The Method to Jesse Jackson’s Madness

July 14, 2010  |  

It was bound to happen. Jesse Jackson has infused himself and his huckster brand of leadership into a celebrity fiasco which has no promise of uplifting the broader African-American community.  Such behavior is the by-product of the band of brothers mentality so pervasive among 1960’s civil rights leaders who recycle an obsolete brand of leadership and doggedly refuse to pass the baton to the next generation of African-American leaders.

In describing the dysfunctional relationship between multimillionaire basketball great LeBron James and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, Jackson fashioned Gibson as the slave-master and James the slave.  Jackson said of Gilbert, “He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave-master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.”

True, the letter Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert penned to disappointed fans, in which he referred to LeBron as “narcissistic” and called his decision to play for Miami a “betrayal”, was out of line. Gilbert’s bizarre letter read more along the lines of a jilted lover than a team owner.

Gilbert should be ashamed of his moronic rant, not because it was racist, or because of any underlying hints of a master-slave relationship, but because such grossly asinine communications should remain the domain of tender-footed teenagers, and not grown men. LeBron’s choice was about business, just as the Cavalier’s desire for LeBron to stay in Cleveland was about business.

As is always the case with Jesse Jackson though, he skipped all nuance in favor of fictitious and polarizing contrast.  Jackson is astute, nimble and acutely aware of the racial politics involved in discussions where African-Americans are center stage. So it is doubtful that he missed the nuance, as some more imperceptive political figures might. To the contrary, there’s always a method to the good reverend’s madness.

As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t call it a method as much as it is a formula. Jackson uses benign current events to whip the African American community into some sort of race induced frenzy and then uses the ensuing debate to widen the reach of his personal brand.  With each imaginary offense, he regains relevancy by scheduling T.V. spots and radio interviews with drowsy media outlets too lazy to search for a perspective more appropriate to their purpose.

While some may find it comfortable dwelling in Jackson’s legacy of mounting shortsighted approaches to race relations, I do not. He and his cohorts consistently pressure the white community into discussions on race by pretending to desire a serious conversation, only to boil the discussion down to rhythmically cadenced soundbites of the Cornel West variety.

Such superficial conversations lead to a plethora of missed opportunities for the African-American community. The relic of the Civil Rights movement, and those who pattern themselves after him, either can not, or choose not to apply the intellectual muscle required to tackle the complex issues of the 21st century.

This is not to say that Jesse Jackson has not made valuable contributions to the African-American community.  His run for President in 1984 planted a seed which was nurtured, and harvested in 2008 with the election of President Barack Obama.  Now though, Rev. Jackson has played past his prime, and outlived his usefulness for those of us who long to see a more mature and refined approach to the issues which affect African-Americans.

LeBron “King” James may very well go down as one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history.  He is a multi-millionaire with legions of public relations experts at his disposal. He doesn’t need Jesse Jackson.  And the African-American community no longer requires a leader who champions causes as a strategy for gaining headlines rather than seeking creative solutions to the problems which still suppress income and foster inequality in the African-American community.

The truth of the matter is that LeBron’s  use of a prime-time show to announce his decision was narcissistic.  However, we’ve come to expect such vacuous behavior from our mega-stars. LeBron, though, is not the only narcissist in this scenario.   It’s time for Jesse to move on.

Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill Staffer turned political blogger. She currently publishes two blogs, and

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