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The civil rights activist, the radio/tv personality, the revered reverend, the best selling author, the voice of black America, the founder and president of The National Action Network Reverend Al Sharpton has been a lightening rod of controversy for decades now. But ever since Barack Obama became president Reverend Al’s close relationship with him has raised his national profile in ways that even he did not expect. The positives are quite obvious such as increased visibility which gives him a platform to bring attention to specific areas or incidents of injustice, an hour-long cable news program on MSNBC (Politics Nation), a lucrative book deal for The Rejected Stone which chronicles his personal evolution from a controversial street activist to a national civil rights icon, increased visibility for his nonprofit civil rights organization the National Action Network, and a seat at the table when new civil rights legislation gets crafted. His proximity to power is envied by many, but there is a downside to being as outspoken and unapologetically supportive of President Obama. That downside is Fox News and the cabal of conservative media who are dedicated to destroy the president, his legacy, and anyone who supports him.
Every liberal commentator and political activist in this country should expect harsh and sometimes unfair critiques from their conservative counterparts. It comes with the territory. I’ve heard people say a vigorous debate is a sign of a healthy democracy, which is true. But there’s a caveat that says if you’re going to enter the world of politics you better have a tough skin, a strong sense of who you are, and a clear set of guiding principles that underpins everything you say and do. If you’re lacking in any of those, it will show sooner or later and the power and influence you thought you had will all disappear. The Reverend Al Sharpton has been in the public eye fighting for civil rights for almost 5 decades and continues to prove himself effective when injustice victimize’s the voiceless. There aren’t many leaders who have a 5 decade long history that sees their power and influence grow exponentially without being the real deal. Character, integrity, and passion aren’t things you can fake sustainably. That’s why all the hate and vitriol being thrown at him constantly over the years have never stuck and that’s why many African-Americans respect and revere him as a leader. Conservatives tried to block Barack Obama’s first bid for President and failed. They tried to stop President Obama’s reelection and failed. Now they are trying to attack Sharpton and marginalize the power of his organization, and they are failing at that as well. Their most recent attack came from Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly after the murder of an unarmed African-American teen named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri. The African-American community of that town expressed their anger and outrage through nonviolent protest. There was a very small number of people who used the protest as a cover to loot and vandalize local businesses. Bill O’Reilly and other Fox News hosts accused Reverend Sharpton of inciting violence and inflaming tension between the African-American community and the police.
Bill said Sharpton inserted himself into the protest to get media attention and no one asked Sharpton to get involved or for any help. Of course none of that was true and anyone who knows how to use google could debunk everything O’Reilly said with an internet connection and two minutes. For example, here are two video clips. The first video is Al Sharpton’s first speech given as soon as he arrived in Ferguson at the behest of Micheal Brown’s family. The second video is Bill O’Reilly lying on air saying Sharpton incited violence.
There’s not one word in Sharpton’s entire statement that anyone could misunderstand as inflammatory or a call for violence. Sharpton clearly called for peace and pleaded with the community to keep the protest nonviolent. Fox News and Bill O’Reilly never aired this clip and made a conscience decision to lie on air to their viewers. Fox does this all the time but O’Reilly lies over and over about issues that involve race. Here’s another video where O’Reilly lied saying that African-American democrat organizers of an MLK day event excluded white republicans from speaking. The day after he lied and ranted about this he had to apologize on air because the press called him out on it.
Bill O’Reilly has a very skewed racist view of black America and constantly confuses Hip Hop culture and entertainment with African-American culture. Al Sharpton invited O’Reilly to have dinner in Harlem at one of Harlem’s most popular eating establishments Sylvia’s. After the dinner O’Reilly told his radio audience about it the next day. He told them that he was surprised how clean and nice it was even though it was owned and run by African-Americans. He said no one was yelling profanity, everyone was nice and respectful, and the African-American’s eating there were well dressed and well-behaved. He was amazed by this. When talking about Bill O’Reilly I always go back to this story about Sylvia’s because it explains how he views African Americans. So when he calls our first African-American president and our first African-American attorney general thugs, and calls well-respected African-American civil rights leaders “race agitators” or “race hustlers”, we all know what kind of mind that comes from.
One of Al Sharpton’s most popular critiques from conservatives asks why doesn’t Sharpton talk about black on black crime. Why isn’t he organizing and marching in Detroit and Chicago where inner city crime is rampant? You’ll hear that one on Fox a lot too. I have to laugh every time I hear a conservative say that because it shows they have no idea what they are talking about. Al Sharpton and his nonprofit have organized rallies and marches in both of those cities. He held a widely televised town hall in Detroit and even temporarily moved into an inner city apartment in Chicago to see first hand what the impoverished residents were dealing with. Despite how easily accessible this information is, somehow it remains hidden from Fox and other conservatives.
Another popular critique from conservatives is Reverend Sharpton only wants to help black people, so that makes him racist. To debunk this first we need to understand what a civil rights activist is. A civil rights activist or a civil rights organization uses political levers to secure equal opportunity for members of a less powerful minority group. The key word there is “equal”. So if you’re working towards making things equal for every race, you are trying to give minorities the same rights and treatment as those in the majority or those who have more power. African-Americans are a minority group who have been and continue to be discriminated against because of race. So a civil rights organization or activist takes on issues where African-Americans aren’t being treated as equals (to whites). That does not mean you only want to help black people because you don’t like white people. That is just ridiculous. When we finally have racial equality then we will not have a need for civil rights activist anymore.
One more popular critique I’d like to discuss is why doesn’t Al Sharpton and his organization help out when a black person kills a white person. First we need to correct a common misperception. Al Sharpton and his organization do not get involved with every case where there’s a black victim and a white perpetrator. To get involved they look for instances where the crime that was committed has racial elements that lead to the crime or racial elements that have the potential to hinder a fair and equal outcome. I’ll use the Trayvon Martin case as an example. Al Sharpton did not get involved just because Trayvon was a black kid. He got involved because the district attorney in Sanford had no plans to charge George Zimmerman with anything. Check the facts and you’ll see that the D.A. hadn’t filed charges a full month after Trayvon’s death. Then the family called Reverend Sharpton for help. He organized protest and used his high-profile to get the media to pay attention to the incident. The pressure from media and other civil rights organizations finally forced the DA to file charges against George Zimmerman. So Sharpton and NAN weren’t asking for a conviction, all they were asking for was a fair trial. If the district attorney in Sanford would have presented the case to a grand jury (just like they are supposed to) there wouldn’t have been a need for Sharpton to get involved.
I wrote this blog because I thought Reverend Sharpton didn’t deserve all the hateful comments and coverage from conservative media. He is flawed just like any other human and has made mistakes in the past, but the people who are throwing slurs and criticizing him for being passionate about civil rights hasn’t done anything close to the kind of work he’s dedicated his life to. This man is cut from the same cloth as MLK or Kennedy. Don’t believe the racist caricature the conservative media has tried to make him out to be. Do some research about the real man and see what he’s about before passing judgement. We have so few national civil rights leaders left. We should be thankful that he is still able to fight on our behalf, even when his character gets called into question and the hate gets thrown. I’m not sure I’d be able to withstand that kind of scrutiny. So please do some research on him and his nonprofit group National Action Network and see for yourself. Don’t let people who have an agenda tell you who he is (me included).
The coolest most awesomest thing ever happened today. Jason Collins an NBA basketball player for the Washington Wizards came out as a proud gay African American man. This guy has no idea how many young African American men he’s helping by coming out. When you live in a small town in the bible belt of America all you hear is negative things about being gay and it can make you feel extremely lonely and isolated. After a while you start to believe all the negative things and begin to hate yourself. Seeing someone like Jason Collins come out can help change that… and that is a very huge big deal.
I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community. It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.
I am very proud of my friend Jason Collins for having the strength and courage to become the first openly gay athlete in the NBA. His decision marks an important moment for professional sports and for our country. I echo what my father said in his statement and similarly hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.
The well known skin care company Nivea has a line of very popular men’s care grooming products available. I’ve used their shower gel for almost a year now, and I’ve even recommended it to friends when they ask me why do I smell so good when I get out of the shower. I like it because it has a mild yet pleasant masculine sent that isn’t overpowering like some of the other shower gels aimed at men. It lathers well, and it’s reasonably priced. So when I saw their new print ad campaign, I was shocked , disappointed and somewhat confused. The ad depicts a very well dressed clean cut African American man holding the decapitated head of another African American man who has an afro and a beard with a scowling almost menacing facial expression, with the catchphrase “RE-CIVILIZE YOURSELF and LOOK LIKE YOU GIVE A DAMN” prominently displayed in the center of the ad. But the abundance of offensive stereotypes didn’t end there… to top it all off they have the clean cut African-American head chopper posing on a football field… yes, a football field.
According to Nivea’s brand messaging, Black men are inherently uncivilized and can only become civilized if they forsake what comes out of their hair follicles naturally and adopt a more European look. But, have no fear, Nivea will come to our rescue and saves us from savagery by getting rid of our “unacceptable” wool like coarsely textured NATURAL fro to make our appearance more like our “civilized” Caucasian counterparts.
Unfortunately to some people this ad and anything like it will never click for them as being racist. I have some of the most open-minded progressive thinking (white) friends, and I know a couple of them would never see the racism in this ad no matter how eloquent and descriptive I made my explanation. This use to bother and frustrate me like nothing else until I had one of Oprah’s “ah-ha moments” (lol don’t we all miss Oprah). My friends weren’t purposely refusing to see racism, or purposely ignoring things with racist connotations… they weren’t doing that at all. When they look at me and other minorities, they were looking at us without any historical context. They saw me and other African-Americans the same way they saw themselves. Not figuratively or metaphorically… but they actually saw no difference. So when stories like this would pop up, they would judge it by putting themselves in the situation and base an opinion on how they would feel or react. They wouldn’t understand or see the racism. Like the hair issue with this ad. It’s saying that African-American hair in its natural form is uncivilized, and the racism there is pretty clear to me. Sure there are degrees of racism, but racism of any kind big or small should not be tolerated by anyone who believes in equality.
So my advice to those who are white and have a problem with understanding how things like this could be seen as racist would be this: If you have a close African-American friend who you respect and trust to always tell you the truth, and you believe them to be rational thinkers in every aspect of their lives, and they confide in you that they are offended by something because they found it to be insulting and racist… BELIEVE THEM. They have experienced all types of discrimination and racism throughout the course of their lives, so why not trust that this friend is better equipped to recognize this when it happens. Being flippant or dismissive about it is hurtful and it shows your trustworthy respectably friend that you in-fact do not trust their judgement (which more than likely came from painful real-life experiences of racism against them). I know this is not your intention because you see life from a totally different perspective, but the next time something like this occurs and you’re discussing it with an African-American friend, please keep this in mind.