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Strange Fruit [Jesse Jackson's tirade against Barack Obama
By JAMES TARANTO
July 10, 2008
Editor & Publisher, the newspaper trade magazine, notes that many news organizations have been indirect in reporting on Jesse Jackson's tirade against Barack Obama
. "See, Barack been, um, talking down to black people," Jackson told a fellow Fox News Channel panelist, apparently unaware that he was being recorded. Then he said something that not everyone considered printable:
The New York Times was coy: "Mr. Jackson made disparaging remarks, apparently including a crude reference to male genitalia, about how Mr. Obama was talking to black people." A later Times article cited a "vulgar reference." . . .
The Los Angeles Times' "Top of the Ticket" blog went with: "crude language."
The AP first quoted Jackson mentioning the "regretfully crude" choice of words. Later in the day it got a little more specific, citing "a slang reference to his wanting to cut off Obama's testicles."
The Washington Post's "The Trail" blog really played it cool: "Whatever the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. said in a live microphone on Fox News, it was really, really bad. . . ."
But the Chicago Tribune eventually offered a more full report than nearly anyone: " 'I want to cut his nuts out,' Jackson added, gesturing as if grabbing part of the male anatomy and then pulling."
Jackson's statement is shocking, but not primarily because it is crude and vulgar. As the Chicago Tribune's Dawn Turner Trice notes:
Given Jackson's age--he's 66--and civil rights background, he certainly understands the historical implications of black men and the threat of castration in this country. Quite frankly, it's a history that's painfuly [sic] intertwined with lynching.
The literature on lynching frequently describes it as a symbolic act of castration; and sometimes lynch mobs literally castrated their victims. So what was Jackson thinking when he entertained this sick fantasy about Obama? Trice quotes Jackson's later explanation:
"My appeal was for the moral content of his message to not only deal with the personal and moral responsibility of black males, but to deal with the collective moral responsibility of government and the public policy which would be a corrective action for the lack of good choices that often led to their irresponsibility."
The logical chain connecting this thought to a fantasy of sexually mutilating a presidential candidate is not immediately obvious. Yet we're going to take a crack at teasing it out.
Jackson's comment reminded us of an article we clipped from a college newspaper during a racial kerfuffle in 1987. We ventured into our files and found the piece. We'll withhold the author's name to spare him any embarrassment, but here is the passage that stuck in our mind all these years:
"Racism is an attitudinally-based, psychosocial sickness. It is not limited in its manifestations to strictly overt acts such as cross burnings. Nor are those people whose vocabularies include words like "n-word" the only ones we can label racists. If you think a child being born in some inner-city public health facility this morning might one day become president, you are a racist.
If you think the people holding the power positions in America are not white-interested, you are a racist. If you close your eyes to social injustice, you are a racist."
This is very much of a piece with Jackson's criticism of Obama. The former faults the latter for emphasizing black men's personal responsibility as opposed to the "collective moral responsibility" of others who purportedly keep them down. Whatever Obama may think of this worldview, his own political success is a challenge to it.
In 2008, a black man is the leading candidate for president. If you had predicted this two decades ago, our collegiate scribbler would have called you racist. Plainly his idea of racism was something other than the classic definition, namely the belief in the innate superiority of certain races over others. In his view, to be a "racist," it was not necessary to believe that blacks are innately inferior. It was sufficient to believe that American society was capable of treating blacks fairly.
Conceptually, of course, there is a world of difference between believing in white supremacy as a fact of nature and believing (even if mistakenly) that white supremacy is the organizing principle of American society. Yet the spectacle of Jesse Jackson, in an unguarded moment, giving voice to fantasies of sexual violence against an accomplished black man suggests a deeper psychological kinship than one might have dared suspect between old-fashioned racism and the late-20th-century politics of racial grievance.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121570035107042699.html?mod=Best+of+the+Web+Today