Jackson needs lesson in importance of diversity

November 16, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

Jesse Jackson wasn't giggling maliciously, but he was clearly quite proud of himself, announcing on a Black Entertainment Television show how his efforts at voter registration led to the defeat of Connecticut Congressman Gary A. Franks.

Franks was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. But he was also conservative, Republican and a supporter of Newt Gingrich. In Jackson's eyes, such a black man is intolerable. Such a man thinks. He's independent. He has his own mind. In short, he's a threat to traditional liberal black Democrats.

To hear Jackson and other black liberal Democrats tell it, Gingrich is the worst thing that has happened to African-Americans since the arch-racist Theodore Bilbo was elected to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi. Gingrich isn't, of course, which probably matters little to Jackson. When you need villains, you just dredge them up as best you can.

What exactly has Gingrich done to warrant being relegated to the lower rungs of the morality scale somewhere only a notch above a flasher? Being white, male, Republican and conservative surely doesn't help. And, truth be told, Newt has said some truly reprehensible things. His trying to make political mileage out of Susan Smith drowning her children and of a grisly Chicago murder come to mind.

But Jackson has uttered some genuinely stupid remarks himself. Need I remind anyone of his "Hymietown" crack during his 1984 presidential campaign? Or of his seeming support of the noxious concept of "rational discrimination," when he confessed he'd feel relief if he looked behind him and saw a group of white guys following him instead of black guys?

Jackson's problem with Gingrich -- and hence with Franks -- is strictly one of philosophy and ideology. While the liberal black Democrats bemoan the recently passed welfare reform bill and whine that it takes away the safety net, Gingrich, Franks and other conservatives realize that at some point folks do have to get off the net.

Which is why Franks' membership in the Congressional Black Caucus was so crucial. Somebody has to remind that distinctly liberal clique that their views on welfare just might be -- horror of horrors -- wrong.

Let's give liberal Democrats of all races their due. They've had their day. They managed to get civil rights legislation passed that allowed millions of blacks to move into the middle class and mainstream America. But there are blacks still trapped in poverty -- called the "black underclass," a term I detest -- who have not moved into the mainstream. When black conservatives, such as a Gary Franks or a Clarence Thomas, come along and suggest that maybe moving the black underclass into the mainstream might require methods and ideas that aren't so liberal, other African-Americans treat them like defectors.

The national black community's collective back of the hand to black Republicans and conservatives is getting downright worrisome. There can be white Republicans and white Democrats, apparently, but no such division among blacks. How and when did black Americans come to this backward way of thinking?

It didn't occur in 1960, when renowned baseball player Jackie Robinson supported Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy in the presidential election. Both Robinson's wife, Rachel, and daughter Sharon in separate biographies claimed Robinson supported Nixon because Democrats even then took the black vote for granted and blacks needed leverage in both political parties.

That's as true today as it was in 1960. Unfortunately, level-headed black leadership like Robinson's is fast PTC disappearing. In today's climate, Robinson, if he were still alive, would be called an Uncle Tom for advocating genuine bipartisanship among blacks. Although I doubt anyone would call him an Uncle Tom to his face.

Sharon Robinson says her father "taught me to not fear dissent and to welcome opposing opinions." It sounds like a lesson Jackson and other liberal black Democrats need as well. Jackson's crowing about the unseating of Franks shows that he and others do not welcome opposing views and diversity within the Congressional Black Caucus in particular and among blacks in general.

My heavens! Talk about scratching a liberal and getting a fascist.

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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