Why Call Al Sharpton only About “Black� Issues?

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Over the years I have often seen Reverend Al Sharpton on various television shows, mostly speaking out about an issue pertaining to civil rights or some beating of a Black man caught on videotape.

Most of the time, Reverend Sharpton is presented to America as someone that is articulating the “Black Opinion�. I won’t go into how stupid it is to think that there is a single “Black Opinion�, but I have often wondered how and why Reverend Sharpton was elevated to the status of “spokesman for the Black populace�.

Of course I had heard of Al Sharpton. Like most of us outside of New York, I came to know the reverend during the Tawana Brawley incident. A scandalous affair in which a young Black woman claimed to be gang raped by a group of white men, only to be revealed as a fraud upon further investigation. Reverend Sharpton steadfastly stood by Ms. Brawley’s side, becoming a media attraction in the process.

I’m also aware of some of Reverend Sharpton’s activist activities over the past few years. Through all of this I still have not been able to connect the dots to how he reached the stature he currently enjoys, replacing Jesse Jackson as the keeper of the flame for civil rights.

Most Black folks that I know think of Al Sharpton as kind of a caricature. The coifed hair, the habit of yelling more than speaking and who can forget the appearance on the HBO Special, PimpsUp, Ho’s Down? Nobody that I know ever looked to him (or anyone other so called Black Leader) for guidance.

What I’ve always suspected is that the mainstream media also sees Al Sharpton as a bit of a caricature. They certainly don’t think that white Americans take him seriously. That’s why as soon as a cop gets caught on video beating a Black man or Bush speaks against affirmative action, all the media outlets call Al. Since Al’s credibility with most of their audience is low, having him speak on these issues, in a perverse way, decreases their seriousness. It’s the, “There goes Al Sharpton, hollering about something else. He always plays the race card� effect. Before Al Sharpton’s rise it was, “There goes Jesse, rhyming again�.

I offer recent events as proof. Reverend Sharpton gave one of the most moving and poignant speeches of the Democratic Convention. It was a serious and motivating speech that had everyone in Fleet Center on their feet. Heck, it even had me on my feet in my living room. After the speech, instead of noting the incredible ovation from everyone in the crowd, correspondents from CNN stated flatly that Reverend Sharpton was scheduled to speak for 6 minutes, but actually spoke for 20 minutes. They went on to say that this was the first time the convention had deviated from their tight schedule and speculated that convention organizers were upset.

Tucker Carlson of Cross Fire, the political boxing match that appears daily CNN, routinely challenges the Democrats to give Sharpton a cabinet post. Before announcing John Edwards as his vice presidential candidate, Carlson and Robert Novak routinely encouraged the Democrats to nominate Sharpton as their veep. They knew that such action would mean “the kiss of death�.

But a strange thing has happened. During the primaries, Al Sharpton made more sense and connected better with audiences than did the favorites. I truly think that much like Howard Dean, Sharpton reminded the other candidates that it’s okay to be a democrat. As for me, I’m over the hair and preachy orations and am listening to this man and liking his message. It’s an important message that transcends race or party. It’s a message of inclusion and empowerment. It is a message for all Americans.

It’s too bad that the news shows only call on Sharpton and other Blacks when race is the topic of the day. Shouldn’t white senators and congressmen and women be concerned about protecting the rights of all citizens? Why isn’t anyone interested in what Al Sharpton or politicians of color –except for Colin Powell and Condi Rice—think about foreign policy or the environment? That shows how much race really does matter to the major networks. It also begs the question, “Who is really playing the race card?�

There is no “Black Opinion� or “Black Leader� that speaks for us all, but I think Al Sharpton has won the respect of many of us.

andre.w.stephens@verizon.com

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