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After my edited interview was aired on the "Chicago Tonight" television program (WTTW) on January 23rd, I was asked to clarify my "criticism" of Rev. Jesse Jackson in light of the revelation of his extramarital affair and the birth of a daughter.
My issue is the not so obvious, but clearly detrimental, subtext of the message that Rev. Jackson is sending to black Americans. His message is that he made a mistake, he is sorry, and he is going to do the right thing by loving and supporting his illegitimate child. What is implicit in this message, as well as everything that Rev. Jackson has said and has not said, is that "everything is going to be all right."
Yes, everything will be all right - but only because he is "the" Rev. Jesse Jackson. He has the resources, he has the credentials, he has the support of his constituency as a result of his years of good works and dedicated service, he has the love of his family, and he has the age and wisdom to ensure that "everything will be all right." What Rev. Jackson has not said, and he should be shouting it at the top of his voice, is that 95% of his constituency, single or married, would be irreparably harmed if they had children out of wedlock. However, the real tragedy is the fate of children not born within the bounds of a strong, loving relationship. Single black females rear almost half of all black children in America. And this certainly helps to explain the fact that 42 out of every 100 black children in America live in poverty.
Although, Rev. Jackson has been downgraded from role model to "recovering role model," he should not and will not be replaced any time soon as America's preeminent civil rights activist. After all, he has been leading the struggle for civil rights for more than 30 years. And, although more than 90% of the war has been won, someone has to continue to fight the last vestiges of illegal discrimination and unfairness in America. No one is more qualified to do this than Rev. Jackson.
On the other hand, we must just as rationally conclude that Rev. Jackson is not the person to lead the revolution that must occur "within" black America in the 21st century. It has nothing to do with his moral authority to lead. It is because this struggle has little or nothing to do with what white America is doing to black America. It is all about what black America is doing to itself and what black America is failing to do for itself. And, as the champion and chief defender of black Americans, Rev. Jackson is not the leader to tell black Americans that if you start a violent brawl in a crowded football stadium, you ought to be severely punished for your disgraceful, dangerous, illegal behavior. It is not enough to just say that you made a mistake and to think that everything is going to be all right.
Rev. Jackson is not the leader to tell black Americans that the amount and the nature of racism in America, in 2001, are not the reasons why black Americans are on track to have the lowest socioeconomic standing in America for the foreseeable future. Rev. Jackson is not the leader to tell black Americans that there is no easy or immediate fix for black America's problems. Rev. Jackson is not the leader to tell black Americans that "only they" can save black America. And Rev. Jackson is not the leader to tell black America that it will "never" attain socioeconomic equality until black Americans attain educational parity with the rest of America. A civil rights activist can not deliver these types of messages; an "equal opportunity activist" must deliver them.
While the amount and intensity of racism has abated over the past 382 years, there is one condition that has not changed for black Americans. In 1619, black Americans were the least educated and least knowledgeable racial group in America. In 2001, black Americans are still the least educated and least knowledgeable racial group in America. Based on percentages of population, white Americans earn almost twice as many college degrees as black Americans. 83% of white Americans graduate from high school versus only 74% of black Americans. Black Americans are dead last (behind whites, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics) in reading proficiency, math proficiency, and science proficiency. In the technologically based global economy of the 21st century there is no need to discriminate against black Americans based on the color of our skin. "De facto educational discrimination" works just as well - and it is, and will remain, legal.
Black Americans must be told that, in the year 2001, it is not racism that is holding them back. In the year 2001, black America's most debilitating problem is the lack of education and knowledge. Knowledge is power. And as long as black Americans remain the least educated and the least knowledgeable people in America, they will remain the people with the least amount of power in America.
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