I love speaking with Rev. Jesse Jackson. He walks and talks like a man who has seen and heard nearly everything. Our civil rights leaders are social hubs through which many members of our society must travel in order to reach their destinations. You can’t call yourself a black man and not know the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Rev. Jackson took things a step further by stating recently at a Congressional Black Caucus function that,”You can’t vote against health care and call yourself a black man.”
This comment was aimed at Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus who does not support health care reform. What is most interesting about Jackson’s comment is that he is right, but not quite. You can certainly argue that Davis’ lack of support for the plan implies that his interests are not in line with the majority of African Americans in this country: Most of them love Barack Obama and are willing to support anything that he supports. The other sad truth is that health care reform is so complicated that most Americans don’t have a clue about what’s going on. In that regard, we can argue that it is difficult for Davis to say that he represents the black community when he votes in a direction that is not correlated with the majority of African Americans in the state of Alabama.
Where Jackson is ultimately incorrect is that Artur Davis certainly has the right to call himself a black man, even without supporting health care reform. Other prominent African Americans, such as Dr. Elaina George, have been vehemently outspoken against health care reform. Dr. George even goes as far as arguing that health care reform is not only bad for doctors, it is also bad for the black community. Davis, on the other hand, simply wants to be governor of Alabama, and taking conservative positions is the only way for a black man to get elected in that state.
Davis made his intentions clear with his eloquent, yet interesting response to Rev. Jackson’ s comment: “Rev. Jackson is entitled to his opinion…The voters are entitled to a governor who represents everyone in the state. They’re not looking for someone who speaks for a single community..His (Jackson) judgment is through the prism of race.”
Translation: “I don’t care what Jesse Jackson has to say. I want to be governor more than I want to be committed to the black community. Speaking for African Americans is not enough to get me elected, since whites and blacks see the world so differently. Jesse Jackson is limited because he sees race in everything.”
The bottom line is that Artur Davis, to some extent, is a slave to his self-imposed predicament. When alleged black power shifts from community-based constituencies to formal political appointments that must be signed off by white America or corporate America, meaningful black leadership becomes highly diluted and ultimately distracted. This point was made when I referenced Tom Joyner’s nervous response to our challenge against Wal-Mart during the Heather Ellis case (Wal-Mart is one of his primary corporate sponsors). This is not to say that Tom Joyner is a sell-out; but it does imply that his loyalty to Wal-Mart is probably greater than his loyalty to a black woman that he doesn’t even know. In America, there are two dominant types of capital: Political capital and financial capital. African Americans are lacking in both, so you aren’t usually going to get rich or powerful by serving the needs of the black community.
All leadership has a “political daddy”: Someone or something that one must be loyal to in order to be successful. The ultimate question black leaders must ask ourselves is, “Who’s your daddy?”, since the nature of the leader’s support base will dictate the incentives of the leader. Many prominent African American figures are so hungry for power and validation that they will take support from any corporation or group of people who offer to provide it. That’s like a teenage girl taking money from any boy who offers it without wondering if he is going to want the favor returned at the end of the night. This is not to say that she shouldn’t take the money; it’s only to say that she better make sure that she likes the boy she’s dealing with.
Let’s be clear about this: Artur Davis is a conservative Democrat working to become governor of Alabama. I honestly wonder why he is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus at all, since there is only minimal connection between his incentives and those of the African American community. This is not to say that he doesn’t have the right to be a black man, but there is a difference between someone who is black all the time vs. someone who is black when it is convenient. Jesse Jackson is a black man all the time, Artur Davis is a black man who wants to be governor: One is not necessarily better than the other, but it is clear that we know the difference.