“Two wrongs don’t make a right.” We’ve been taught this principle from generation to generation, from our ancestors that have endured slavery, Jim Crow segregation and legalized discrimination. We’ve been taught this principle from our civil rights movement, which focused on a non-violent response to violence against our people. However, it seems as though the practice of many today is to publicly denounce, chastise and rebuke someone who has made a mistake or simply erred in judgment for apparently self serving and self promoting motivations. When Rev. Jesse Jackson was exposed for making a statement regarding democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, it was in bad taste, poor judgment and reflective of a lapse in moral character. But the public rebuke of Rev. Jackson by some from our community is wrong because its only apparent motivation is to gain public attention for themselves at Rev. Jackson’s expense.
Why is it necessary to rebuke Rev. Jackson publicly? What purpose does it serve? Who benefits from it? Certainly, Rev Jackson does not benefit. Neither does our community benefit from the public airing of our disagreements. Nor is there a benefit to our common cause of combating the continuing institutionalized economic and social injustices when we engage in this form of public “bickering.” The only ones who seemingly benefit are those that seek to heighten their own profile by attacking the most well known international civil rights activist since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most prominent and outspoken critic of racism, discrimination and institutionalized injustices both nationally and internationally is Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Beginning in 1966 with SCLC’s economic arm, Operation Breadbasket, no other individual has consistently advocated for access to economic opportunities for African Americans more than Rev. Jackson. In the 1970s, Rev. Jackson began Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) to continue the economic objectives of Operation Breadbasket. Jackson continued to engage in activities purposed to improve the conditions of Black America through the 1980’s by running for president of the United States on a platform of social programs, voting rights and affirmative action for America’s citizens of color historically denied access to equality of opportunity.
In the 1984 democratic primary, Rev. Jackson earned 3.5 million votes, thus gaining considerable power and leverage in the Democratic Party and having the ability to influence the party platform. Rev. Jackson campaigned again for president in 1988, winning 6.9 million votes, proving that a Black Man can be a viable candidate for President of the United States. But more important than the number of votes Jackson won in the democratic primary election was the change in the Democratic Party’s primary election rules that resulted from Rev. Jackson’s strong showing. As a result of Rev. Jackson’s primary election wins, the Democratic Party decided to change how they award delegates to the current system of awarding a corresponding percentage of delegates based on the percentage of votes won by the respective candidates. Hmmm. It seems that Senator Barack Obama, and Black America owes the impending democratic presidential nomination, which was the closest primary win in the history of America to what Rev. Jesse Jackson was able to accomplish two decades ago.
Besides Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what other Black man in America has done as much for Black America...for America, as Rev. Jesse Jackson? And yet, he’s human, prone to mistakes, poor judgment and moral lapses, as all of us are. Isn’t it the weakness of our humanity that makes the accomplishments of Rev. Jackson even more incredible and significant? Considering now that Senator Barack Obama is on the verge of becoming the first Black American President of the United States, are we so quick to forget that it was those before Barack Obama, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson that paved the way for this historic event?
To Rev. Jackson: The path God has chosen for you is narrow, and few go in thereby. But you are one of our Black Prince’s that has stayed the course of justice on behalf of the oppressed. I dare not judge you for I will be judged more harshly. I dare not hate you, for I would then hate myself. I dare not publicly rebuke you, because I then allow those outside of my community to rebuke you, rebuke me, and rebuke us secretly. I dare not.
To our community: Let us prefer one another better than ourselves. Let us love one another as God loves us, with great mercy and everlasting forgiveness. Let us not judge one another knowing that God is our only judge. Let us lift one another up when they are weak, bearing one another’s burdens. Let us stand together during adversity so that we may rise together in victory. Let us once again be a community of self-respect, dignity and pride.
Eric Lee is president and CEO of SCLC of Greater Los Angeles.