July 11, 2008

Where have all the good civil rights leaders gone?

*****DISCLAIMER: This post is me calling it like I see it. I am in no way unappreciative of the heroic and brave work that these men and women did in order to secure my happy life. I am by no means ignorant of the struggle. However, I do believe that no one is immune of criticism.

Once you reach a certain age (sometimes called the "Age of Reasoning"), you realize that your heroes have flaws. Mommy doesn't always know the answer, Daddy doesn't like to play, Granny and Pop-Pop are old.

And if you're black, you notice that all the good civil rights leaders either died early or you don't hear from them and this cast of characters they left us is a joke. After the death of Dr. King, many of his contemporaries tried, in vain to carry on his mantle of self-righteous goodness. Most failed; if you ask me, John Lewis came the closest to correct, using the system to which the Civil Rights Movement had given him access to try to press for change from the inside. His work in Congress is laudable and his reputation as a member of the Civil Rights Old Guard means that no one in Congress even attempts to pull a race card on him (besides, he has a pretty safe district. He could die in Congress first).

However, the rest of that cast of characters is a joke: Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Julian Bond, you name 'em, I'll laugh at them. The biggest part of the problem was that they never changed and adapted their message with time. They became mired in the marching/praying/chanting movement and never moved out. They never made themselves relevant to the younger generation. It was almost as if they expected us to fall lock-step behind them because they fell lock-step behind Dr. King.

So now you have an entirely new generation of African Americans with no connection to the Civil Rights Movement who watch these guys on TV and roll their eyes. People of my generation don't pay any attention to Jesse or Al. So now you have an African-American at the head of a national party ticket (a position made possible due to Shirley, Carol, Jesse, and Al) and Jesse wants Obama's nuts?! No wonder the political pundits are saying that Jesse may be a toothless tiger.

My sense is that many of the old-guard civil rights leaders, are seething at the prospect of a black president who owes them nothing. That's perhaps the most appealing thing about Obama -- that he could leave Jesse Jackson and his ilk in the dust. That's what has excited my friends and myself - Obama didn't come through the "Black Church Farm Method." His trajectory is one all my friends can see themselves on, no stop at seminary school, no marching. Just an excellent education, a sincere effort to organize and help his community (without having to get involved with the dysfunctional NAACP), marriage to a wonderful woman, and a desire to go further by winning elective office.


The NAACP needs to get it together. Ditto for the Urban League. Do it quick.
Jesse needs to retire (extra point to his son for rebuking his father's words. Jesse Jr. gets it).
Al needs to stay quiet (we've really appreciated your silence Al)

The King Kids . . . well, it may be too late for them. Have you seen the latest?

UPDATE: Apparently, I'm not the only person thinking this:

When The Man is One of Us by Jack White

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