Jackson’s castration comment draws race divide for Obama

By Anindita Ramaswamy, DPA,

Washington : The image of US civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson slicing his hand as he whispered of wanting to castrate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has repeatedly played out on millions of TV and computer screens.

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When the furore eventually subsides, the crude gaffe might feature as little more than an inconvenient aside among larger and more substantive issues in the US presidential election. But it also laid bare some very fine fault lines and a deeper, generational shift among the country’s black leadership.

“I want to cut his nuts off,” Jackson said of Obama, during a break in a TV interview when he presumed his microphone was off. He told his fellow interviewee that Obama talked down to black people.

Jackson was critical of Obama’s support for faith-based charities operating with government funding – a pet project of President George W. Bush, who created a new office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives on entering the White House.

Obama said earlier this month that non-profit, faith-based and secular groups alike were needed to tackle poverty in the US.

With two public apologies, Jackson has tried hard to minimise any damage: “For any harm or hurt that this hot mic conversation may have caused, I apologise. My support for Senator Obama’s campaign is wide, deep and unequivocal. I cherish this redemptive and historical moment.”

The damage, of course, would really be to Jackson himself, and his credibility. As for Obama, Jackson might just have helped him emerge different and distinct from more old-style black politicians bred on decades of hard-fought struggles for civil rights.

The blogosphere continues to buzz with conspiracy theories – was it a set up, or an accidental-on-purpose slip of the tongue?” These comments seem undermined by Jackson’s both humble and mortified apologies, and the fact that his harshest, most outspoken critic has been his son. Surely no father would endure that, even for publicity.

I’m deeply outraged and disappointed in Reverend Jackson’s reckless statements about Senator Barack Obama. His divisive and demeaning comments about the presumptive Democratic nominee and, I believe, the next president of the US contradict his inspiring and courageous career,” his son, Rep Jesse Jackson Jr., national co-chairman for Obama’s campaign, said in a statement.

Using a favourite slogan of his father, who bid twice for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1980s, the son said Jackson should “keep hope
alive” and keep personal attacks and insults to himself, again highlighting the differences between the generations.

Obama’s response was neutral, quite stoic. Interestingly, the Democratic campaign let Jackson’s son do the sharp talking. Obama seemed to have extricated himself from the controversy, showing he didn’t want to get into a long drawn-out war of words, and that he would rather focus on the real issues of the campaign.

Jackson is believed to be unpopular with white and moderate voters, and the current controversy gives Obama an opportunity to define a safe distance.

Obama needs the black vote, but that’s not the only constituency he’s playing to. In a Father’s Day speech last month he criticised absentee black fathers for shirking their responsibilities toward their children.

Jackson told CNN that Obama’s message to black voters must serve as more than a moral challenge,” adding the community faced serious issues such as spiralling unemployment, lack of education, and crime.

Jackson’s castration comment appeared to vent his own frustration with seeing some of the liberal ideology of the movement lost in Obama, who has not hesitated to criticise blacks for disenfranchising themselves by not voting, chastise rappers for their language and prick the conscience of black fathers.

Rightly or wrongly, some black progressives are deeply suspicious of the change in white America that has led to Obamas position. Specifically that white people don’t just want political change, they want a change in the racial dynamic,” wrote blogger Eric Easter on EbonyJet.com, a black-oriented magazine.

And hearing about black problems does not fit into their idea of this new America that will be created when Obama becomes president. There are equal parts of truth, paranoia and resistance to change in that suspicion.