Did Al Sharpton Commit Murder? Or Has Obama Just Made Racism Okay Again?

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Did Al Sharpton Commit Murder?  Or Has Obama Just Made Racism Okay Again?

March 19, 2007

the Hnic Report

“Now, it’s fair to ask, what is Sharpton really up to? What is his real objection to Obama? That Obama has white supporters? That Obama has become the first serious black presidential candidate in U.S. history? That he lacks the civil rights bona fides that Sharpton claims for himself? Or is the real problem that Obama’s biracial appeal has trumped Sharpton’s race card?”

– Kathleen Parker, nationally syndicated columnist

“To say that Sharpton is jealous is about as obvious as saying that America’s not about to elect a black man who wears his hair conked. Why should the media again seek out Rev. Sharpton, a self-appointed leader, when it can call on Sen. Obama, the first competitive African-American presidential candidate? Why go to Sharpton to get a quick quip on how we’re losing the war on poverty, when you can go to top-tier candidate Obama for a substantial response on what he’d do about us losing the war in Iraq?”

– Monroe Anderson, The Chicago Sun-Times

“Listening to Al Sharpton rip into Barack Obama this week made me wonder: why is it that African American leaders so often feel compelled to give the back of their hand (to say nothing of the serrated edge of their tongue) to emerging black leaders? Is it jealousy? Ego? An unwillingness to give up power? Or is it some sort of political hazing ritual in which the upperclassmen mercilessly pummel the new pledges before letting them into the fraternity?”

– Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post

Ever since a pair of unnamed “black” sources from within the Democratic Party reported that Reverend Al Sharpton was jealous of Senator Barack Obama’s rocketing popularity in the New York Post last week, the rest of the mainstream media world has piled on without even bothering to question the veracity of the statements. Not even one of the dozens of articles and editorials that have  appeared in the press since the Post article was published have seriously considered who these unnamed sources are or what their interest in fueling a feud between Obama and Sharpton might be. The lopsided reaction – the automatic assumption that Sharpton is withholding his endorsement of Obama out of spite, that is – speaks to the level of contempt people privately and publically hold him in. One has to wonder: If it were it anyone other than Sharpton standing at the center of this controversy wouldn’t at least one journalist have stepped back and looked at the bigger picture before jumping into the fray? As it stands, Sharpton is being skewered by the press, and no one seems to even care why he’s chosen to withhold his endorsement, let alone taken his decisions seriously, Ms. Huffington’s faint defense of Sharpton’s right to dissent notwithstanding.

The crux of this writer’s objection to the criticism being lobbed at Sharpton – and to be clear, I am not a Sharptonite – is the personal animus echoing in every single one of them. That Sharpton is not being attacked as a political figure, but as a human being is troubling. For example, the Post article, which happens to be the site’s most e-mailed article at the moment, never offers a single basis for Sharpton’s jealousy that is not grounded in a personal (rather than a political) conflict between Obama and Sharpton. Instead of dealing with the valid political differences the two men may have, the writer– Fred Dicker– chooses to focus on the personal differences between Sharpton and Obama in order to corroborate the opinions of his unnamed sources. Because Sharpton only has a high school education and Obama is a Harvard Law graduate, Sharpton must be jealous of him. After all why wouldn’t he be? Obama being touted as a “transcendent candidate” simply has to burn Sharpton up inside. Aside from rehashing the hackneyed– and I hate to do this– ‘house slave vs. field slave’ conflict, the writer also makes a rhetorical rather than a persuasive argument to prove his point. Put differently, it reaffirms what people already want to believe about Sharpton without providing any substantive basis for believing anything whatsoever. The real icing on the cake, however, is Dicker’s back-handed compliment. Sharpton, according to Dicker, is “street smart” (read: ‘book dumb’). Obama, on the other hand, is deemed “polished” primarily because he went to the nation’s leading finishing schools, and, as Senator Biden and others have pointed out is so “articulate.” These most recent Sharpton attacks reveal a couple of important points that the establishment continues to overlook or disregard. For one thing, the Sharpton’s of the world continue to have legitimacy within their communities in part because of incendiary assaults on their character from the mainstream press. Black folks resent the paternalistic, know-it-all attitude exuded in the press when it comes to evaluating their leaders, anointed or not. In D.C. they resented Marion Barry being taken down by the FBI so they re-elected him after he was released from prison. In Newark they resented Cory Booker being thrust upon them by outside forces, so they re-elected Sharpe James for a fifth term. When will America get it: black folks don’t like to be told who to follow.

The second point is this: all of the articles utilized Obama to mask personal attacks on Sharpton. More specifically, they all reflected a liberal minded belief that as long as they sing Obama’s praises, whatever they say about Sharpton, no matter how outrageous or unfair or plain mean, can’t possibly be interpreted as racist. This is the danger of Obama. He makes it okay for white people to feel comfortable criticizing Sharpton any which way they please. Forgotten are Sharpton’s surprisingly strong (and articulate!) performances in the debates leading up to the ‘04 election; forgotten is the ‘97 Mayoral race that galvanized hundreds of thousands, not all of them black, to the polls; forgotten is his commitment to publicizing issues like police brutality that the Guiliani administration would’ve just as well swept under the rug; forgotten is his outspoken stance on Vieques. Forgotten are all of the positive contributions to public discourse he has made in the name of people of color. By no means has Sharpton always been right on, but no one can not argue that he hasn’t been right there.

All of that being said, let’s just pretend that, for the sake of argument, Sharpton isn’t solely motivated by jealousy and ego, but by real (as in sincere and legitimate) political ambivalence. What if he’s not just trying to win attention, but struggling to decide where he stands on an election as important as any presidential race since 1861 when Lincoln was elected, setting off a firestorm of secessions. Consider the situation: If Sharpton does have the clout to deliver black votes through his endorsement of a presidential candidate, then isn’t it his ethical responsibility to make certain he does not lead voters down the Primrose Path? Doesn’t he owe it to those who follow him to look closely at the issues and to ask searching questions and to ultimately make a choice that will produce the most felicitous outcome for his followers? If he chooses to endorse Clinton and Obama wins, where does that leave him? If he chooses to endorse Obama and Clinton wins the nomination and the election thereafter, where does that leave him and the so-called black community he represents? These are serious questions that deserve serious consideration.

Consider, as well, the history of Sharpton’s relationship with Senator Clinton. Their political alliance began in 1999 when the then-First Lady invited Sharpton to the White House to celebrate the New York Yankees’ World Series victory. Mrs. Clinton had not yet announced her candidacy for the Senate, but it was clear that by inviting Sharpton, who many doubted had ever been to a Yankee game, she was setting the stage for her run by opening lines of communication with Sharpton. In 2000, with Sharpton by her side, Candidate Clinton spoke at his Harlem church on Martin Luther King’s birthday. In 2006, again with Sharpton by her side, Clinto again took the podium at Canaan Baptist Church on MLK’s birthday. Theirs is an unlikely and tense alliance, but it has survived for seven years and continues to remain at least superficially in tact. Wouldn’t, shouldn’t, the thought of turning his back on a near decade long alliance in favor of a nascent candidate with whom he has no political history give him pause, cause him to think long and hard before choosing? Doesn’t that count in his favor as an act of political courage and integrity?

In thinking about the avalanche of criticism that has piled on to Sharpton one last question comes to mind. Where was this outpouring of ire when Congressmen Charles Rangel, one of the most powerful and vocal leaders in black America, avowed his support for Senator Clinton a few weeks ago? On a televised Fox News program Rangel said, “Senator Clinton probably will be the favorite daughter of New York state. I am the dean of the New York state Democratic delegation, and so there’s no question that we will be coordinating a campaign for Sen. Clinton.” Given that New York is Sharpton’s base of operations and home state too, does he not have an obligation to endorse Clinton for the same reason as Rangel? Furthermore, doesn’t the lack of uproar about Rangel’s choice speak directly to Sharpton’s status as a political lightning rod with national clout as well as contradict any assertion of Sharpton’s impending irrelevance?

We have to be careful to ask ourselves what’s really at the heart of the backlash against Sharpton. Is it just that his demands for clarity concerning Senator Obama’s commitment to civil rights issues – something at least one prominent pro-Israel organization has done on the heels of Obama’s remarks regarding Palestine – appears disingenuous? Or is it that after two decades of captivity aboard Sharpton’s ship of divisive politics, demagoguery and guilt fueled demands, people think they see land on the horizon and are brazenly plotting a mutiny? If so, one can only hope that the land to which we’re all intent on swimming doesn’t turn out to be yet another mirage.