Even tragedies can present opportunities and the killing of Trayvon Martin is no exception. The mainstream media took their sweet time in discovering what Black bloggers and media was already reporting, but now they have made this the biggest story in America.
It’s been great for ratings. And it’s been great for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as well. Instead of trying to bite off Occupy Wall Street or some other topic in the news, the two former unofficial presidents of Black America are back on their favorite beat, marching, demonstrating and protesting and all in the name of Trayvon Martin.
I have a colleague whom I used to work with at a newspaper and we get together to shoot the breeze. His problem with Jackson and Sharpton are their claims that they are “Black leaders.”
That sets my friend all the way off. Who made THEM “Black leaders?” Did you vote for them? I know I didn’t! Where’s MY ballot?
There is something to that. Why are Jackson and Sharpton considered Black leaders? Why do Black folks even need leaders? Who are the leaders of Latinos? Who speaks for lesbians? Who’s the great leader of Asians? Who’s the greatest White leader? Or does even posing the question seem ludicrous to even ask?
The last great Black leaders were Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. They became leaders the hard way. They earned it and they were killed for being leaders. You could not find two more different men with different approaches than Martin and Malcolm. Jackson and Sharpton on their best day couldn’t touch them on their worst. Neither one of them are worthy heirs of King’s mantle of civil rights advocacy. Neither one of them are as bold and willing to face White supremacy the way Malcolm X did.
What keeps J&A on the front pages is the passionate hatred they provoke from right-wing critics. Jesse and Al are considered by the Right as race hustlers who stir up trouble, shakedown businesses, show up wherever there’s a controversy and a camera and are generally unscrupulous, unprincipled, con men. Some of this criticism is both verifiable and irrefutable.
Any honest critique of Jackson and Sharpton must take in account their pros and cons.
Positives: protecting civil rights, keeping a spirit of activism alive, bringing attention to issues and stories that would go unnoticed and unaddressed otherwise, ticking off the right-wing something fierce.
Negatives: attention whores, lack of identified achievable goals, unwilling to get off the stage so younger leaders can emerge, egotistical, poor tacticians, dubious personal conduct,
The biggest negative is neither Jackson or Sharpton will confront and criticize Democrats and liberals when they come up short or sell out the interests of African-Americans. A true Black leader has to be willing to be bipartisan in their criticism. Jackson has mildly criticized Obama and Sharpton flaunts his connections to the White House. Can you imagine J&A publicly and vocally breaking with a Democratic president the way Martin Luther King, Jr., broke with Lyndon Johnson over the Viet Nam war and poverty in America? With Jackson and Sharpton beholden to the Democrats, they can’t be truly independent.
Martin and Malcolm may have created the template for Al and Jesse, but what sets them heads and shoulders above Sharpton and Jackson is they never craved the spotlight. King was a reluctant convert to political activism and X transformed himself from a small-time hustler, pimp, and convict to the most powerful and charismatic spokesman for Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam until he broke with him.
Neither Martin or Malcolm were wealthy or sought the spotlight the way their would-be successors have. You can’t fault them for finding a way to turn a buck off of being a political gadfly, but it leaves them open to charges that they are chasing publicity and dollars, not justice.
I was too young to march with Martin Luther King or listen to Malcolm X, but their authenticity was above reproach. . They were the real deal and they both got taken out for it. Al and Jesse? I think they believe what they say, but I don’t need “leaders” any more and I don’t want to be “led.”
Obama has proven you can be a leader through obtaining political legitimacy. Jackson and Sharpton both mounted presidential bids, but they never seemed fully committed. If conservatives really want to make J&A relics of a previous time, they need to stop trying to demonize the pair That gets them nowhere and only makes Jackson and Sharpton even more beloved, and why not? Pissing off the Right has a considerable upside.
Conservatives could neutralize J&A, but what it would take is something they have shown little interest in. Make Dr. King’s dream a reality and they’re both out of business.
That would require the Right to give up their fear and loathing of uppity Black men. But since conservatives like the Koch brothers like their Negroes docile and childlike (Where’s my mint julep, Herman Cain?) and hate to be reminded racism still exists that seems unlikely.
We are going to have to learn to live with Sharpton and Jackson, warts and all. Reservations aside, Trayvon Martin needs champions to find justice for him and while they are no Martin or Malcolm, this is the right cause even if they are the wrong men.
- Former NAACP leader accuses Sharpton and Jackson of ‘exploiting’ Trayvon Martin (gds44.wordpress.com)
- Roland Martin Slams Fmr. NAACP Pres. For Criticism Of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson In Trayvon Case (mediaite.com)
- NAACP Chief blasts Jackson and Sharpton as ‘race hustlers’ (tarpon.wordpress.com)
- Alveda King Calls Trayvon Martin’s Death A ‘Late Abortion’ On Fox News (mediaite.com)