It was a stupid mistake. A hurtful verbal gaffe that insulted African-Americans almost as much as a 1984 remark insulted Jews.
Just as he was to arrive in Indianapolis to kickoff the 38th Indiana Black Expo, Rev. Jesse Jackson uttered a phrase heard around the world, making Black folks livid and causing heads to shake worldwide.
Jackson has been interviewed on TV and radio more times than there are stars in the sky. Like me, he knows that once you’re in front of a microphone, like “Law and Order,” anything you say could be used against you.
So why, sitting in a Fox News Network studio, given Fox’s proclivity to be biased against African-Americans in general and Black leaders in particular, would Jackson diss Sen. Barack Obama saying he’d do major surgery on his genitals.
Jackson’s insensitive remark lit a firestorm in Black communities nationwide including here where Jackson went non-stop from sunrise apologizing for his gaffe to national and local media.
In the 90 minutes before arriving on our WTLC-AM (1310) “Afternoons with Amos,” callers lit up the airwaves with strong denunciations of the country preacher. This from a community that for years loyally supported Jackson.
When he spoke at Expo’s Ecumenical Service there were scores of empty seats. This may be because of Jackson’s blunder or a continuation of reduced attendance since the service moved to Thursdays several years ago.
Speaking with Jackson, I equated the emotional bond Blacks feel towards Sen. Obama to the bond Chicago’s Blacks felt in the 1983 campaign of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor.
While Jackson agreed, he said that “while they (Indianapolis) just got to know Barack Obama, I’ve known him for 20 years,” explaining that his son Jesse Jr. and Barack have been close for years; that his daughter Santina went to school with Michelle Obama.
Yet, Jesse Jackson Jr. fiercely condemned his father’s insensitive remarks leading many to wonder if the elder Jesse is jealous of Obama’s success or is a reflection of a generational gap between the lions of the civil rights movement and those leaders born after the movement began.
I’ll leave that psychoanalysis to Dr. Alvin Poussaint.
I will say having been behind the curtain with Rev. Jackson with over 27 years of Indianapolis visits, I can testify that Jesse is sometimes earthy and “street.” If he was a “rookie” doing TV interviews, I might excuse the gaffe, but given his years behind a mike, I can’t.
Keeping Hope Alive also means keeping respect alive, not trash talking under one’s breath into an open mike about the Black man who might become President of the United States.
What I’m hearing in the streets
I’m sure it wasn’t because of this column’s criticisms, but last week, Mayor Greg Ballard’s PR folks noticeably stepped up their game as media received more details than ever on the mayor’s public appearances. Press secretary Marcus Barlow even issued a breathless update informing media the mayor was on his way to a homicide site for a press conference.
Also, the Indianapolis Star agrees with me about the mayor’s lack of visibility saying in a Sunday editorial that “the mayor needs to be more visible and vocal.” That includes talking to and engaging the African-American community.
Meanwhile, this column and our community wondered what Mayor Ballard’s visibility would be at Indiana Black Expo. To some’s surprise, the mayor was highly visible at Expo’s first four major events, plus the Peace in the Streets downtown rally.
Mayor Ballard’s appearance at Thursday’s Ecumenical Service came just minutes after he’d been told an Indianapolis Metro Police officer had been gravely wounded. In his brief remarks, an emotional Mayor Ballard said he’d come from an event at IPS School 15 and saluted IPS Superintendent Eugene White and said, “I’m tired of locking people up. I want to concentrate on education.” When he told those at Light of the World Church that he had to leave because of the police officer’s shooting, Mayor Ballard’s voice broke with great emotion.
It was a side of Mayor Ballard no one expected to see. And it was appropriate given the feeling of the moment. (As I write this Patrolman Jason Fishburn continues to fight for life under an induced coma with grievous head wounds).
The mayor also attended the Unite2Fight Prostate Cancer walk/run, Expo’s Dance Diaspora gala and unveiled his minority business initiatives at Monday’s Mayor’s Business Breakfast.
With expected remarks at Thursday’s Corporate Luncheon and probable weekend visit to the Exhibit Hall, Mayor Ballard’s Black Expo visibility is comparable to Mayors Hudnut and Peterson. A visibility that will be positively noticed by our African-American community.
Two of Indianapolis’ most experienced, dedicated African-American female professionals have been cashiered by two major Indianapolis institutions — thus raising questions about how serious those institutions are to hiring quality, veteran African-American professionals. And there are concerns about the commitment of those institutions to the Black community when such institutional memory of our community is let go.
One of the veteran Black professionals is an acknowledged leader in her industry, respected nationwide. The other is a veteran Black female professional whose work for a number of important and critical Indianapolis businesses and institutions has been heralded and exemplary for years.
For now, I’ll refrain from more specifics about where these sistahs worked. Other than to say one worked for a major male-dominated Indy institution that’s been troubled lately. The other worked for a perceived elitist institution located in an upscale park setting wholly surrounded by Black-majority neighborhoods.
(But, if you see me around Black Expo this weekend ask and I’ll tell you).
Rev. C.V. Jetter, the longtime pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church and president of the Concerned Clergy died last week. An unsung yet important lion of our African-American community, Rev. Jetter’s leadership of Concerned Clergy helped solidify that group as a positive force for Indianapolis.
Above all, Rev. Jetter was a great preacher, strong in his faith in God and love of Jesus. He’d often settle arguments at Concerned Clergy meetings, bringing egos to heel by quoting scripture and invoking God’s Word.
My deepest sympathies to Rev. Jetter’s family, his church and the many who found God and faith through him.
See ‘ya next week.
Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915 or by e-mail at ACBROWN@AOL.COM.