“We are majoring in minor things in our community,” said Rev. Al Sharpton flatly.
On his daily radio talk show Keepin It Real with Al Sharpton, the omnipresent preacher kept it real. Really real. Shaprton dedicated three hours of his 22 hours of weekly broadcast time to a subject that has crossed many minds in the Black community. That is: that Blacks spend too much time focused on entertainment and other trivia than on important issues affecting their lives. Those issues include money, personal finance and voting.
“Anytime you have more people that know more about Kim Kardashon and Kanye West than their own kids there is something wrong with that,” Sharpton said. “I know many people who can give me more [info] about the latest on what they’re doing — about Kanye — than who their daughter is dating. That is sick,” he concluded.
Interestingly, an entertainer, James Brown, played a key role in Sharpton’s life. But unlike what is seen and heard in entertainment currently, the Godfather of Soul often carried a heavy political message in his work. That sensibility is now missing in the music Brown invented — rap and hip-hop — 25 years after social conscious artists such as Public Enemy hit their stride.
But perhaps worse than that, Sharpton wondered out loud if the community now uses entertainment as an escape.
“James Brown had a song called “Escapism”, Sharpton noted. “Are we in escapism? And is it better to talk about Rosa Parks and Dr. King and back in the day,” instead of what we have to do now? he challenged the audience.
Sharpton’s observations may not be new, but they come at a particularly crucial time for Black Americans. Though the first African American president was elected four years ago in a major historic achievement, the legal and fiscal challenges are mounting and the issues require a level of attention that not even presidential power can fix.
The Big Rollback? The Supreme Court is currently considering two cases that may likely be the end of affirmative action. Simultaneously, the Roberts Court is considering a case, Shelby County v. Holder, that could mean the end of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Three days ago, Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell continued a trend over 30 other states have already worked on: Enacting restrictive new voter ID laws that make it more difficult for people to vote. A rollback of legislative gains won during the civil rights era would appear to be well underway.
Additionally, the largest wealth gap in 20 years between blacks and whites as a result of the foreclosure crisis is damaging the community. The Black unemployment rate, which in 2011 featured the highest Black unemployment rate in 28 years — 16.7 percent — has been a persistent problem as has the Black male dropout crisis.
But in a culture driven by celebrity, entertainment gossip, bling and distraction, there is an open question as to whether the type of political mobilization required to meet the challenges of those issues is possible. The entertainment and media industry thrive and profit from ads that celebrity culture drives.
“Do you think that African Americans have a realistic understanding of where we are in terms of today’s present conditions or challeges or are we in denial?” Sharpton asked his audience.
Many of Sharpton’s callers during the three hour show agreed. “I agree with you absolutely. We’re more focusing on the cars the house and clothes and our kids are running wild,” said Mark in Cleveland.
“We’re the only ones that fight one time and think it’s over — no, you fight and you keep fighting until you maintain that,” Sharpton concluded.