Lil’ Wayne took the time out to enlighten us about a prominent social figure totally outside his vocational arena.
Yes, really. He did.
At the end of his latest platinum selling album, Tha Carter III, young Carter took the time to give a surprising – if not thought provoking – soliloquy about the ineptitude of a certain African-American figure. Whether he was correct in his assertions or not (more on said assertions later), it must be duly noted that he stepped out from his usual lyrical porch of pithy punch lines, powerful metaphors, and brash lingo to express his thoughts on a subject that, quite frankly, had to be said.
Not because he was right per se, but because it is a topic that is prevalent within the interior of many a conversation. What do we make of Al Sharpton?
He is the classic political agitator, one whose mission in life is to illuminate the issues that would otherwise remain in the shadows. He has not balked at putting his neck on the line at anything he perceives as a social injustice. His willingness to go to the slammer, to champion Black America’s standing for justice with childlike fervor, and mend plight in the African-American community has earned both kudos and endless critique. It is, in essence his gift and his curse.
From his nascent rise as Jesse Jackson’s aide to the infamous Tawana Brawley case to the recent arrest for his demonstration in the Sean Bell slaying, Sharpton has a penchant for educing angst. The irony of this is that by “going to the mountaintop” for black issues, he irritates not only white people, but a great many of the very people he sets forth to help. This is different than say, Malcolm X, in the sense that X was the irritant for mostly White Americans (not to mention the Muslims overseas who felt that he was misappropriating their religion). What angers black folks more about Sharpton is that he seems to live for the news. To some, he is a parasite, waiting for something to happen, so that he can emerge as the voice of Black America.
“Mr. Al Sharpton, here’s why I don’t respect you, and nobody likes ya. You’re the type that gets off by getting on other people. That’s not good…. ”
Cue the Crown Heights riot. In 1991, Gavin Cato, a seven year old black child, and his cousin were struck by an out of control car driven by a Jew. Cato’s cousin survived with several injuries, but for Cato, the blow was fatal. A riot soon ensued and the death of an innocent Jew student resulted. Sharpton took the lead in the angry demonstrations, proclaiming with a startling absence of proof, that racism was the impetus for Cato’s death. He went after the local Jews in the area, calling them derogatory names, and finally stating the driver of the car was drunk. None of these claims were ever substantiated, and that area of Brooklyn was left with deteriorated racial relations.
“This guy, and people like him, they rather speculate before they informate – if that’s a word. You know, spec before check. Anyway, meaning I much rather you talk to me first and see if you can lend an opinion before you make one.”
No Wayne, informate is not a word, but your point is made nonetheless. Look no further than the aforementioned Brawley case and Freddy’s Fashion Mart.
“You are no MLK, you are no Jesse Jackson, you are nobody…to me. You’re just another Don King…with a perm.”
Funny he said that. Jesse Jackson and Don King are largely responsible for Sharpton’s pedestal. In 1969, Jesse Jackson gave a teenage Sharpton his shot at leading. He was appointed the youth director of Operation Breadbasket, a group that boycotted businesses that didn’t hire blacks. Soon enough, Sharpton and Don King forged a friendship. This friendship was highlighted on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in 2002. In the show, a 1983 FBI surveillance video was shown in which Sharpton was discussing a money-laundering scheme with Michael Franzese, who was a mobster-turned-informant. On the clip, Sharpton appeared to offer to broker a meeting between Don King and a South American drug czar. No charges were filed, but Sharpton’s already tenuous credibility took a hit.
I’m not sure if Wayne knew this or not; in fact, what actually motivated Wayne to speak out publicly against Sharpton is anybody’s guess. Sharpton hasn’t been too kind on the hip-hop industry, but that’s no surprise. People outside of the Generation Y segment tend to hold more dissenting views on hip-hop’s lewd lyrics and violent depictions.
Sharpton, in all fairness, has done a commendable job of shedding light to matters that would otherwise be left in obscurity. He was on the front lines for the Million Man March, Jena 6 debacle, and the Sean Bell fiasco, to name a few. Those good deeds, however, are overshadowed by his penchant to “spec before you check” and his tendency to jump in front of a camera at the slightest provocation.
While not the most eloquent rant, Wayne has nevertheless sparked an interesting discussion publicly that many blacks have long harbored privately. Sharpton may not agree with Wayne’s views (I’m going to go out a limb here and say that he doesn’t agree with Wayne’s views), but Wayne’s harsh statements are a conversation starter to the state of contemporary black leadership. Wayne is arguably the biggest voice in hip-hop right now, so his views hold weight to his audience, which is massive.
The most important thing to gain from this is not the finger pointing and the promulgations about each other’s incompetence. Rather, it is about the criteria that we appoint to the people who do act as the voice of Black America that is of prime significance. Why Cornel West? Why Michael Eric Dyson? How does Sharpton gain the ear of white America as their conduit to black culture?
Discussions of this sort are essential, and salutary even. Until we can come to a coalition of transcendent black leadership through means of candid and intellectual conversations between the Dewayne Carters and the Cornel Wests and Al Sharptons of this world, we will continue to have divisive factions within the race that will eventually lead to an irredeemable state of disrepair.
Wayne inadvertently started the discourse, but who will “advertently” finish it?