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ON US! Al Sharpton—one of our wisest observers—puts it where it belongs. Right on us: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2007

ON US: In the past decade, Al Sharpton has deepened and matured; he has become a truly brilliant, soulful observer. In part because he tends to express himself humorously—in part because of his early career—this fact is rarely observed by the mainstream press. But then again, this is a group which rarely notices anything.

Sharpton is one of our most insightful public figures. We thought of this again a few weekends ago, when we watched Tavis Smiley’s annual “State of Black America” conference (on C-SPAN). At one point, Sharpton described the toughest job a black minister has—preaching the funeral of an “unproductive” person. (Speaking humorously, he used the word “Negro.”) The audience laughed, very hard; Jesse Jackson looked at Sharpton and shook his head, seeming to marvel at his wit—and seeming to say that he’d been there. But Sharpton continued, and he made the point he makes at the end of this column from by Gene Robinson, a column found in this morning’s Post. Robinson asked Sharpton what lessons he drew from a new revelation; Sharpton’s great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton Sr., was once legally “owned” by a relative of Strom Thurmond:
ROBINSON (2/27/07): For Sharpton, learning his family history was a reminder of unspeakable cruelty and monumental injustice—but also a personal challenge.

"I think of my grandfather, the son of a slave, the son of a man who was bought and sold in that horrific manner, and my grandfather opened up a grocery store and took care of his family and raised 17 children," Sharpton said.

"That's what his generation did. Now what are we going to do? Are we a generation that wants to be defined by nothing more than using the n-word and having all this gangster attitude? This information doesn't just put the responsibility on society, it puts the responsibility on me. On us."
At Smiley’s conference, Sharpton drew this same lesson—and it took him from a big laugh to a long standing ovation. After noting how hard it is to find something to say at the funeral of an “unproductive” person, he told the audience that this puts it on them. Sharpton said: We have to make sure that our lives are productive. We can’t let some future preacher stand there with nothing to say.

This man is a brilliant public preacher.

In his comments in Robinson’s column, Sharpton is most explicitly speaking about a generation of African-Americans. But his words apply to “white” people too—to all of us, to all us Americans. What is our generation of Americans going to do? How do we plan to we deal with current situations which have proven so confounding?

As we read Sharpton’s statement this morning, we thought of a column we’d already read. We thought of this column by Richard Cohen, adjacent to Robinson’s in today’s Post. Dealing with Cohen’s tribe comes down on us. At THE HOWLER, we’ve described them as “Antoinettes.” Perhaps we should change that to “Thurmonds.”

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise, but Cohen’s column is almost shockingly disingenuous. But then, that’s a fundamental part of modern press culture—a culture our liberal “elites” don’t just refuse to discuss. Addressing that culture comes down on us; it means addressing the Dowds and the Matthewses. Are we a generation that wants to be defined by nothing more than having this bought-and-sold attitude? Over the course of the past fifteen years, the answer has seemed to be: Yes.

Addressing this cohort comes straight down on us. We’ll start with Cohen’s column tomorrow.