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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.
This blog entry is a lot longer than I expected, so I’m going to have to write the second half half sometime tonight or tomorrow. Just wait and see how it all ties together. I break down the documentary and explain what caught my attention and got me fired up enough to blog about it. I will also post a link to the documentary so you can watch it free streaming right on your desktop.
TO BE CONTINUED:
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I know I said I wouldn’t get too political on this blog (which is supposed to be a lighthearted look into pop culture), but I feel this issue is important enough to veer into the world of politics just this one time. I feel justified in doing this because the line dividing pop culture from politics seem to be disappearing currently anyway (sign of the time we live in I guess).
I’m perplexed over President Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren to do the invocation at his inauguration. Here’s a little back-story about Rick Warren:
He’s an evangelical preacher with a HUGE following. He has very outspoken anti-gay views. Earlier this year he lead the charge to pass proposition 8 in California, which repealed an earlier judicial decision to legally recognize gay marriage in that state. This homophobic bigot has also equated homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality in numerous interviews and sermons. Despite all this, his church boasts having the 3rd largest congregation in the US with a seating capacity of 3,500. He built a $20 million dollar student ministry facility called the Refinery. It houses the middle school (Wildside) and high school (HSM) consisting of nearly 1,500 students. He is most famously known for a book he wrote called “The Purpose Driven Life” which has sold over 20 million copies, becoming one of the best selling non-fiction books of all time. That’s what makes this man so dangerous to anyone that believes in civil rights, and the separation of church and state. He’s not some lone backwoods nutcase living out in the woods somewhere in West Virginia. He’s an opportunistic religious leader with the ear of white middle America. Whenever I would hear people talk about how polarized this country is, I really didn’t give it much thought. I chalked it up to media hype, and republican spin… but this whole situation with Rick Warren opened my eyes to a dark and glib reality. There’s a huge force of Christian Evangelicals that are growing in number as we speak. They want to impose their beliefs and way of life on everyone living in the US. And they think anyone that’s not straight white and Christian doesn’t deserve any rights or protection under this government. I’m sure I made my opinion of Pastor Warren very clear. So you might ask, what am I perplexed over? I obviously disagree with this man, and his perversion Christianity… so you’d think I’d be 100% against and strongly opposed to Obama choosing him to speak at his inauguration? …right? Well, not exactly… and here’s why:
When Obama announced his decision to run for president, I really didn’t know much about him. I knew he was a Senator, and I remembered what a great speech he gave during the Democratic convention back in 2004 when John Kerry was running. Other than that, I didn’t know a thing about this man or his beliefs. The more I found out about him, and the more I found out about his politics, I instantly switched my whole attitude about politics from absolute cynicism, to energized optimism. I made it my business to do anything I could to help this man get in office. I happily volunteered at the local Democratic office every chance I got. I wholeheartedly believe in this man and his ability to lead this country in the right direction. When Obama won the election, he said something that made a whole lot of sense, and it was so simple and so true, it made me think why haven’t I heard this before from any politician. He said that although a majority of America cast their vote for him, he still had a great number of Americans that voted the other way. He then went on to say that he’s not going to be President to just the “blue states” and all who voted for him, but all of America. He said he wanted his office to be as inclusive and diverse as our country is. That means that we need to listen to those we agree with, as well as the ones we disagree with. That’s what a true democracy is supposed to be. We’re still extremely polarized in this country, but ignoring a particular group just gives them more power and more of a reason to separate themselves from us. In a way it legitimizes their cause. So even-though I don’t agree with Pastor Rick Warren, he has very strong influence with middle America. And the way our economy is looking, we can’t afford to ostracize anyone.
I think we need to change the way we look at politics. We’re so use to the “status quo”, of how our government and elected officials operate, that we think that is the way it should be done. For instance, everyone has made such a big deal over Obama’s staff choices. He has women, men, Democrats, Republicans, Blacks, Whites, Asians, etc etc. He’s picking the people that he thinks are best qualified for whatever position. Previous Presidents have always picked only staff members from their political party, and family members, and even people that they owe a favor to. We’ve seen this happen that way for so long, that we’re blinded to the ugliness of it.
Ok, there’s my “two cents” (lol). In conclusion, I strongly disagree with all of Pastor Warren’s religious and political views, but I think President Obama made a wise choice in choosing him. He’s reaching out to a huge Evangelical community, and showing them and all Americans a lesson in love and togetherness.
Embedded video from CNN Video