The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has made a career channeling and hustling the outrage of oppressed black Americans — sometimes deserved, but ginned up when necessary — has done it again.
Some years back, the civil rights leader claimed he thought he was talking to a reporter “off the record” when he complained about the number of Jews living in New York by referring to the city as “Hymietown.”
This time, during the break from taping “Fox & Friends” on Sunday, a fellow guest had asked the Rev. Jackson about speeches on morality that Democratic nominee-apparent Sen. Barack Obama has given at black churches. The Rev. Jackson responded by criticizing Sen. Obama’s practice of “giving moral lectures to African-Americans,” and whispered the additional and curiously un-Christian comment: “See, Barack been talking down to black people. … I wanna cut his nuts out.”
The Rev. Jackson said he called Obama’s campaign to apologize. “For any harm or hurt that this hot mic private conversation may have caused, I apologize,” he said in a written apology released Wednesday. “My support for Sen. Obama’s campaign is wide, deep and unequivocal.”
In fact, though the Rev. Jackson supports Sen. Obama’s candidacy, the two are not close. Back in September, The State newspaper in South Carolina reported the Rev. Jackson had said Sen. Obama was “acting like he’s white” in his response to the arrest of six black juveniles in Jena, La.
The Rev. Jackson disputed the quote.
The Obama campaign took a measured response to last week’s incident, contending in a statement that Obama has spoken for many years about parental responsibility as well as “jobs, justice and opportunity for all.”
The New York tabloids had some punning fun with the Rev. Jackson’s comment, but the real issue here is not his occasional tendency to mouth less-than-statesmanlike remarks, but rather the underlying premise that a black leader shows disloyalty to “his people” if he remarks that some of that community’s problems lie with the fact that many black American adults — particularly fathers — fail to take their community and parental responsibilities seriously.
Comedian, TV star and author Bill Cosby faced similar charges when he started speaking out on these same issues, a few years back.
The historical roots of such concerns are not hard to grasp. Any group that believes itself isolated and oppressed will tend to close ranks and resist admitting weakness or error to the majority.
But Sen. Obama — like Mr. Cosby before him — makes some valid points. It may not be pleasant to be told our own actions and attitudes are partly at fault for the plight of the younger generation. But sometimes it’s precisely what we need to hear.
We are less likely to absorb and profit from such lessons if anyone even broaching these subjects draws curiously aggressive threats to “cut his nuts out.”