Monday, April 19, 2010
There is this postmodern theorem that states that whatever is considered revolutionary or subversive at the moment will invariably be subsumed into the prevailing power structure to be used toward its own ends. In other words, what is radical and revolutionary and subversive today will eventually yield its countercultural virtues and loyalties to that very thing it wishes so ardently to destroy.
More than a little amused, I have been quietly watching the Reverend Al Sharpton’s flirtations with the Barack Obama administration. Early on in President Obama’s historical campaign, both Sharpton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson tactfully and tactically indicated that they would hang back a bit to determine Obama’s posture toward the African American community.
However, many wondered if more than a little jealously was at play, and Reverend Jackson seemed to make it almost obvious with his remarks that he wanted to “cut [Obama’s] nuts out.” But then he made up for it with the image of tears of supposed joy streaming down his face on election night.
But Sharpton did eventually jump on board, and he campaigned hard for Obama. And when the president finally assumed the office, Sharpton was one of the first he received in the oval office.
And on a later date, as President Obama’s commitment to the African American community and a Black Agenda was being argued, Sharpton emerged from a meeting at the Whitehouse with the president and other black leaders who in their remarks seemed to suggest that President Obama didn’t need a Black Agenda. In facing and taking on the challenges of the nation, he is, in actuality, facing and taking on the challenges of all people to include African Americans.
That seemed like a sharp departure from all of Sharpton’s previous rhetoric. But my eyebrow really went up when Harvard professor and lawyer Charles Ogletree, the president’s former mentor and friend, announced Al Sharpton’s new role as administration ally, President Obama’s voice in the street, “a conduit between the disadvantaged and powerful leaders.” Pretty high-falutin language, huh?
This is problematic because Sharpton’s greatest worth to the African American community is in the role of agitator working from a position outside the power structure to keep it reasonably honest and fair in its dealings with that community.
Never mind the perm and the jogging suits and the big gold medallions of the good old days. No one can whip up an indignant protest like the Reverend Al Sharpton, however self-serving and self-aggrandizing he might seem.
No racist or corrupt politician or government official or police chief or CEO wants to look out their window to see a permed out Al Sharpton marching down the street, bullhorn in hand, leading a crowd of protestors whipped into a frenzy by his rhetoric.
Furthermore, the media loves Reverend Al, and he returns the love every chance he gets. It seems that he never met a microphone or a television camera he didn’t like. But whatever you might say about him, he does use the media to his greatest advantage in taking on those issues and cases no politician would touch; he has, in many aspects, became the voice of the voiceless.
However, now he gives that all up. At one time he fought against the man; now he is the man’s right hand man in the streets. If you think about it, though, it was a masterful move on the part of President Obama. By courting Reverend Al, he kills two birds with one stone.
On the one hand, by bringing Reverend Al on board, he negates a powerful and potential voice of protest from within the African American community and reduces that community’s ability to hold the administration accountable.
Of course, Tavis Smiley is another voice of powerful and potential protest, but a number of African Americans, if not most, are cynical of Smiley’s motives, and should Smiley get too loud, Obama has Al Sharpton to attempt to keep him in check.
What do you think that whole other Black Agenda Summit hosted by Sharpton was about this weekend? It was to counter the Smiley hosted We Count!: The Black Agenda Is the American Agenda Summit. Reverend Sharpton is already on the job.
You know, I cannot figure out if our Uncle Al has sold out or bought in; I am actively trying to figure that out now. But it appears that for the time being, the revolutionary, subversive Al Sharpton has been thoroughly and completely subsumed.
What do you think of the Reverend Al Sharpton’s new role in the Obama administration? Do you think he is selling out or buying in?
Also see: It's official, Al Sharpton finally becomes the HNIC: Sharpton touted as Obama's man in the streets!