September 19, 2007

Jesse Jackson: Obama 'Acting Like He's White'

One of the sillier memes of this political season has been whether Barack Obama is "black enough" for African-American support. Jesse Jackson has chimed into the debate, but not on the side one might expect. The former presidential candidate told South Carolina voters that Obama acts like a white man because he doesn't make a bigger issue of the Jena case in Louisiana (via Hot Air):

Jackson sharply criticized presidential hopeful and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for “acting like he’s white” in what Jackson said has been a tepid response to six black juveniles’ arrest on attempted-murder charges in Jena, La. Jackson, who also lives in Illinois, endorsed Obama in March, according to The Associated Press.

“If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,” Jackson said after an hour-long speech at Columbia’s historically black Benedict College.

“Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment,” said the iconic civil rights figure, who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1965 Selma civil rights movement and was with King at his 1968 assassination.

The question of whether Jena really represents a "defining moment" in the same way Selma was seems less than compelling. The issues surrounding Jena are a lot less clear-cut than Selma or the rest of the civil-rights cases in the 1960s and before, at least in terms of whether the case hinges on racism at all and whether that racism is built into the government or the result of the racism of individuals. Obama could be complimented for not blowing Jena out of proportion, or at least waiting to see what the facts dictate, rather than giving into perhaps unfounded public rage.

However, the fact that Obama has not exploited the incident for his own political gain makes Jackson think he's "acting white". Do the rest of the African-American community concur in this analysis? Does Jesse speak for them when he says that black people have less authenticity when they act carefully, rationally, and thoughtfully? I don't think that characterization fairly represents the black communities in the US, although it apparently applies to people like Jackson and Al Sharpton.

And as Allahpundit asks, what would the reaction be from Jackson and Sharpton if someone accused Hillary Clinton of "acting like she's black"? The media would immediately shower condemnation and calumny on anyone who dared utter those words, for good reason. It irrationally injects race into political debates. It's the old Uncle Tom/house slave argument proferred by luminaries such as Harry Belafonte to insult people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas for their accomplishments, and for daring to posit that race doesn't sit at the heart of all politics.

These kinds of remarks are designed to divide communities and exploit racial tensions for no one's benefit except the speaker's. Jackson sees the rise of Obama as a threat to his own position as a media-selected leader of the black community and wants to attack him as insufficiently authentic to protect his own turf. He's a demagogue, and the media that overlooks comments like this and "Hymietown" are complicit in his demagoguery.


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The Reverend knows that race is more than skin deep, and the issues are much more complex than the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. Since I am white, of course, I am not qualified to say much on this one. A black man that acts like he is white boils ... [Read More]

Jesse Jackson’s best option would be to shut up. He has proven it again by accusing Barack Obama of acting white because he didn’t say enough about the Jena 6 issue: Jackson sharply criticized presidential hopeful and Illinois Sen. Barack ... [Read More]

Comments (36)

Posted by coldwarrior415 | September 19, 2007 10:26 AM

Leave it to Jackson to play the race card, all the time, every time.

He speaks for no one...except himself.

Posted by Teresa | September 19, 2007 10:46 AM

I liked Andrew Sullivan's comment after watching Obama give a speech on tax reform yesterday:

If Obama gets no further than his current rut (I suspect he'll surpass it later in the fall), he will nonetheless have achieved something remarkable. Here is a credible, serious African-American candidate for president boring an audience on tax reform. The days of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton dominating African-American politics and visibility are gone.

Posted by FedUp | September 19, 2007 10:56 AM

I'm so glad Jesse didn't disappoint me! I agree that he and Awful Sharpton are not the movers and shakers that they think they are,but they still have the ability to stir up trouble!

Posted by jaseme | September 19, 2007 11:03 AM

Thanks for the article am African in America. The truth is as much we need people like Jesse jackson to counter some racial prejudices in the society he should understand, that using racial tension for one gains is a heinous crime in a society. where does he live? why cant he come out on black vs black violence..?I do think obama's rise is a threat to the self proclaimed civil rights leaders like jesse jackson and al sharpton who are using the black community for there personal agenda. Obama running for president whether he wins or not has shed alot of truth on this hypocrisy.
Go Barack

Posted by Okonkolo | September 19, 2007 11:24 AM

Jesse Jackson has been a media whore for some time now (his belated rush to Terri Schiavo's bedside was one of many pathetic grandstanding acts), missing his former glory.

Posted by coldwarrior415 | September 19, 2007 11:24 AM

Interesting observation of a friend of mine recently. Obama is NOT running as a Black candidate for the Presidency. He is running as an American from Illinois.

I do not agree with his platform, I will not vote for him. But I have to admire that he is running, and has elevated a good deal of the discourse to a higher level and has abandoned the victomology of so many in the Black community, and has quited himself in the manner of a traditional American. In that alone he stands head and shoulder many many times higher than Jackson or Sharpton. In that is his appeal to many many Americans of a wide diversity of stripes. Win or lose his run for the White House, he has won already for himself and the Black community so much more.

Posted by Sensible Mom | September 19, 2007 11:34 AM

To put it simply, Jesse Jackson is jealous because Obama is getting more attention than him and has made it farther with his presidential aspirations that Jackson ever did or ever will.

Posted by Alex | September 19, 2007 11:53 AM

Maybe I'm just slow, but what is "Jena case in Louisiana" and how is it less clear cut than Selma.

Please understand, I'm not a troll; however I will admit to being (obviously) clueless on this.

Thank you.

Posted by burt | September 19, 2007 11:58 AM

Acting white is clearly a far greater crime than acting like an extortionist which Jackson does on occasion.

Posted by Jack Okie | September 19, 2007 12:46 PM

I just started looking at the Jena situation this morning. From the sources I found so far (no clue as to their objectivity yet), a brawl erupted at Jena High School (town of about 3,000 population in SC) because the white students considered the shade tree in front of the school to be only for whites to congregate under, several black students challenged that custom, and a brawl ensued. Apparently there had been other attacks by white students on black students away from school where nothing was done. Also, apparently some of the blacks in Jena are refugees from Katrina. The DA charged some of the black students with attempted murder. One was convicted by an all-white jury,and was due to be sentenced when a state appeals court threw out the conviction. People from places like Durham, NC (!) are organizing buses to go to Jena in solidarity with the black students.

From what I have seen so far, the DA seems to be a disciple of Nifong, only playing the other side of the race card.

If the facts are as found so far (again, I have just scratched the surface and can't vouch for this being an accurate account), a terrible injustice is being attempted - as bad as the Duke case. Hopefully the blogosphere can get to the facts.

Posted by Jack Okie | September 19, 2007 12:57 PM


Do you find it ironic that Jackson is accusing a man who is half white of "acting like he is white"? Or that the half white, half black Obama is so neatly slotted as "African American"? At what point do we decline to identify someone as "African American"? One fourth Negro, one eighth Negro,...? Shall we bring back the classifications like mulatto, quadroon, octoroon? Some of us in this country seem as obsessed with race as any South Carolinian bigot in 1855.

Posted by Paul A' Barge | September 19, 2007 1:02 PM

If you were white and lived in Jena, and had several black boys coming after you, you would have a view of the situation in LA different from Jesse Jackson.

Posted by John | September 19, 2007 1:08 PM

The basic facts of the Jena case are that a group of black students picked a white student out, at random, and then almost beat the kid to death, in school, because he was white.

One conviction was thrown out because the assailant was 16 at the time of the attack and was wrongly charged as an adult. However, the other 5 were all 17 at the time and thus correctly charged as adults.

The apparent position of Jackson (and others) is that, if one white person commits an act of generic racial intimidation (hanging a noose from a tree in the schoolyard), it is then legitimate for any blacks to attack any whites they may come across.

Obama, for his part, has one very clear interest-- becoming President of the United States. Openly calling for racial attacks on whites is probably a less than optimal approach for accomplishing his goals and, therefor, Obama would have to be irrational to follow Jackson's advice.

Posted by John | September 19, 2007 1:20 PM

Has Jesse come to OJ's defense yet? If he does I am going to Taze myself (if that's legal in Minnesota).

Posted by Barnestormer | September 19, 2007 1:34 PM

What does it even mean to "act like he's white?" Is it a major racial felony? How does it rank alongside say, BEING white? (Maybe it's a lesser included offense).

Was it Cheech Marin who, when challenged for having mellowed from his prior radical, hell-raising past, explained: "That was in the 60s--when I was Black."

Posted by Bizarre comment | September 19, 2007 1:45 PM

Do the rest of the African-American community concur in this analysis? Does Jesse speak for them

Why do you presume there is such a "community" to be spoken on behalf of?

Posted by John | September 19, 2007 1:55 PM

Now that you mention it, I have begun to wonder if Mitt, Fred and Rudy are 'white' enough. Hmm...

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 19, 2007 2:11 PM

Inherent in Jackson's statement are two thoughts:
a) "white" culture is inferior because it tolerate racism against blacks.
b) "white" culture is not to be emulated.

A culture is that method of socialization which is practiced by the majority of the people of a given ethnos.

Hence, Jackson manages to hit two birds with one stone:
a) Obama, because he attempts to emulate the inferior culture which hates people who look like him; therefore Obama is a self-hater.
b) The rest of us, because we happen, by accident of birth, to be a member of the culture Jackson dispises.

Or is it three birds? The statement, as the Captain points out, says a lot about Jackson himself.

Personally, the Jena 6 did something pretty nasty. As to what crime they committed, I'm unsure (I have little idea of what is needed for an "attempted murder" charge in Louisiana, or what differentiates that charge against lesser or greater charges). As to whether they should be tried as adults or children is unsure (I actually don't like that distinction because all laws are interpreted in the frame of the mind of the person committing the crime, and childhood is generally associated with an undeveloped sense of right and wrong, which I'm not sure was undeveloped in the case of these six young adults). Listening to the community around the Jena Six, you'd think that what they did was no big deal -- that they were correct in using offensive to defend against verbal racism. Is it?

Posted by carol k | September 19, 2007 2:52 PM

Saying someone is “acting white” is a racist statement, is it not? It is no surprise to me that a race-monger like Jackson would say it. I would ask of anyone making a statement like that to define what exactly “acting white” means, and then tell us all what it means to “act black”. As a minority myself, these types of BS blanket statements make me sick.

In some public schools in NYC today, minority kids who get good grades are chastised by their peers for "acting white". I know this from my nieces' experiences.

So Jesse, why don't you define for these poor screwed up kids, who think acting like a minority means acting like a failure, what does it mean to "act black"? Better yet, why don't you just shut the f$*k up altogether?

Posted by Jack Okie | September 19, 2007 3:10 PM


I had a feeling I was finding only slanted coverage of the Jena situation. Could you possibly post a link or two to factual stories about the case?


Posted by Gordon Schumway | September 19, 2007 3:17 PM

At least Jesse Jackson is half right.


Posted by Carol Herman | September 19, 2007 3:30 PM

This is like watching a game of SCRABBLE. Now what words can you add to, to make Jesse Jackson's tiles a bigger play?

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | September 19, 2007 5:16 PM

If you were white and lived in Jena, and had several black boys coming after you, you would have a view of the situation in LA different from Jesse Jackson.

Whatever you think the "Jena Six", its best to tread extremely lightly -- as one account put it, "The District Attorney, Reed Walters, was called in to directly address black students at the school and told them all he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen."

There has been apparently a lot of bad blood, and the surrounding facts -- the "whites only" tree, the nooses, the words from the DA above -- ought to disquiet anyone thinking Jesse Jackson is trying to pull a Tawana Brawley, or that the "Jena Six" are just "nasty."


Posted by Mikey NTH | September 19, 2007 5:39 PM

Jesse is acting exactly like the French General Staff in 1940 - he is ready to fight the last war. The civil rights era was fifty-forty years ago. The conditions on the ground are different then, both in Louisiana and the rest of the USA. Compared to his influence in the 1980's he is near irrelevant now.

Posted by burt | September 19, 2007 7:27 PM

carol k
"In some public schools in NYC today, minority kids who get good grades are chastised by their peers for "acting white". I know this from my nieces' experiences."

I believe that usage is the origin of the phrase. I have heard the phrase used in various places for decades. It is an awful way to treat ones peers who would better themselves.

Posted by capitano | September 19, 2007 8:02 PM

Posted by burt | September 19, 2007 7:27 PM

carol k
"In some public schools in NYC today, minority kids who get good grades are chastised by their peers for "acting white". I know this from my nieces' experiences."

That's exactly how I read the headline: "Is Jesse upset because Obama got good grades in school?"

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 19, 2007 9:36 PM

Mikey NTH,

The situation on the ground in Jena is not substantially different from 40 years ago.

We just had two lynchings (one by black kids and one by a white jury) to prove that.

The polarization is obviously still there. Putting nooses on a tree says it all. Sad that the tree had to die to end it, but people frequently pick the wrong target.

Given what was said and done, it sounds a lot like Santa Monica High School out here in LA (which, incidentally, had a race riot a couple of years ago and was locked down as a result). My children who went there indicate that, while classes are fully integrated, defacto segregation takes place on the schoolyard and the cafeteria -- each ethnos has their congregation spots (like the "white tree" in Jena), and the majority tend not to mix. Santa Monica is supposedly the bastion of liberalism, but look at their flagship high school -- the students, given a choice, self-segregate.

I wonder why?

I imagine it's quite the same in Jena. There are two immiscible cultures there, and six boys who were (a) unhappy with not having shade under a forbidden tree, (b) unhappy about whites having a segregated party, and (c) spoiling for a fight. Their target threw just enough wood on the fire with his talk to goad them into acting.

Do I think words can be weapons? Yes. Do I think words should be met with fists? No. Do I think sneakers can be a weapon? Yes. But those boys were idiotic enough to "fight the system" in exactly the wrong way. Even with reduced charges, kicking another student unconscious is going to net them some serious jail time. And, as my own son discovered, you do not want to go to jail, even for a few hours.

Posted by Neo | September 19, 2007 9:45 PM

Jesse keeps the "race card" alive.

Posted by Alisa | September 19, 2007 11:46 PM

@ John, who posted:

"The basic facts of the Jena case are that a group of black students picked a white student out, at random, and then almost beat the kid to death, in school, because he was white."

I respond:

Please get your facts straight. The REAL basic facts of the Jena case are that the racial tensions STARTED when white students hung nooses from a tree that they did not want black students sitting under, even though the black students were told by the vice principle that they could sit anywhere on the campus they wanted to. This incident led to a series of school house brawls including ones where white students assaulted black students and received only probation for charges of battery. Then when black students (Jena 6) retaliated and beat up a white student (Justin B.) they were charged with aggravated assault and battery, and attempted murder, and they were tried as adults, facing 20-30 years in jail. THOSE are the basic facts Sir.

And by the way, the white kid was NOT beaten "half to death". He got a black eye and a bruised face, and he was at the school the SAME night for a meeting and was in classes the next day.

Posted by Don Miguel | September 20, 2007 5:24 AM

"'If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,' Jackson said after an hour-long speech at Columbia’s historically black Benedict College."

This explains why he isn’t a candidate, or to be more accurate, could never be elected.

Posted by puppydog | September 20, 2007 5:32 AM

Again, Jesse plays the racecard. He never leaves home without it!!!

Posted by Cousin Dave | September 20, 2007 10:16 AM

Alisa, answer me this: Could the white students also sit anywhere on the campus they wanted, or was this a privilege for blacks only? Was there a blacks-only area on campus? I don't know for sure, but I'm betting there was. And I can guarantee you that any white student who dared to enter there would receive no backing from the school or the police. It's an echo of what we are increasingly seeing on college campuses: blacks demanding segregated accommodations for themselves, while still demanding the right to enter any venue they please.

Posted by HipHopHustler82 | September 20, 2007 3:33 PM

I just finished reading this story on and I just want to say that I do not want someone like Jesse Jackson speaking for me. Its almost as if he feels Obama should use the tragedy of the Jena 6 for his own gain. Its sickening when you put it like that, isn't it?

Posted by Alisa | September 22, 2007 8:29 AM

@ cousin dave:

You asked:

"Alisa, answer me this: Could the white students also sit anywhere on the campus they wanted, or was this a privilege for blacks only? Was there a blacks-only area on campus"

I say:

I cannot believe that you are asking such a ridiculous question. The only time there has been specific areas or facilities designated for blacks only is under the rules of Jim Crow, and it was not self imposed nor requested by blacks. Whites are the only ones that have specifically requested, designated and/or required that blacks be segrated from them.

And yes, according to the vice principal (who was on cnn) ANY student at that campus could sit ANYWHERE they wanted to. It was the white students who took it upon themselves to lay claim to that tree and to intimidate blacks from sitting there.

Stop trying to flip the script!!!

Posted by Aaron Oberfurst | September 22, 2007 11:18 AM

Not only that, looks like Obama is really out of touch according to this report:

Today, for instance, [Obama] had to confront the modern supermarket.

Visiting the exhibition hall of the National Grocers Association convention here, Mr. Obama lingered at the mock-up of a checkout lane. He signed his name on an electronic pad used to detect check forgeries.

"If some guy came in and spelled Obama differently, could you catch it?" the senator asked. "Yes," he was told, and he shook his head in wonder.

Then he grabbed a quart of milk, a light bulb and a bag of candy and ran them over an electronic scanner. The look of wonder flickered across his face again as he saw the item and price registered on the cash register screen.

"This is for checking out?" asked Mr. Obama. "I just took a tour through the exhibits here," he told the grocers later. "Amazed by some of the technology."

His spokesman assured reporters that he had seen the senator in a grocery store. A year or so ago. In Kennebunkport.

Some grocery stores began using electronic scanners as early as 1976, and the devices have been in general use in American supermarkets for a decade.

Posted by Oscar | September 23, 2007 10:25 PM

As an African American man, Mr. Jackson offends me on many different levels. Yes sir Mr. Jackson..I am sure you would have "been all over Jena". You are everywhere a camera is. You are an icon in your own mind. You have never been a part of a single piece of legislation in this country. You have never held an office. You are a "reverend" that has never had a church. It is sad that when an educated, humble, energetic, african american "difference maker" steps into the lime light..the "good Dr. Reverend" feels the need to express his inadequacies and jealousy in his 2007 version of "I have a dream". I shouldnt have to tell a "foremost expert on racial equality" this...but black is something you are, not something you "try to achieve". Stop kicking your leg out to "trip up" a man who has fought the same struggles that you claim to fight. Maybe if Mr. Obama got on a private helicopter to the Hugo Chavez compound for Mojitos...he would be "black enough"...?

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