Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I know that it's not supposed to be appropriate to write behind the news cycle. In this line of activity (i.e., work, profession, or passion - depending on who you are and what you do it for), you are supposed to be avant garde with your writing, finding the story before the rest of the pack does. And that has merit. There is certainly something to be said about being the one that breaks the news, finds the nugget of relevancy that others have overlooked, and ties the argument together for a fascinated readership. More often than not, these stories are the sexy stories - the ones that have sizzle for pundits, tabloids, and water cooler conversations.
Other times, however, it is important to look back at a story and see its relevance to us, even after the news cycle has informally told us that the issue is dead.
Such is the case with the latest from the camp of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.
A public comment from the reverend came last week as he criticized U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) for voting against the health care bill passed in the House of Representatives a few weeks ago. Congressman Davis - a candidate for governor in Alabama - was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the massive health care overhaul, one that could end up costing Americans over $2 trillion over the course of its first decade of implementation without guarantees that Medicare would not adversely impacted, that quality of American health care would improve, and that health care premiums would not go up as a result.
Rather than attacking the vote on its perceived merits, Rev. Jackson - a one-time highly-respected civil rights activist and leader - took Davis to task by saying that "...(one) can't vote against (this) health care (bill) and call yourself a black man..."
Very interesting in how the definition of being "Black" - a term that people such as Jackson's mentor, the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, fought so eloquently and passionately to ensure that the word was inclusionary, not monolithic - has been laid down again based on political expediency, not practicality or reality.
Not surprisingly, I took an interest in this, being that I am often criticized as not being able to "call myself a Black man" for my political and social beliefs. Thus, I looked deeper in this story and to the deeper meanings therein.
In a time when America seems to focus on the inclusive practices of the national Republican Party (or, at times, the lack thereof at the state levels of the party) while turning a blind eye towards the intolerance that Black America has shown towards thought, cultural, and political inclusion and diversity over the past 20 years, it is ironic that the definition of "being Black" keeps getting laid down in accordance to hot-button issues. With that enslavement from many to the trend of the day, however, comes the probability that one's inconsistencies on positions will go hand-in-hand with one's shifting needs in an ever-changing worlds of politics and society.
Rev. Jackson only serves as an example.
Not long ago - roughly 30 years in the mid-1970s, to be exact - Rev. Jackson could be seen rallying against the upswing of abortion and population control activities in the Black communities of America. Not only did Jackson - a man of the cloth - abhor practices such as abortion, he compared these activities to genocide. On more than one occasion did the civil rights leader publish positions through media quotes and prepared statements that indicated his clear position against abortion. Rev. Jackson was anti-abortion, and it was clear - no self-respecting Black man that fought to protect the rights of Black people to exist peacefully on this earth would support abortion.
Until the reverend made it clear that he wanted to become President of the United States.
By the time he was to run for the presidency as a Democrat, things changed - starting with Jackson's need for deep pockets to run an effective campaign. By then, the Democratic Party was the party of choice, one that was supported in many ways by organizations with deep ties to pro-choice initiatives, including Planned Parenthood and others - the exact organizations that Jackson protested just a few years earlier. Instead of keeping his prior position with a sense of honor, the reverend flip-flopped his position, quickly taking a pro-choice position to "honor the rights of women to control their own bodies" - a position that sounds good in media quotes but starkly contradicts his pro-life position of a few years earlier.
The same could be true for his most-famous utterance in the 1980s. After all, no self-respecting Black man - particularly a disciple that taught equality and love for all men in the face of bigotry - would ever be caught making a ethnic slur against another group of people.
Nor could a man ever call himself a Black man for making a reference to the days of lynching and castration - horror inflicted upon Black men nationally (and notably in the South) for decades before civil rights laws chased away this terror - based on some personal frustration. Further, a self-respecting Black man would not make such a statement on national television, speaking of no less than the first Black major-party presidential nominee, a reality that past civil rights leaders help to procure with their sweat and blood.
Unless, of course, it is politically expedient to do so, at which point the definition of Black manhood and its expectations therein - similar to the pros and cons of the abortion issue beforehand - are merely up to interpretation based on the political and social landscape of the times.
Say it isn't so, Rev. Jackson, especially since I grew up as a young Black man admiring the good things that you had done in your career.
When the definition of "being Black" is left up to the whims of a cantankerous lot of manipulative public personas that have wrestled away the freedoms fought for by King and others 50 years ago for the sake of mind-control over a set of people concerning a series of issues, it leads to a bastardization of the Civil Rights Movement as it takes the "content of our character" aspect of King's Dream and degrades it to "consolidating our collective thought based on color." When the definition of "Black manhood" can be thrown around by a select few with the sorry, self-prescribed standards that date to racial realities and attitudes that were current around the same time as plaid suits, goldfish platform shoes, and parachute pants, it is no wonder that Black manhood continues to take a beating from everyone ranging from Rush Limbaugh and some conservative talk show hosts to President Barack Obama at NAACP events - all acting as if every Black man must think the same, act the same, and fail the same, from the way we vote to the way we parent. This outdated and cancerous monolith of thought - intended to bind us together - serves as the very structure that holds Black America (and, as a result, the United States in general) back from achieving more in a tough economy and a historic age. If the monolith of Black manhood (and, in general, Black political and social thought) is held to the standards of a mighty few, only to watch those few flip-flop on issues in accordance to their personal and political whims, then how will this manhood ever be expected to take on the challenges facing our communities, families, and nation?
Maybe it's good the self-respecting Black male conservatives aren't considered "Black" by those of Rev. Jackson's philosophy, as it would get confusing to follow the cues to switch our positions on issues based on the needed rallies of support in Congress and beyond.
As argued by Black men including RNC Chairman Michael Steele, diversity within the breadth that is Black manhood is only a positive occurrence that should be fostered in order to optimize the talent and perspectives found therein for the improvement of the nation. Sadly, as America's media machines constantly look at Republicans and White people to take them to task for perceived slights on African-American men, perhaps they - and the rest of us as well - would be better served if they kept an eye on those containing Black manhood based on their ever-changing personal and political needs, not the ever-growing needs of Black people and Americans in general.