race & religion

Kenneth Mostern kmostern at utk.edu
Thu Jun 11 07:26:06 PDT 1998

Doug wrote: Isn't Jackson exactly the problem, with both church-based politics and the Democrats, all rolled up into one? Here's a guy who claims, more or less, that God told him to run for president. That immediately comes with a whole messianic, hierarchical structure attached to it - the very opposite of a democratic radical politics, but one that fits nicely with what Adolph Reed calls the model of elite racial brokerage: Jesse, ordained by God to speak for African-Americans, becomes their spokesman-dealmaker. Of course, Jackson said a lot of good things, and got lots of good people energized - only to leave them hanging. When he had the chance to break from the Dems in 1988 he didn't, of course. So his main role, politically, has been to bind people to the hellish Democratic Party, while delivering millions of new registrants for Bill Clinton. And one reason he was able to get away with this was because of the institutional and spiritual authority of the church.

reply: No, Jackson is not "exactly" the problem; to say that is to personalize a structural issue - which you accurately lay out in the ensuing sentences of your post. Nor is/was Jackson the solution, which was my point. What politics - as opposed to theory - attempts to do is ask how, given specific structurally constraints on our time and ability to work, and their overwhelming media power, what are the grounds for wresting something useful from a situation not of our own making. (BTW, unlike those who will accuse me of naivete or worse for having worked for Jackson, I have no desire to dis those who chose not to. I'm arguing against sectarianism in this.)

In retrospect, what is remarkable about Jackson is what a spectacularly ineffective broker he was. Booker T. Washington got more for the people he brokered for. Here the fact that those of us leftists who worked for him allowed ourselves to be disbanded is indeed much of the issue. We had other choices. If we (and Carrol's insistence that we figure out who we are is of course relevant here) had been more clear that we were not working for Jackson, but for the building of a left - as we claimed we were - this could not have happened.

Kenneth Mostern Department of English University of Tennessee

"Talent is perhaps nothing other than successfully sublimated rage."

Theodor Adorno

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