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Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Sorry" - Mr. Jackson
Jesse Speaks Out to

It's been about a month since an unknowing Jesse Jackson was caught by Fox News speaking negatively about Senator Barack Obama after an interview. Jackson's comment, both off-color and offensive, has become the catalyst of several larger discussions on the growing intergenerational rift within the black community. For those of you who have not heard the actual audio, Jackson comments on a fleeting desire to castrate Obama, in more aggressive and less tactful language. Since then, Jackson has apologized for his comments, been reprimanded publicly by his son, and been "forgiven" by the Obama campaign.

The Obama camp, savvy enough to know that fueding amongst the upper echelons of Black society would not benefit his campaign, contained this "scandal" before it could spread out of control. Now, with the Democratic Convention only two weeks away, Jesse is speaking to Essence reporters Cynthia Gordy and Tasha Robertson about his faux pas, his support for Obama, and his take on the generational divide within the Black community. Here's a taste:

ESSENCE.COM: You make a good point about the job of the civil rights community. But many younger African-Americans have been complaining that the old guard civil rights leaders focus too much on African-Americans as victims rather than moving the race forward. What do you think about this point of view?

JACKSON: This “old guard, new guard” is an unhealthy division. Politics must be inter-generational. You need Barack on the one hand to talk, you need Charlie
Rangel, chair of House Ways & Means [Committee], and John Conyers, chair of our House Judiciary [Committee]. In politics you grow by adding and multiplying, not by subtracting and dividing. So “old guard vs. new guard” is not a healthy combination. The reality is that we achieved the right to vote, we achieved freedom, but we didn’t achieve equality, and that is the remaining civil rights work.

ESSENCE.COM: The rapper Nas and writer Kevin Powell, who is running for Congress in Brooklyn, have said that you particularly, and other civil rights leaders, are no longer relevant and need to step aside. How do you remain relevant to this newer generation?

JACKSON: The reality is that if you’re running for Congress, you need the votes of senior citizens. You need the votes of churches. You are not getting in Congress on a youth vote. That’s not the mass that you need to win a congressional seat. You need an intergenerational, multicultural coalition. And that experience cannot be thrown away. In Dr. King’s time, Dr. King was 34, but he reached out to A. Philip Randolph. It took both A. Philip Randolph and Dr. King in tandem to make the March on Washington take place.

ESSENCE.COM: Are you going to reach out to some in the younger generation to make them feel that you are relevant?

JACKSON: All you really can do is continue to serve. Who’s relevant and heroism is a matter of perception. You might take a certain hip-hop magazine—they should not say ESSENCE is not relevant; it’s just different. The divide is not the key to growth. The key to politics is growth, and if there’s growth, everybody wins.

ESSENCE.COM: Earlier on you made an argument about the need to push for social justice. A lot of these tend to get branded as “Black issues,” and some argue that Senator Obama, in particular, must tread carefully in that area, to be representative of all of America. What are your thoughts on that?

JACKSON: That’s what we did in the Rainbow Push Coalition campaign. We focused on family farmers and urban workers; a comprehensive health care plan for everybody; equal access to public education—that is a way to frame the debate. Some issues that are being pushed as “Black issues” are not. Affirmative action, for example, is not a Black issue; it’s a majority issue. Affirmative action is [a part of] Title 9 and affects majority white women. Even the voting rights struggle that has made Barack’s candidacy possible was always broader than just Black. When we went to Selma to vote in 1965, White women couldn’t serve on juries; farmers who couldn’t pay a poll tax couldn’t vote—that was not for Blacks only.

ESSENCE.COM: It’s interesting that you describe your platform as inclusive because oftentimes your presidential runs are framed as having been centered on Black people. And now Senator Obama is heralded as being very different from that—

JACKSON: We won Vermont, Alaska and Michigan because we reached out. What’s different today is not that Blacks have changed, but Whites have changed. Whites who once terrorized us and denied us the right to vote are now voting for us. Many Whites are maturing and becoming less insecure in the voting process. But we’ve been reaching out for a long time.

ESSENCE.COM: We’ve seen you champion African-American issues and fight against injustice. Many people simply want to know, when you mentioned the N-word in your off-air remarks about Obama last month—why? They want you to tell them, as an African-American, why did that happen?

JACKSON: It should not have happened. What was private talk became public controversy, and I am embarrassed by that. There is no virtue in that kind of talk, and it should always be discouraged. My appeal even then was that responsibility is a significant message, but our needs require real government intervention and private sector incentives to address the issues of unemployment, building affordable housing and making education more affordable, which really was my point. It was a very painful period for me to have gone through that. The good news is that it’s behind us now.

ESSENCE.COM: Have you talked to Obama about it?

JACKSON: Yes. As a matter of fact, he sent me a welcome to the convention and made credentials available to me. We’ve gone on to the next stage.

ESSENCE.COM: Your son disagreed with you (on the off-air comments). What do you think about your son’s comments? Is it further evidence of you not reaching a new generation?

JACKSON: Well, Jesse’s a co-chair of the campaign, and he’s also a congressman. He felt that pain of that too. He’s free to express himself, and it does not bother our relationship as father and son at all. He was taught to give his opinion in our household, and he did it in love. He’s tough, he’s smart. He has a future in politics. He didn’t want the impression to be that that my faux pas was his faux pas, because it was not. I respect his right to express himself.

ESSENCE.COM: As Senator Obama moves forward in the campaign, do you have any words of advice for him?

JACKSON: I think we have an outstanding candidate. We have the burden now to ully register and vote. There are still maybe 6 to 8 million Blacks unregistered who hould not miss this hour, this opportunity. Now that we have a who, let’s focus on the what. What is an urban policy that can begin a renewed commitment to educate our hildren and to employ adults and provide public health care? These are the issues he has embraced. We have a candidate who has a good grasp of the issues that matter. But the burden is upon us now to maximize registration and output.

To read the full interview, please visit "Jesse Jackson Speaks On Obama, Race, and the N-word ".

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