by Yvette Carnell
He’s a fiction of black people’s imagination. A reverend without a church. An activist without a conscience. A man who took the reins of power in New York while running an organization with only 200 or 300 members, while using manufactured outrages like the Tawana Brawley scam to gain publicity.
By now, black people should have come to terms with what a grave mistake we made by ever bestowing upon Sharpton the responsibility of leadership. He shouldn’t be trusted to take a horse to water, let alone lead a marginalized group in dire need of innovative solutions to entrenched and systemic racism. Yet, many black people in media are hitching their wagon to this crestfallen mob affiliate turned rat.
In NewsOne, Michael Arceneaux, who has had some insightful thoughts on the politics of respectability, offered us this cartoonish justification for why we should support “The Rev”:
I imagine some group of crotchety, conservative old White men gathering around a boardroom as one extra large fellow – probably petting a cat – says, “Don’t those Blacks hate when you help the ‘po-po?’ What do they call it? “Snitching?” Let’s set Sharpton up. Show his people that he’s a ‘snitch.’ That’ll teach him.” Then everyone laughs and we cut back to Sharpton at the dinner table eating fat back and collard greens out of a can ’cause times are hard.
This isn’t about collard greens or “crotchety” old white men sitting in smoke filled rooms plotting against the self-anointed reverend. This is about whether a poser, a man caught on camera negotiating a cocaine deal with an undercover FBI agent, is fit to lead Black America.
What matters more to me than who outed Sharpton is whether the picture being painted in these official documents is true. And judging from the fact that Sharpton has not once accused the government of falsifying documents, I’ll assume that they are. What I won’t do is fall into the trap of vindicationist black thought which supposes that black people should replace thoughtful analysis with knee jerk reactionary thinking. Arceneaux assumes that just because some white men somewhere in a room may have set this story in motion, black folk are supposed to rally around Sharpton.
In An American Dilemma, economist and sociologist Gunnar Myrdal observed the following:
Negro thinking is almost completely determined by white opinions–negatively and positively. It develops as an answer to the popular theories prevalent among whites by which they rationalize their upholding of caste. In this sense it is a derivative, or secondary, thinking. The Negroes do not formulate the issues to be debated; these are set for them by the dominant group. Negro thinking develops upon the presupposition of white thinking.
This is the trap Arceneaux falls into when assuming that we, black people, should base our assessment of Sharpton on whether or not it is part of a plot devised by white people.
Reporter Errol Louis falls into a less obvious trap with his CNN published piece, “Al Sharpton is No Rat”:
Whatever Sharpton’s reasons, he did society a favor by helping to expose the outright criminality that was prevalent in the music industry. For decades, crooks had a stranglehold on popular music, according to “Hit Men,” Frederic Dannen’s 1990, eye-opening book about the hoodlums, artists and executives who routinely resorted to blackmail, extortion, payola and outright violence as business tools.
Among the tales picked up on Sharpton’s wire was information on Morris Levy, a legend in the music business who owned nightspots, including Birdland, in New York, and the rights to scores of hit songs.
Wait a minute, when Criminal X turns on Criminal Y, does that make Criminal X any less of a criminal? No one is making the case that the information gathered by Sharpton during his years as a paid informant didn’t help put away some really bad guys. The question is whether Sharpton, caught on tape negotiating a deal for kilos of coke, was also himself a bad guy? The documents seem to show that he was a mob affiliate. Judging from the documents, Al Sharpton didn’t run to the FBI for help, he ran away from a prison sentence and into the arms of Fed.
And before you declare The Good Rev’s misdeeds forgiven since he works “for the people”, consider the scathing 2004 accusations made by Doug Ireland in L.A. Weekly:
Rev. Al has a long and sordid history of posing as the champion of the have-nots, while renting himself out to the greedy have-everythings, which predates his ’04 GOP-funded presidential campaign. In 1986, he endorsed N.Y. Senator Al D’Amato for re-election — although D’Amato, a conservative Republican pit bull, was anathema to more issues-attuned black leaders. In 1994, he helped dampen down the black vote for [Democratic] Governor Mario Cuomo by making a media-hyped appearance with successful conservative Republican candidate George Pataki just days before the election. In the 2001 New York mayoral campaign, he connived with GOP billionaire Michael Bloomberg in the defeat of the Democratic candidate, Mark Green.
But Sharpton has not limited himself simply to supporting candidates considered by most to be inimical to the interests of the impoverished black community. A 1988 investigation by the Long Island daily Newsday revealed that Sharpton, who denounces African-American leaders who disagree with him as “yellow n*****s,” had been a longtime FBI informant in a scheme to entrap black leaders and personalities on drug-related matters, even going so far as to wear a wire to record their conversations for the feds.
Sharpton’s rise to power has only benefited himself, the GOP, and his cronies, but never the African-American community. Sharpton is the main beneficiary of his self-appointment as race leader. It is also widely assumed that the Rev was shielded from tax evasion charges mainly because he was a useful tool in managing dissent in the black community. Now it seems that because he’s no longer as useful to the powers that be, he’s poised to take a fall. My advice: Let him. You’re only making a fool of yourself by defending a man who has made a fool of the black community for decades.