Despite all the media mania it generated by “outing” the salty language that the Rev. Jesse Jackson used “privately” to express worries about Barack Obama's level of respect for black people, the Fox News Network did not succeed in having Jesse's name added to the National Registry of Black Leaders that other Black Leaders Must Repudiate.
Even so, this ultraconservative network's anti-Jesse campaign seems to be making some headway with African Americans, and quite noticeably so among the professional class of the “hip-hop” generation (roughly in their late teens to early 40s).
One glaring example is young black politico Keli Goff. In her eager repudiation of Rev. Jackson, Goff volunteered to Anderson Cooper (on CNN), that Jackson was just suffering from “j-n-s.”
She explained to him her meaning: “jealous negro syndrome.” So, here we have Goff herself using an offensive phrase to slander Jackson in the very same breath with which she criticizes him for…using an offensive phrase! Further, she made her statements expressly to be “caught on tape” for public consumption; and therefore, the slander was intentional, unlike the case of Rev. Jackson, who was caught off guard.
It also seemed that Goff had no respect for the fact that she was sitting upon Jesse Jackson's shoulders at the same time she was insulting him. Perhaps no “old-heads" had done the job of teaching her about Jackson's trailblazing as the first African American to host a weekly CNN analysts program (Both Sides), or that he regularly appeared on its Crossfire program.
I concluded that Ms. Goff had just stumbled headlong into one of those divide-and-conquer potholes that have peppered our craggy path to progress for centuries; and having squandered her moral authority with me, any traction Goff's comments against Jackson might have had were completely lost.
My attentions returned to the stated reason Jesse made his off-color comments: worry that Barack Obama may be “talking down to black people” like we were a bunch of “n—–s.” I'm not even almost mad at Rev. Jackson for that concern.
There's been such an exaggerated focus on Jesse's salty language that his reason for using it in the first place has been perverted or overlooked. Ranging in ages from 22 to 35, not one of the young, black professionals with whom I discussed this could recall just what exactly had prompted Jesse's off-color comments. These hip-hoppers, living in regions from the mid-Atlantic to central Florida, also confirmed that the “jealousy thing” had gained credence with their peers as the most probable cause.
Even with our knowledge of his imperfections, it shouldn't have been so easy to plant this kind of doubt and distrust in African-American minds. Now 65 years old,
Jackson has consistently, since he was a teenager, been fighting boldly, bravely and thoughtfully for social, political and economic justice. Really, how many of us—young, old or in between, have spent most of our lives hounded by death threats or leading protest marches and voter registration drives in KKK territory? How many of us have devised diversity compacts with corporations, or faced down dogs, water hoses, police billy clubs, bombings, public scorn, etc. for the cause of freedom, justice and equality?
Some powerful facts stand in contradiction to the jealousy theory, even beyond the fact that Rev. Jackson has already made his historical mark.
First, Jackson has been a strong supporter of Obama from early on; he even suffered a rift with close family members who'd maintained their loyalty to Hillary Clinton's candidacy. Second, Jackson not only offered his apologies, but also offered absolutely no excuses for his offending remarks. He reaffirmed his support for Obama in no uncertain terms, stating a deep appreciation for the fact that Obama's candidacy represents something too many people have fought, prayed and died for. And third, Jackson's heir and namesake, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., is positioning himself well to follow in the footsteps of his father and Obama some day.
Ever since the news media broadcast that Obama had pointed out, in his Father's Day speech, that there's a lack of black fathers taking on their responsibilities, African Americans and other progressive observers have increasingly expressed anxieties about Obama “selling out” his base line supporters by pandering to white racial prejudices and other reactionary forces in order to increase his voting margin.
Obama was smart enough to state his acceptance of Jesse Jackson's apologies; and before that, he was smart enough to have acknowledged that he sits upon Rev. Jackson's shoulders. So I'm expecting soon, he'll be smart enough to clean up the language that makes segments of his strongest supporters suspicious. It’s a tightrope walk, but it looks like everybody's got to WATCH THEIR LANGUAGE!
Annette Kashif, Ph.D., is a linguist with a specialty in comparative African and African Diaspora language and culture.