Outrage Misdirected at Sister Souljah


July 11, 1992|By GARLAND L. THOMPSON

So many people wrote about Sister Souljah and Bill Clinton, on and off the record, that the issue merits revisiting.

Tom R. Kovach, of Nevis, Minn., wrote that ''people in the black community, especially black leaders like Jesse Jackson, after years of whining and blaming everything that is wrong in their community, are now anxious to push this nation into a race war.''

Interesting point, Mr. Nevis, but I can't see how you got there. Black Americans since Reconstruction have complained about the flouting of their rights as citizens, job discrimination, lack of access to education, housing and medical care. During the 19th century, black agitation was a key component in the push for universal public education. That was a benefit for the nation, not a push toward race war.

Moreover, the discrimination about which Jesse Jackson rails is not a reflection of things wrong in the black community. It is an outgrowth of wrong-headed, anti-American attitudes in the larger community. Keeping quiet about that will not help end bad behavior.

B. J. Small, of Baltimore, asks whether I'll apologize for my last column. Nope. Not at all.

Sister Souljah has demonstrated in numerous public appearances that she can defend herself quite well against questioners seeking to trap her into outlandish statements. So I'll stand by my comment about her intelligence.

What fell through the cracks in reportage of the incident is that during Sister Souljah's appearance before a Rainbow Coalition conference on inner-city youth, Mr. Jackson took her on point for point. His two sons had asked him to invite Sister Souljah, but they and he then disputed the content and the tone of her remarks. Reports are that Mr. Jackson actually persuaded the fiery young rapper that more could be accomplished by working within the system than by attacking from without. Mr. Clinton, who appeared the next day, made no reference to that debate.

The point here, for Mr. Small and for others, is that the bandwagon so many people jumped on to criticize Jesse Jackson was headed down the wrong street. Freedom of expression means openness of debate. The turnaround in which Sister Souljah found herself agreeing with Mr. Jackson about the best ways to push for progress could not have happened had she not been invited to speak. Not only did she get a chance to test her rhetoric against the perceptions of a live audience of her peers, she heard a rebuttal that moderated her views.

As I wrote to another reader, Monte Schwartzwalder of Baltimore, that is the value of such forums. It still won't prevent anyone from criticizing Sister Souljah, but it does mean that criticism of Mr. Jackson for having her there was entirely off the mark.

Aaron Simon, also of Baltimore, asks where I ''get the idea that Jesse Jackson is an individual to whom homage must be paid before a man can be elected president of the United States.''

When that individual has invited the man who would be the Chief to speak to the individual's followers, I think that man does owe some homage. When that man wants Jesse Jackson to put his eloquence and his credibility on the line urging blacks to support him, I think he's proposing a bargain that mandates even more homage. Finally, when that man uses Sister Souljah as a shadow target to show he can ''stand up'' to Mr. Jackson and, by extension, anything Mr. Jackson might say about what other blacks want from the political arena, I say with conviction that more is owed than mere homage.

Getting back to Sister Souljah, it is strange to see such outrage over her hyperbolic protest, but so little expended correcting the social ills she decries.

Or did we all sleep through a major upheaval when that University of Chicago report on ''hyper-segregation'' came out? U.S. housing is not segregated by accident. Black leaders since the days of the First Harlem Development Co. have complained about real estate agents' ''steering'' or refusing to sell prospective black homeowners houses in neighborhoods determined to keep them out. Some of the earliest civil rights cases deal with such segregation.

But it took a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by the Atlanta Constitution to demonstrate the extent to which the banking industry collaborates in keeping red lines drawn for segregation. Johns Hopkins researcher Annie Schley has uncovered similar bias in home mortgage lending by financial institutions in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Maybe I missed it when the nation rose in outrage over the Urban Institute's two-track test of Washington-area employment agencies showing that whites still get better treatment than better-qualified blacks in the hiring hall.

Here are good targets for some of the outrage misdirected at Sister Souljah. Or is the shibboleth of ''hatred'' being thrown at her merely a way of looking past the intolerance that everyone knows black Americans must deal with every day?

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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