Tough being a black preacher from Chicago

I’ve never seen more black people disavowed than in 2008, and it seems to be very dangerous to be a black minister from Chicago.

The Honorable Louis Farrakhan got put in that category, no respecting his battle with cancer; and then we’ve all heard about Dr. Jeremiah Wright.   Now Rev. Jesse Jackson has been disavowed, or at least his remarks, by his own namesake son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

There seems to be a presumption that the right to free speech or to worship freely can be turned off just based on what someone thinks about a particular utterance..

It’s a standard none of us can meet.   The Bible says, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.  Of course, that only slowed Jesus’ pursuers for a little while.

But we do need a means of accountability for black leadership. Folks who get made by media coverage, invariably fall on that same sword.

But the measure needs to be what people have done, as opposed to what they say.

That’s why our annual reports on the State of Black Business are so useful, because they give some metrics for evaluating the impact of policies and advocacy at the local and state level based on data instead of personalities.

A reporter evaluating Rev. Jackson’s announcement that he would start a campaign in Indianapolis called  for information to compare the city with other metropolitan areas.

We in the Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley had experience with such a campaign a decade ago when we sought to raise the visibility of the lack of equal opportunity in high tech companies.  We got the attention we sought when 600 folks filled a church to hear Rev. Jackson speech, but the next day he met with some of the high tech CEOs and they never dealt with the heads of the local organizations again. For a few years, they funded a conference for Rev. Jackson modelled on his Wall Street Project, but the actual number of blacks in high technology there and nationallly declined.

We got more results on a policy level by dealing with membership-based national organizations such as the NAACP, Urban League, AFL-CIO and IEEE-USA to prevent the increase in the H1-B guest worker visas.

On the plus side, Rev. Jackson came to San Francisco last summer for a rally to counteract a wave of street violence.    The visit helped local ministers gain credibility with the young men and we experienced a period of nine months with no shootings at all.

Dr. Manning Marable has posited that the ‘messiah complex” has been a factor in the diminishing returns from the civil rights movement over the past 40 years.  An incorrect reading of the life of figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X propose that their personal magnetism was decisive, when it was actually the grassroots, faceless folks behind them that gave their messages real meaning.

We need not replace religious “messiahs” with political “messiahs”, but keep focused on what Frederick Douglass called our “permanent interests” and how each African-American must take a role in achieving those goals daily.

Let’s’ talk about that instead of about people.


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