by | Jul 13, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

There aren’t many things that would make me say of a fellow man, “I want to cut his n—s off.” So when Rev. Jesse Jackson was caught mumbling that toward Barack Obama (into a mike that Jackson didn’t know was on) I figured Obama must have dropped a doozy.

He must have insulted Jackson’s mother.

He must have ripped Jackson’s manhood.

Instead, what Obama actually said was not about Jackson at all, but rather a speech imploring black Americans to take more responsibility for their children.

“Too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Obama reportedly told congregants of a Chicago church. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. …

“You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled – doubled – since we were children.”

Well. I can see why Jackson would want to castrate somebody over that.

Who does Jackson speak for?

I must confess, I have long wondered what Jesse Jackson stands for besides Jesse Jackson. We in the media have been far too lazy in sticking a microphone in front of Jackson any time we think there is a “black issue” that needs commenting, as if he were somehow voted in by the black population as its official spokesman.

Time and time again, I am told by African Americans, “Jackson doesn’t speak for me.” But in the case of the Obama insult, Jackson professed to be speaking for others, claiming Obama “talks down to black people.”

You’ll have to excuse me if I think that telling anyone – black, white or purple – that they need to take responsibility for the children they father is “talking down” to them. What would Jackson have us do? Ask more nicely?

Jackson, in the aftermath of his microphone snafu, said this in a written statement: “My appeal was for the moral content of (Obama’s) message to not only deal with the personal and moral responsibility of black males, but to deal with the collective moral responsibility of government and the public policy.”

That’s a lot of fancy words for this: Why blame individuals when we can blame society?

Which is a fancy way of saying this:

Don’t cut in on my business, Barack.

Seeing a threat

Because without blaming society, Jackson has to seriously downsize his shop. He has made a career out of pointing fingers (some deserved). But when a fellow African-American leader – and suddenly a more popular one – starts preaching responsibility, Jackson’s “blame society” approach rings hollow.

And if you don’t think Jackson is worried about Obama eroding his power base, why “I want to cut his n—s off?” You don’t say that when you disagree with someone’s philosophy.

You say that when you perceive a threat.

And the more Obama succeeds, the less Jackson may find himself in demand. Apparently, that bothers the heck out of him.

Or maybe Obama’s comments struck too close to home. After all, Jackson himself fathered a daughter out of wedlock and secretly supported her financially until the story broke.

Given that, his reaction to a call from Obama for parental responsibility should have been a hearty “Amen.”

Instead, he wanted to separate Obama from his you know what – perhaps because he feels Obama is, power-wise, doing it to him.

Either way, the days of Jesse Jackson, spokesman for all black people, are coming to an end. The media is wising up. Jackson’s own hypocrisies, from the illegitimate child to the “Hymietown” controversy, are stacking too high. And if, come next year, we have an African-American president representing all of us, hopefully we’ll see the silliness of running to one self-anointed individual to represent a group of us.

In the meantime, note this statement from one particular critic of Jackson’s comments:

“I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric. He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.”

That came from Jackson’s son, Jesse Jr., a congressman. The reverend might want to spend more time listening to the fruit of his loins, and less time focusing on Obama’s.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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