Here we go again. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton are once again hard at work wagging their fingers.
This time their object of scorn is Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University president and former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. Apparently, Mr. Summers had the audacity, I mean the sheer nerve, to request that Cornel West, Harvard professor and distinguished black American academic, focus on his duties as an instructor, as opposed to releasing music CDs and leading a presidential exploratory committee for Mr. Sharpton.
In other words, Mr. Summers requested that Mr. West make a priority of his students.
Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton took immediate offense.
Mr. Summers is infringing upon Mr. West’s “academic freedom,” snarled Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Jackson thinks this is a bad thing. Apparently, he believes that academics ought to be beyond reproach and “free” to pursue whatever suits their fancy, regardless of how it effects their ability to teach their students.
Mr. Sharpton is touting a similar tune. “I feel aggrieved,” Mr. Sharpton squawked, “if I can’t have who I want to have work for me.”
Apparently, it does not matter to Mr. Sharpton that Mr. West already has a full-time job. Apparently, Mr. Sharpton fancies himself the center of the universe and is, therefore, understandably “aggrieved” whenever someone else takes a different view.
His response: Sit back and snort racism.
Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton have gone on to criticize Mr. Summers for not fully endorsing affirmative action at Harvard University. For obvious reasons, neither Mr. Jackson nor Mr. Sharpton mentioned that the Supreme Court has cited Harvard’s admissions process as an ideal model. Nor, for that matter, did they acknowledge that Harvard University has long stressed racial diversity and is widely acknowledged to have the country’s most prominent African-American studies department.
Instead, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton did what they always do: appeal to the lowest common denominator.
The jig goes something like this: Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson see some opening where they can exploit our racial sensitivity. Then they move in, threatening to replicate with mobs and bad press if their demands aren’t met (often their demands include no small amount of financial gain for themselves). Bottom line: They make their living as racketeers, offering to inflame or quell racial tensions at a cost.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Jackson threatened that “Mr. Summers risks losing several key professors” if their demands aren’t met.
Early on in the civil rights movement, this sort of racial racketeering was the only viable recourse black leaders had for pressuring companies into hiring more blacks and pushing important equality issues into the mainstream. Forty years later, these tactics serve little more purpose than to line the coffers of men like Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton, preventing the nation from moving beyond those initial first steps of the civil rights movement.
Under the guise of civil rights activists, Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson are presently pulling apart the premier African-American studies department in the country.
Congratulations, gentlemen. Once again, you’ve left your mark.
Armstrong Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist.