Saturday, May 25, 2024

Civil rights old guard should let Obama lead…

July 18, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( I realize a lot has already been said about the unfortunate, and downright ugly, comments that the Rev. Jesse Jackson made last week in reference to Sen. Barack Obama. But I must add that many of the attacks on Jackson missed the larger issue.

Of course, what Jackson said was way out of line and wrong. That’s an easy call.

But the bigger picture is the ugliness of Jackson’s sentiment as it relates to — and somewhat represents — the discomfort of the black civil rights leadership of yesteryear with this new blood that some of them seem to think hasn’t been properly vetted by the “old guard.”

Some members of this senior generation of leaders seem to think that perhaps Obama should have sought approval from them before running, and since he didn’t, then he deserves to be held in contempt. He isn’t one of “them,” he doesn’t owe “them,” and therefore cannot be trusted.

Well, as one of “them” — not only a member of that generation of leadership but one who counts many such leaders, including Jackson, as friends and colleagues — I have to say that it is time for the old guard to step back and let the new guard take control. Without question, that new guard is best represented by Obama.

I realize quite well how difficult it is to step down after so many years in the limelight, and after having paid so many dues. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we are somehow owed something by this new generation, that we should have one hand on the steering wheel at all times.

We do not have that right. The simple truth is that our generation — my generation — has not only failed to fulfill the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, but we have also failed this younger generation. We gave them nothing, and yet it is a member of this generation that is coming closer to fulfilling King’s dream than any one of us ever thought possible.

The current condition of America’s black youths — and black America in general — did not come about as a result of President George W. Bush’s atrocious economic policies. This is a crisis that has been brewing for the past 40 years, ever since the civil rights movement was supposedly coming to a close because we had achieved integration — as if that all by itself was reason enough to proclaim success. Since then, more than $30 million has been spent by the government on poverty programs, yet even with all that we have failed them.

What we, as members of the old guard, need to realize is that some of us are reflexively reacting to situations based on the past, because the past is our experience. It’s what we know best.

But the politics that we understood has been forever changed into something that few of us are equipped to comprehend fully. And if we are not equipped to comprehend it adequately, then how can we convince ourselves that we should lead it? That’s like demanding to drive a stick shift when all you know is automatic.

For too long, we have participated in our own genocide. We have placed the noose around our own necks. So when a member of the younger generation of leaders comes to us with a different kind of hopeful message — one not written by us — we need to give them the opportunity to lead and to serve.

Most certainly we will not always agree with the message, but we have an obligation to support the messenger.

After all, who are we to say that our message was always unmistakably on point? I’m old enough to know better, and so are my friends and colleagues in the civil rights movement.

One final thing: We keep making the mistake of looking at Obama as an African-American leader. He is an American leader, and there is a difference. Jackson ran as an African-American leader, as did the Rev. Al Sharpton, because that was the only option available to them, and that’s fine. Obama is the next step in our political evolution.

Perhaps you like it, perhaps you don’t. But you would be wrong to disrespect it.


Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!