Al Sharpton is likable enough. I discovered this when we appeared together on a television program and was taken aback by this polite, affable individual. The man inside those expensive suits seemed strangely at odds with his public wrapper.
I chalked up his bombastic rhetoric and incendiary speeches to show business. Nothing more.
Now his show is losing its appeal, and he seems lost. Sharpton has painted himself into a corner, and nowhere was that more evident than during last weekend’s dueling rallies on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.
Sharpton’s rally, “Reclaim the Dream,” was attended by a few thousand, while Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally was attended by several hundred thousand.
One was respectful, reverent, prayerful as Beck, a Mormon, urged the crowd to turn back to God. The other rally, led by Sharpton, a minister with no formal religious training, was marked by hatred and revenge. The signs held by the marchers at the Sharpton rally told the story. Most were directed at Beck and Sarah Palin, calling them “racists” and suggesting that they go and burn in a place of eternal damnation. One that caught my eye read, “Hey Teabaggers (a pejorative term), don’t defecate on the Dream!”
Sharpton told this crowd, “They want to disgrace this day. This is our day and we ain’t giving it away.” Sharpton’s long run in the spotlight is largely due to his chameleon-like qualities. He can turn on a dime. Sharpton tried to walk back that damning statement when he spoke with Bill O’Reilly on Monday by explaining that he was just cautioning the crowd not to get involved should they encounter any of the angry (there weren’t any) Beck crowd. Sure!
Sharpton’s unspoken message was, “How dare they hold a rally on this date. It belongs to me and my friends who make a living by holding onto the injustice of the past. We are never going to admit that things have changed and that we live and go to school and work and play as one nation under God. We want you to keep operating as oppressed people. You can’t make it on your own. You need the federal government to take care of you, and you need us to advocate on your behalf.”
Fortunately, most people of color know Sharpton’s message is hollow. While the Beck rally was mostly white, I think it is fair to say there was more diversity at his rally than at the Sharpton rally, even though Secretary Arne Duncan urged the more than 4,000 employees of the Department of Education in a Castroesque e-mail to attend Sharpton’s rally.
Let’s face it. Most people of color would rather stay home than face ad hominem attacks from those who brand anyone who refuses to play the black victim as an “Uncle Tom.” Who wants or needs all that grief?
It would be foolish to believe that we have – or ever will – eliminate the last racist among us. It would be equally foolish to believe we have eliminated all forms of discrimination against women. Those who discriminate are little people, and we have to move beyond them, not get stuck in the past as Sharpton has, no matter how lucrative it may be.
Although Beck may not be the perfect messenger, I applaud his efforts to unite us – and if Sharpton is an honest man, he will see the light and do the same.
The civil-rights movement belongs to no group or individual. The Declaration of Independence plainly states our individual rights come from the “Creator.” Our Constitution begins, “We the people,” not “We the minorities.”
Has Sharpton ever come to the aid of a poor white male who failed to get into college, even though he had the grades, because he was not a member of a favored minority group?
Isn’t this what Dr. King had in mind when he said he looked forward to the day when people were not judged by “the color of their skin but by the content of their character”?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was part of Dr. King’s dream, leveled the playing field. It outlawed all forms of discrimination in voting, education, employment and public accommodation. It did not attempt to guarantee anyone or any group an end result. The only way a government can ultimately achieve that is by force. Is that what Sharpton really wants?
Our government is not perfect, but it has provided the people of this country the greatest opportunities and the highest standard of living in the world. It is time Sharpton and his friends admit this and move on.