Last word on Sister Souljah-Clinton-Jackson flap


June 18, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Here's the bottom line on the flap at the Rainbow Coalition's convention last weekend: Bill Clinton was mostly right, but not entirely.

Jesse Jackson was mostly wrong, but not egregiously so.

And Sister Souljah may have made one or two good points, but most of her remarks were so silly and misinformed that anything good she may have said was rendered entirely irrelevant.


Good! You're supposed to be confused, because the real problem here is that we keep asking the wrong people the wrong questions at the wrong time.

Blacks often complain that the media choose inappropriate people to be our leaders and spokespersons.

You will never get a better example of that than this.

Question: What do you get when you ask a twentysomething rap singer to make profound pronouncements on complex, difficult, sensitive and extremely important issues of national importance?

Answer: Confusion, silliness and very, very little wisdom.

Welcome to the age of silliness.

Shortly after the Los Angeles riots last month, the Washington Post went scurrying to Sister Souljah and other rap performers in search of wisdom and profundity, apparently on the theory that rap performers had "predicted" such outbreaks of urban rage in their music.

Never mind that older and wiser heads had made similar predictions for decades. Our society is tired of hearing from the Benjamin Hookses and the Jesse Jacksons, tired of debating with men of intelligence and experience who refuse to allow us the comfort of thinking that race, economic inequality and other problems have gone away.

It is far more comfortable to interview youngsters and let them chatter on and then attack whatever thoughtless nonsense comes out of their mouths.

In her interview with the Post, Sister Souljah proved the perfect patsy.

The Post asked the rapper if the violence that occurred during the L.A. riots was wise.

"Yeah, it was wise," answered Sister Souljah, according to a partial transcript of the interview published by the paper yesterday.

"I mean if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people. . . . Do you think that somebody thinks that white people are better or above or beyond dying when they would kill their own kind?"

When the interviewer pressed her on the issue, Sister Souljah responded, "It's rebellion, it's revenge. . . . You take something from me, I take something from you. You cut me, I cut you. You shoot me, I shoot you. You kill my mother, I kill your mother."

Sister Souljah claims she was trying to explain the mindset of L.A. gang members, but if so, she blew it. The most generous interpretation of her remarks was that she was wishing out loud that the rioters had chosen to target whites rather than destroying their own neighborhood.

All things considered, then, Clinton was right to take issue with Sister Souljah's remarks.

He was right to warn that she sounded dangerously like David Duke -- although there is an important difference. Duke is a middle-aged elected official who aspired to higher office while Sister Souljah is no more nor less than a hitherto obscure young rap singer asked to comment on issues way beyond her ken.

Nevertheless, she did receive a four-column picture on the front of the Post's Style section. She was invited by Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition to share her wisdom with the young. I suppose that makes her a Post-appointed black leader.

This leads to the Rainbow Coalition's decision to invite Sister Souljah to its convention in the first place.

Try as I might, I cannot convince myself that coalition leaders were so impressed by Sister Souljah's views that they felt compelled to expose her to their youth group -- each member of which had already shown superior political astuteness just by participating in the convention.

No, I suspect the Rainbow Coalition was far more impressed by the celebrity implied by that four-column picture in the Post.

And those leaders also may have been just a teensy bit intimidated by Sister Souljah's assertion during the interview that she and her fellow rappers are more in touch with the rage of the inner city than anyone else.

The adult response to such a boast would have been, "So what? Come back when you're in touch with something more substantial than the rage of looters."

But alas, the hazard of being high and mighty is that you lose common sense.

Therefore, Jackson and the coalition deserved to be embarrassed, if for no other reason than for letting the Post determine their guest list for them.

But in the scheme of things, we are talking about a relatively small error on Jackson's part. After all, the youths involved in the Rainbow Coalition generally are intelligent enough not to be seduced by Sister Souljah's 15 minutes of celebrity.

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