Monday, July 12, 2010

Jesse Jackson Fouls Out on Lebron and Race

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Jesse Jackson should be slapped with a sixth foul and a fast ejection from the Lebron James game. Jackson should get the much deserved boot for shoving race into an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with race. Jackson likened Cleveland Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s much publicized open letter tirade against James for jumping ship in Cleveland to treating James as a “runaway slave.” Jackson’s race card sound bite would have gotten a splashy news note if he had stopped there. But Jackson couldn’t let it go at that. He demanded that the league chastise Gilbert for his James outburst. That’s hyperbole and neither Gilbert, the NBA, nor James bothered to dignify the inanity with a response.

Jackson didn’t bother to explain how a slave, let alone a runaway slave, can orchestrate their own media self-coronation. Or, how a slave can have the entire sports media genuflect in front of him, shove the BP spill, financial reform bill, and looming immigration reform debate, and the Oscar Grant shooting case verdict off the front page for a day. Nor did he say, how a slave can get a president, a slew of senators, and congresspersons, and Florida’s governor to gush on about the importance of James’s announcement. And certainly, no slave can turn an entire city (Miami) gaga over his decision to head their way, and stir excitement that he will create jobs, boost tourism, and business revenues to the tune of tens of millions dollars for an entire region.

The Jackson race play with James was more than a desperate grab to snatch a moment of media limelight. That could easily be flicked aside and forgotten. But Jackson is still regarded in some circles as the bellwether for black opinion. That’s not a good thing since much of the media is still profoundly conditioned to believe that all blacks think, act and sway to the same racial beat. They freely use the words and deeds of the chosen black leader as the standard for African-American behavior. When the beleaguered chosen one makes a real or contrived misstep, he or she becomes the whipping boy among many whites, and blacks are blamed for being rash, foolhardy, irresponsible and prone to shuffle the race card on every social ill that befalls them.

Jackson’s twist of the James flight from Cleveland into an issue of black victimization fits that bill. The issue in the James wildly inflated media overkill saga is the media’s insatiable thirst to make athletes and entertainers demi-gods, turn millions of fans and even the disinterested into celebrity peeping toms, and then cash in on the ratings surge (and of course increased advertising revenue) from the hype.

James understands how the media hype game is played, and simply elevated himself to a pedestal higher than the other athlete demi-gods with his self- celebratory ESPN special. To Jackson, these are all mere trifles. What counted was that he got a chance to pop off on the one and only issue that was guaranteed to get a dab of media ink, namely James and race. He deserves the bench for that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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