Jesse Jackson has spent his life in the trenches of the civil rights movement. He was there at the motel room in Memphis when the Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated. He’s put himself on the line for African Americans, and in so doing he has striven for the betterment of this country, whether or not some of its citizens want to be bettered. Nobody can take that away from him.
Unfortunately, Jesse has an Achilles heel. While in the midst of his soaring oratory, suffused with righteous zeal, he sometimes forgets that there is a line out there that shouldn’t be crossed. We’re not talking about an outside person telling him there’s a line, nor are we talking about infringing on his right of free speech. The knowledge of the existence of that line, a product of wisdom, should be in the toolbox of every passionate advocate for a cause.
Take the Rev. Jackson’s infamous “Hymietown” slur, for example. In his crude reference to New York City and its inhabitants, Jackson not only alienated an important group that could have helped his cause, but it made him look intolerant, a description that a civil rights crusader, of all people, might want to avoid. Even though he later apologized for his comment, there remain those who have found it impossible to forgive him.
Comparing Florida in 2013 to Alabama in the 1960s may play well with the choir surrounding Rev. Jackson, but I doubt it won over many of those who have no opinion about Stand Your Ground and whether it should be repealed.
If anything, Jackson’s unforced errors hand ammunition to those who accuse him of uttering inflammatory statements in order to serve himself, his ego and his image — rather than the noble cause that is so much larger than he.
We can’t get inside Jesse Jackson’s head to know where the true wellspring of his motives may lie, but if he has any genuine friends who care about him and his mission, they might want to have a word with him — if they aren’t afraid to.