Jackson: “Barack, He’s Talking Down to Black People”

Jackson said this to CNN, “I was in a conversation with a fellow guest at Fox on Sunday. He asked about Barack’s speeches lately at the black churches. I said it can come off as speaking down to black people. The moral message must be a much broader message. What we need really is racial justice and urban policy and jobs and health care. There is a range of issues on the menu. The appeal in black America is record levels of unemployment, home foreclosure crisis, records of murders, and all kind of reprehensible actions for black America. A million blacks are in jail even as we talk today and 900,000 young black men. So we have some real serious issues, and not just moral issues—structural inequality.”

Jackson hits the nail on the head with respect to the problems facing the black community. The problems are not reprehensible actions of black American but the result of actions against black America, that is, they have an external cause, namely white supremacy. But this then Jackson falls into the Obama trap: “The basic issues he raises about an urban policy and jobs, no one else has addressed, has broad application. The crisis we’ve faced today, besides, you know, behaving better and doing the right thing, is jobs and investors leaving and drugs and guns are coming. The murder rate is up, taxes up, services down, first class jail, second class schools.”

This line about “behaving better and doing the right thing” is troubling in light of how the world works. This is right-wing conservative-behaviorism. The problem is structural inequality. The problem isn’t that some black Americans don’t follow the rules, but that most black American do. Too many black Americans accept the American Dream, and this is part of what keeps black people down. Jackson wants to combine his democratic concern for structural inequality—the soul of the civil rights movement—with Obama’s impulse to blame blacks for their problems (as well as the problems of white America). These cannot be combined for they are in opposition. Telling black men not to kill each other is more than a meaningless demand if one wants to lower the murder rate—it’s a demand that blames black people for high murder rates in their community. Nobody, white or black, should murder one another. That has nothing to do with why murder rates are higher here than there. The reason why crimes of violence (as defined by the FBI) are higher in the ghetto than in the suburbs is because of structural inequality.

Jackson then talks about Obama’s campaign as a “redemptive” moment. This is the second time I have heard him say this. Here, Jackson goes badly off the rails. Barack Obama is black only by dent of his African father, whom he never really knew. Obama doesn’t have an organic connection to black America. Obama has always been connected to the world of white people. This isn’t a redemptive moment for blacks. Obama represents a redemptive moment for whites. If Obama is elected, whites will be able to claim that the nation has been redeemed from the scourge of racism.

Jackson is doing this at a time when black Americans have never needed their leaders to stand up for them more. Black Americans have been swept up in the Obama personality cult, and the leaders who could educate them about what’s truly going on—who can remind them of what the struggle is really all about—are falling in line behind Obama. What Jackson’s off-air comments reveal is that black leaders are talking about this among themselves. Many of them think Obama is an “Uncle Tom,” but they dare not say so publicly. They are selling out black American fearful that they will become irrelevant. They don’t want to look out of touch to the younger generation of blacks. They have bought into the illusion that Obama has a deep hold on Democrats.

In his cowardice, Jackson becomes a tragic character: a man who can’t stand up for those he claims to represent, a man who willingly dwells in the shadow of a man who represents the destruction of everything Jackson has stood for. It means Jackson’s work in the name of civil rights comes to shit. He has become a tool of the establishment. King’s dream dies in the cowardice of those who pledged to continue his work.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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