John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Sharpton Defining the Race Agenda

Posted on March 28, 2012


            The state of racial relations in America is now chiefly being defined by Al Sharpton, and that is probably not a good thing for President Obama.

 

The Reverend Al has his own show on a major cable network that gives him a most powerful platform to promote his views, which range from conventional Democratic wackiness to traditional race-baiting.

 

And he has used that platform to devastating effect on the Trayvon Martin affair.

 

Without Al Sharpton, none of us would have heard of Trayvon Martin.  Unfortunately, in America, thousands of people are murdered every year and thousands more are killed in conflicts that don’t end up in criminal charges.

 

Many of these murders have racial implications but have no national spokesperson to make it a national case.  For example, a white Mississippi State student was murdered by 3 black kids last week, but as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been much of a hew or cry from the national media.

 

As I wrote over the weekend, there is a national history of racial discrimination against African-Americans that may have played an outsized role in this controversy, although there is no evidence that George Zimmerman, the alleged shooter, had any history of racial animosity.

 

What is true is that Trayvon Martin was much more photogenic than Mr. Zimmerman.  The pictures of Mr. Martin, in early stages of this case, were all from his most angelic years, as a young grade school football player, as a serious student, as a loving son.

 

The pictures of Mr. Martin in a hoodie didn’t come out until later, after the narrative of Martin as a hapless victim of racial violence, had been established.

 

On other hand, the pictures of George Zimmerman, an overweight, pale and ugly man, helped define his place in the narrative.  Zimmerman looked like a racist bad guy.  And that helped to create the story of Zimmerman as a dimwitted racist.

 

Only later did we learn that Zimmerman had been attacked by Mr. Martin, and had been bloodied by the attack.  And only later did we learn that Mr. Martin wasn’t the angel that we first thought.

 

Why had he been serving a suspension from school?  Well, he was kicked out for drug possession.  In actuality, he wasn’t that great of a student.  My guess is that we will learn much more about Mr. Trayvon Martin in the days to come.

 

Does all of this mean that he deserved to die?  No, of course not.  But if Trayvon Martin is a kid who got kicked out of school for drug possession and sucker-punched the guy who eventually shot him, then all of a sudden it becomes a less compelling story of white racism.

 

All of sudden, this tale becomes a more complicated story of conflict and tragedy, a story that happens every once in a while in America.

 

But such a story doesn’t serve the cause of Al Sharpton or of his friend Jesse Jackson or of that paragon of racial healing, Louis Farrakhan.   Farrakhan, by the way, has threatened to hire a hit squad to bring justice to Mr. Zimmerman.  Isn’t that nice?

 

These folks have a history of seeing racism behind every corner, and Mr. Sharpton now has a national platform from which to make his case.

 

The challenge that Mr. Sharpton plays for Mr. Obama is that racial conflict and division doesn’t work well for the President.

 

If we become a more polarized racial society, the President loses the election.

 

Mr. Obama has sought to avoid this eventuality by basically ignoring the festering racial divisions that continue to plague our society.

 

The President isn’t really asking for my advice on this, but I will give it to him anyway.  Ignoring these problems isn’t going to make them go away.  And by attempting to avoid discussion on these issues, the President is presenting a void in leadership that is being seized by the Al Sharptons of the world.

 

The fact of the matter is that white racism is not the number one issue facing black America today.  It is still a significant problem, but Jim Crow is gone, and the institutional barriers to black advancement are not presented by white America.

 

The number one threat facing black America, as measured by crime statistics, is black America.  Black Americans are killing other black Americans at a rate that would be astounding in most other civilized countries in the world.

 

And by the way, there is not an epidemic of white people breaking into the homes of black people, or white people robbing black folks, or white people doing flash mobs in stores owned by black people.  That just isn’t happening.  There is evidence (and has been evidence) of a pick-up in black crime against white victims.

 

The President hasn’t said much, if anything, about that.  He hasn’t talked much about the need for the black community to work with law enforcement to root out the gang-bangers and the drug dealers.  He hasn’t talked much about the devastation caused by single-parenthood and the astounding absence of fathers in too many African-American neighborhoods.

 

Instead, he allows Al Sharpton to define the state of race relations in America.  And Al Sharpton’s view is pretty consistent and pretty simple:  It is all the fault of the white racists.

 

I have said pretty consistently that the President needs to lead on this issue.  He can’t let Al Sharpton define the state of race relations in this country.  Sharpton does not help the President with his “activism”.   He further polarizes a country that needs little help in breaking into various ethnic camps.

 

The President needs to channel his inner Bill Cosby, and speak frankly about the state of black America and how he will fix it.  He needs to lead on this issue, not hope it all goes away, and not allow Al Sharpton to define the debate.