my brother Marcus – but I am totally opposed to some of his ideas on how we should resolve the energy crisis. Do I need to stand on a pulpit and publicly condemn Marcus? Only in politics is one forced to act in this way.
What troubles me more about the statement is that it comes from an old-school mentality where people of color need to assign a ‘representative’ so-to-speak: an assigned ‘leader’ who reflects the views of Black people. Ali’s sentiments come from that mentality. Thankfully, this unfortunate event may have a positive outcome because it is starting to uncover how silly this notion is. Do Japanese American’s have a spokesperson? What about Hispanic Americans? (I can think of a few public figures that our local TV affiliates like to shove a microphone in front of when something along racial lines occurs, but the truth is that no one person speaks for an entire race – or even the majority of it.) This is an ‘old media’ way of thinking. The great thing about the trend of people moving towards technology is that our information comes from a variety of sources. (And not just the inaccurate e-mails forwarded by people who don’t check the facts, telling us not to drink Pepsi cans or lick envelopes for fear of some disease striking us). We’re reading each others ideas on public issues. We’re hearing each other’s opinions on this and many other matters. No longer are Fox, ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC the only places that we can get an account of what’s going on in the world. We can get an account of and event that happened in Topeka from someone who, well, lives in Topeka.
I found Ali’s personal comments about Jackson and the relationship that he has with his daughter most unfair. Regardless of how close he claims to be to Jackson’s daughter Ashley, does anyone really know what’s at the heart of this matter. To imply that Jackson doesn’t want to spend time with his daughter simply because you don’t see him with her is slanderous. Has he been with Ashley every waking moment to be able to account fully for the time that she spends with her father? Moreover, should Rev. Jackson’s personal life have even been mentioned in an open letter? Does the scripture not teach us to go and resolve a conflict with our brother? I find the actions of attacking a man’s personal life in an open letter to be petty. These statements are likened to gossip – forwarding on information which none of us knows to be true and turning it into fact by sheer momentum.
It’s a very intriguing time for people in this country. Our allegiances are being tested all of the time: Democrat or Republican? Black or Christian? Protestant or Methodist? Pro-Obama or Pro-Clinton? The reality is that we’re breaking out of the constraints that these labels put on us. We can have Liberal views on certain aspects and Conservative ones on another. In some instances I would align myself with the experiences of people of color, but I identify myself more through my walk with Christ than through my race.
To suggest that Jackson’s comments are going to ‘hurt Obama’s chances’ is extremely short-sighted. In fact, these events may have the complete opposite effect. White Americans, who have generally been led through our media sources (I hate the phrase, “the media”) to think that Black Americans have a single voice that reflects our ideas are seeing that perhaps this is not the case. In fact, many White Americans who are distrustful of Rev. Jackson due to his alignment with other leaders like Min. Farrakhan may sit up in attention to this recent news. It may have the opposite polarizing effect from what people like Ali have been saying. It may push middle of the road voters towards Barack knowing that he doesn’t fall in line with everything that has been ascribed to Black people through Jesse Jackson.
If you’re Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson’s comments may have been the best thing to happen to you since the Iowa caucuses.