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They still don't get it

Not even a full week after the media exploded in hubbub over the Rev. Jesse Jackson being caught on tape saying he wanted to snip Barack Obama's cookie jar, and the pundits speculated over how "the" black community would react, another talking head has stuck his foot in his mouth...in my humble opinion.

I thought we here at Burnettiquette World Headquarters and dozens of other blogs and column spots made it clear that one of the biggest mistakes the pundits were making was to assume that Rev. Jackson was "the" leader of "the" black community.

I thought we made it clear that there are multiple communities among African Americans and other black Americans. I thought we made it clear that there was never an election to pick a designated national black community leader. I thought we made it clear that no king had been crowned, not even figuratively, since that King was taken away from us.

And yet, in the midst of a field of punditry that likes to suggest its the conservative pundits only who perpetuate this notion that black folks need to be led around by the nose, I watched Hardball last night on MSNBC, and listened to Chris Matthews pose the question: Who's leading African Americans, Barack Obama or Jesse Jackson?

Notice that question isn't book-ended by quotation marks, because I'm going from memory here, and may be off by a word or two. But the gist is there. And BTW, I've never heard anyone accuse Matthews of being a conservative.

Call me crazy, but I still say that was an outrageous question. I don't have anything against Matthews or the rest of the folks whose job it is to analyze the news and speculate about what it means. I've been on shows before and shared my opinion.

But not one of those pundits or journalists or folks who dwell in that gray area between, including Matthews, would never look at the camera with a straight face and ask who's leading white Americans.

I know they wouldn't ask that question, 'cause if nothing else, they might be afraid of some of the answers they'd hear.

Plus there's that whole silly fairness thing - you know, the one about trying to avoid painting groups of people with one broad brush.

One more time for the pundits on both sides of the political aisle: black folks don't need a king. We didn't pray for a king. We didn't ask the media, of which I'm a proud member, to give us a king. Many of us were satisfied with the King who was taken too soon, back in the day. We're not the complaining frogs in the pond in Aesop's fable. All we need, like every other American, is that level playing field on which we'll be able to access our equipment locker without hindrance so that when its our turn at the plate we won't be empty handed. We'll be brandishing the heftiest bat available.


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Earnest Cave

Good point. Who is leading white America?

James Barbour,  Jr.

Cosign, Mr. Burnett!


This is a great point and one that is seldomly talked about. The same feeling comes to me when I hear all this talk about "the latino vote" for example, which at the end no one can really say what it is.
"I thought we made it clear that there are multiple communities among African Americans and other black Americans."
this is something that has not been said enough, it really is incredible how so many people come to think of blacks as this same person.

Thanks for a great entry!

latin guy

You can't deny Rev. Jackson isn't a leader in the black community and a powerful one. You failed though to name any leaders in the black community. You say there are many, but who? The best known are Sharpton, Obama and Jackson. I'm sure there are many others, but white and latin people don't know who these others are. Sorry, but that's who the media puts on TV so we assume that's who the leaders are. Btw, the white leaders are in the White House, Congress, Governor and legislature.

James B.

Mr. Cave, when you find an answer let me know. But a better response might be that I don't care. I don't intend that as an insult, but I wouldn't ever ask another group of people "who leads you and yours according to their skin color?"

Mr. Barbour, thanks for the vote of confidence.

Collette, thank you. And you're right. Such assumptions are often made about other racial and ethnic groups too.

And Mr. Latin Guy, who was too cowardly to use a real name or a real email address, may I suggest respectfully that you go back and re-read the post. I did not say anywhere in that post that there were "many black leaders." You must’ve read someone else’s blog. What I said was that there are many black communities. And I stand by that, in the same way that I cannot lump all white people together or all Latino people together as having a singular behavior or characteristic or a single leader or set of leaders.

I welcome everyone who reads my blog to disagree with me if they want to. But if you’re gonna accuse me of something get it right, or get hooked on phonics. Again, I said there are multiple black communities. I said nothing about multiple black leaders. I don’t need a leader, beyond an employer who pays me on time and treats me fairly, good elected officials, etc. And I think all Americans, black, white, Asian, Latino, etc., would agree with me on that standard.


Chris Mathews is a conservative pundit? Get real !


The "black community" changes leaders like most of us change our underwear. Whoever demonizes whitey the loudest is the leader today.


Interesting point except that the african american community does this to themselves. For example why is there a need to hold black only events such as the Miss African-American Pageant? You seem to pick an choose how you want to perceived by white america.

It the same with "kings". It seems like you follow and support a "king" to show a perceived "unity". Who cares!

Follow the black, white or latino man/women that most resembles you morals, values and beliefs and the heck with the rest. If you put your anger aside and have your heart in the right place you'll realize that most of these "kings" are actually "clowns"!

James B.

KuklaFranOllie, you must be smoking the same bad granola as Mr. Latin Guy. Go back and re-read the blog post. It says "no one has ever accused Chris Matthews of being a conservative." It also points out that it is a fallacy to think that only conservative pundits make broad generalizations about minorities. I love your snark, but you are so far off base you may as well be in the bleachers.

SwampRat, you can't be smoking the same bad granola as Mr. Latin Guy and KuklaFrankOllie. Based on the ridiculousness of your comment I'm gonna assume you're on crack.

StogieCrane, you prove my point by leaving a comment referring repeatedly to "you" as though all black people are of one mind. By your logic, should I assume all white people are of one mind? If so, which mind should I make that assumption about? The white supremacist mind? The mind of white Satanists? What about to those white Catholics? Maybe I should say to hell with them, 'cause as far as I'm concerned all white folks are Protestant. Or maybe I should assume all white Americans are Klansman hell bent on ridding the U.S. of anyone with a natural tan.

Sounds really dumb from that angle, huh?

One more time, Stan and Ollie, or whoever you are, Mr. Latin Guy, SwampRat, StogieCrane, and anyone else who skims this blog post without actually reading each line: I didn't say anything about multiple black leaders, I didn't even suggest that all members of any ethnic group are exactly alike, and I didn't call for "kings" to be crowned in any black community.

I'm amazed that the four of you still somehow managed to read those things between the lines of my post.

And BTW, what's up with the fake names and fake email addresses. Three of the four of you used aliases. What? You don't have enough conviction in your opinion that you're willing to stand by it?

I do. That's why you have my real name, my photo, and even a bit of my background on this blog. I'm not ashamed of my opinions, even when I know some folks will disagree. Why can't you say the same?

Sen. Hillary Clinton, Washington, DC

What happened to my loyal Blacks? My God, Bill has been referred to as the first Black president. He could shuck and jive with the best of them, especially when the cameras were rolling. I thought I had the nomination in the bag. Some loyalty !

James B.

Kukla, you're still a coward. You've got jokes (bad ones), but you're too weak to say anything of substance or ID yourself and stand behind your opinion. I'll take you more seriously when you can say something with depth, that doesn't involve goofy broad generalizations. Otherwise, go back in hiding in Greensboro, NC.


I would be offended if someone told me I had a "leader". I can't think for myself? I think it's an insult to African Americans to be "grouped" with a certain individual just because of the color of one's skin.

I tend not to watch any of the cable news shows that have political discussions (that's pretty much all of them) as it just ends up in a big argument.

I'm a middle aged white female (well I may be pushing the "middle aged part a bit!). If Barack gets elected, I won't have a "leader" because I'm white??? That type of thinking is totally asinine.

It scares me to think that we are a nation of puppets and vote the way our strings are pulled. God help us if that's true.


From my 65 year-old, white male perspective, you make some interesting points but I think you are wrong about some of your conclusions and disingenuous in some of your statements. For instance, you correctly point out that you said there were many black communities rather than many black leaders but, let's face it, every community, black, white or anything else has its own leaders and power structure. Black "communities" as you call them are no exception and they come with their own leaders. In this sense, yes, there are many black leaders.

As for your claim that the black community is so diverse that it has no desire or need for leaders I see that as inaccurate also. In the political sense the black population has been more monolithic in its voting habits than any other group in America. Any post-election analysis always shows the black vote as going to the Democratic candidate no matter what the office, usually in the area of 90%. No other group in this country ever approaches this sort of consistency year after year after year and election after election after election.

I know of white evangelicals who are strongly pro-life in their personal philosophy and they will always vote for the candidate that best represents that point of view. Fair enough. But I also know of black evangelical people of faith who are equally pro-life and who, in fact, actually volunteer time on pro-life organizations. Strangely, they make absolutely no effort to research where candidates stand on that issue; they just automatically vote for the Democratic candidate.

I see this same thing at work. I am a professional and I work for a large business of approximately 800 employees, at least half of whom are black. Like any business or industry there are candidates who have a large say over our marketplace. Once again, the blacks I know and work with and talk with all vote for the Democratic candidate with no regard for where they actually stand on our particular business-related viewpoint.

It just seems to me (and probably many other white people of all ages) that until this groupthink is changed that people are going to perceive the black population as a group of sheep blindly and obediently following their unelected leaders such as Jackson or Sharpton, et al.

Me? I voluntarily and quite happily live in a neighborhood that has a large majority of blacks. I voluntarily and happily attend a large church that has both black and white ministers on the staff and and I work in a place where five of the six people who report to me are black and where the two supervisors over me are both black.

James B.

John, thanks for the partial compliment and your insightful comments. They were obviously well thought out.

But I respectfully disagree with our assessment that some of my statements in this post are disingenuous.

While you are correct in that approximately 90% of black people in the U.S. consistently vote for Democratic candidates in national elections, I don't see the connection between that statistic and the belief that black people, as opposed to white or any other, want or crave or "need" a leader to point them in one direction or another.

Second, I believe your assertion that most of your black co-workers mostly vote Democrat, in accordance with national stats that reflect the same. But again, you're making a huge leap. Unless you've had conversations with your black co-workers in which they've acknowledged voting for Democrats just because (or unless you've overheard them admitting that, or unless a trustworthy third party has told you he overheard your black co-workers saying that), you can't assume that's their reasoning. How do you know, they don't actually agree with what the Democratic candidates have to say?

The fact is you can disagree with the Democratic stance. And you can be disappointed in people who vote for Democrats, but unless you're certain, it's a stretch to say that they're voting for Democrats just because they're Democrats. What do you say to white people who vote for Democrats? Are they doing it just because Dems are Dems? Or are they doing it 'cause they believe - whether you agree or not - what the Dems have to say? If you give white Dem voters that consideration, I'd say you need to give the same to black Dem voters, unless, again, you have proof that black voters are going Democrat for absolutely no reason.

James B.

John, one more thing: the most important point of my post was that no pundit - not Matthews, not any of 'em on TV - would dare ask the question "Who is leading the white community..."

You can't tell me with a straight face I'm wrong about that one, 'cause you know as well as I do that the "natural" assumption by such folks is that white people whether inside or outside the realm of politics are simply too diverse in their personalities and belief sets to "serve" any self-appointed white leader.

You made the argument that your co-workers may participate in things deemed conservative - like pro-life activities and such. But they vote Democrat. Your own example demonstrates a diversity among beliefs - like it or not, a diversity that says I can feel this way about the social aspects of my life but maybe I'll go the opposite direction when it comes to politics.

I'm not saying that logic makes perfect sense. But I don't see roughly 26 million black eligible black people who are eligible to vote being robots.

Again, agree with the Dems or not, maybe the black voters you know just like Democratic policies better?


How about we vote on principle and policy, and not color? Doesn't it piss on the legacy of the great Dr Martin Luther King to judge men by the color of their skin, rather than, as he desired, by the content of their character?

Samy  D

I agree with you that that the comment that was made by Chris Matthew was very broad, and ignorant.

But Jesse and Sharpton are seen as leaders in the black community. They may not be "The" leader, but they have followers, they are constantly in the pulic eye, and they act like leaders.

Heck their following may be very small, but they come across as very powerful, strong, and controversial men.

This is just the perception that comes across through the media, and of course that's the one the most people see. From an outsider (not Black) looking in it can appear that there are more followers than what they really are.

So you don't follow Jesse (I think it's a good thing), that's good to know because that was a surprise to some people.

Now check this out. I am a hispanic male from MIA, who is very conservative and I side with the Rep. party because of ONE topic (pro life), I bet that may have surprised you. Do you assume that all Rep. are white and country. Don't lie thats the first thing that comes to your mind...We all have perceptions.

Good topic.

James B.

Og, here here!

Samy D., thanks for the comment. But I hate to disappoint you, you'd be wrong about what I might assume. I'm gonna guess you're new to my blog, 'cause if you've read me for any amount of time you know that I'm smarter than that. I know that there are Republicans who are non-white. I know that there are Republicans who are Latino. I know that there are Republicans who are African American. I know that there are Democrats who are white, and so on. Hell, I don't have to be smart about that one. I just have to turn on the news and watch a speech at a campaign rally from time to time. So, in accordance with your request, I won't lie: That Republicans are all white and country, is not the first thing that comes to my mind. If it was, I'd have some 'splainin' to do to a couple of my relatives who vote Republican sometimes.

James B.

BTW, Samy D., I hope you do come back often to read my blog. And I can assure you, if you do there'll be days you don't agree with me. But the thing about me and Rev. Jackson, and so on? I don't write anything on this blog because I'm seeking approval. I write it simply 'cause I believe it.


I'm just stopping in to tell you I'm still out here reading -- just can't top what you've said or any of your commentors!
(except maybe to suggest a Vulcan mind meld.
Spock or Tuvak ** )

DJ Black Adam

Black folks don't need a King? Oh come on man, I had already offered my benevolent ruling services to the African American community!

Here: http://djblackadam.typepad.com/damnitq/2008/04/since-its-the-n.html

Come on people, I keep getting rejected by the Assocated Press, brother needs a job!


One of the main points in your article was that no king had ever been crowned as head of the black community and no election had ever been held to appoint one. I respectfully disagree. Every time there is a real or imagined racial incident making the news, two things inevitably happen. Either Jackson or Sharpton (to use two obvious exampes) issue a press release condemning the act and then they fly to the locality in question.

When they arrive they call a gathering at a public place and they are flanked by a host of local dignitaries variously described in the media as pastors or activists or something similar. Always, it is the Jacksons and the Sharptons that take center stage and do the talking for the local people.

I would contend that the effect of this in the media and in the minds of most onlookers is that the local leaders have chosen (read "elected") Jackson/Sharpton to be their spokesmen or leaders. In other words, the total effect of seeing this scenario play out in place after place, year after year, has the effect on the public and the media of showing that Jackson or Sharpton really are the chosen spokesmen for the black community. These men can be praised or maligned for their actions but the fact is that they are always on the scene and always given center stage and always surrounded by deferential locals who are clearly in the background during these incidents.

In the political realm, reality is what people perceive it to be and, in this case, the perception has been carefully crafted over many years and in many locales that people like Jackson and Sharpton really do speak for most blacks. Personally, I think this perception is quite natural considering the circumstances; lamentable but understandable nevertheless.

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