Monday, December 15, 2008

Black Professor Voices Thoughts on Jessie Jackson Jr.

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I was concerned to find out that Jesse Jackson Jr. has been asked to defend himself against allegations that he is involved in the scandal plaguing Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. I have spent alot of time with the Jackson family, as I've appeared on the show of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. more times this year than I can count. I have never met Jesse Jr., but I have a tremendous amount of respect for his father, as well as his sister Santita and his brother Jonathon, a fellow Finance guy. Jonathon and I spoke for hours about Economic and Financial empowerment in the Black community, and I was very impressed with what the brother had to say. Santita, whom I know better than the other "Jackson kids", has even given me advice on women, life and politics (this was especially relevant when I dealt with my university's backlash during the Bill O'Reilly situations a few months ago). I will always appreciate that.

At risk of not making everyone happy, here are my honest thoughts on the situation involving Jesse Jackson Jr, Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich:

1) I am not sure who said what and who did what during this scandal, since I don't trust much of what any politician has to say. That goes for Rod, Jesse Jr., Barack and everyone else. Part of the reason I will never run for political office is because you are forced to lie and pander in order to get elected. That doesn't appeal to me. I have a strange habit of being honest, and as my mother used to say "Boyce, your mouth will either make you great or get you killed, I'm curious to see which one."

2) I do know one thing: Illinois politics is as corrupt as a crackhead on payday. Isn't the former governor of Illinois in prison also? The thing that worried me most about Barack Obama was that I am skeptical of any politician who rises to the top of Illinois politics. Like an athlete who dominates a sport riddled with steroids, you can't help but wonder if the winner is a little "juiced" himself. If Blagojevich is auctioning off a Senate seat and everyone knows that, it's not easy to accept the fact that the governor chose the winner because of his integrity and experience. While there was no clear winner of this Senate seat, anyone dealing directly with the governor is going to be under clear and logical suspicion.

3) I was incredibly disappointed by the way Jesse Jackson Jr. left his father hanging out to dry (politically speaking) during the Obama "I want to cut his nutts off" fiasco. Don't get me wrong, the words were highly inappropriate. Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. called me the next day and I personally forgave him (after all, they weren't my testicles on the chopping block). I did, however, say that I was surprised that a long-time veteran of the media would make such a mistake and that it is disheartening that our most respected Black leaders still have to go to horrible places like Fox News to get their message out to the Black American public. But I was also saddened to see that his son, for the sake of political expediency, distanced himself as far as possible from his father. When your daddy is bleeding, you don't try to suck more blood out of his body.

I grew up in a world where a son remains loyal to his father, especially when he has done so much for him. So, I had a hard time understanding why Jesse Jackson Jr. would issue a statement detaching himself from his dad, all so he could continue enjoying the benefits of Obama-mania. Now that the "you-know-what" has hit the fan, I wonder how long it might be before Jesse Jr's new political friends start distancing themselves from HIM. No one loves you like family, and any reasonable man should think long and hard before attacking his own relatives in public. I say this as a man with several relatives I'd love to slap. But I have never considered issuing a press release to push the dagger a little deeper in a pre-existing wound of public humiliation.

The lesson I take away from all this is that if you are trying to swim with the pigs, you are going to get covered in slop. Whether Jesse Jackson Jr. is guilty or not, I don't consider him a bad person. The same thing goes for Barack Obama. But chasing the dream and intoxication of power, popularity and American validation can come at a price in this dirty and corrupt game called American politics (especially for Black men). As quick as you rose to the top, you can find yourself at the bottom, so perhaps it is important to remain grounded.

Keep hope alive Jesse Jr., you're going to need it.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of "What if George Bush were a Black Man?" He makes regular appearances in national media, including CNN, BET, ESPN and CBS Sports. For more information, please visit

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