In the darkness the trees are full of starlight (henwy) wrote,
In the darkness the trees are full of starlight

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Black and white

Every once and a while I read a piece of political commentary that is genius in its insightfulness. This isn't an event that happens all that often and it's something to be treasured when it does. I had that feeling of epiphany recently when reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about Obama and Jesse Jackson. More importantly, the article discusses not the men themselves, but the movements they represent. Here's its take on Jesse Jackson:

Their faith was in the easy moral leverage over white America that the civil rights victories of the 1960s had suddenly bestowed on them. So Mr. Jackson and his generation of black leaders made keeping whites "on the hook" the most sacred article of the post-'60s black identity.

They ushered in an extortionist era of civil rights, in which they said to American institutions: Your shame must now become our advantage. To argue differently -- that black development, for example, might be a more enduring road to black equality -- took whites "off the hook" and was therefore an unpardonable heresy. For this generation, an Uncle Tom was not a black who betrayed his race; it was a black who betrayed the group's bounty of moral leverage over whites. And now comes Mr. Obama, who became the first viable black presidential candidate precisely by giving up his moral leverage over whites.

This hit the nail right on the head as far as its take on the current civil rights movement. It has often functioned in an extortionist manner and the same pattern plays itself over and over. There's usually some racial incident, Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton come riding in to fan the flames of discontent, and then negotiate a settlement to make the specter of racism go away. The payment in these situations have varied but most have involved donations to the organizations run by Jackson or Sharpton and providing them and their associates a payoff. There have been innumerable examples of Jesse Jackson going to corporations to rail against the lack of minority participation, and the participation he demands always seems to involve the enrichment of close family or friends. Certainly, this is not the way that all parts of the civil rights movement has turned, but it definitely applies to its most public face in the form of these individuals.

Obama has taken this situation and turned it on its head to his own advantage.

Mr. Obama's great political ingenuity was very simple: to trade moral leverage for gratitude. Give up moral leverage over whites, refuse to shame them with America's racist past, and the gratitude they show you will constitute a new form of black power. They will love you for the faith you show in them.

So it is not hard to see why Mr. Jackson might have experienced Mr. Obama's emergence as something of a stiletto in the heart. Mr. Obama is a white "race card" -- moral leverage that whites can use against the moral leverage black leaders have wielded against them for decades. He is the nullification of Jesse Jackson -- the anti-Jackson.

And then Mr. Obama took it further by going to the NAACP with a message of black responsibility -- this after his speech on the need for black fathers to take responsibility for the children they sire. "Talking down to black people," Mr. Jackson mumbled.

Normally, "black responsibility" is a forbidden phrase for a black leader -- not because blacks reject responsibility, but because even the idea of black responsibility weakens moral leverage over whites. When Mr. Obama uses this language, whites of course are thankful. Black leaders seethe.

It's remarkable when you think about it just how hard Obama has strove to be 'race neutral' in this campaign. I can't think of a single instance where he has waved American's racist history in front of its face nor does he need to. We all know that the specter is there and by not explicitly pointing it out, he garners gratitude. Finally, a black leader that's not constantly screaming that you and everyone you know is a racist. That even if you don't think you're a racist, you're a racist simply because you live in this country or because of the color of your skin. The freedom from that moral hook must make some people almost giddy. You can almost see themselves saying, I can't be a racist, look, I'm going to vote for a black man.

All in all, just like the author of the article, I think this is a step forward. Certainly the extortionist policies of the civil rights movement as it stood was never going to really advance black America since its foundation was black inferiority. At least this way, everyone would get a fresh start of a sort. The question is, will this movement continue or simply stall and die if Obama loses to McCain in the fall?
Tags: news, politics, racism

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