In his recent post Why Do Families Call on Sharpton Steve Gillard attempts to answer what is probably a pressing question amongs white New Yorkers at the very least. Why is it whenever there is some sort of “racial flare up” Sharpton gets the call? I disagree with Steve on two key points.
I do not believe that Sharpton single-handedly staved off riots in New York City. NYC has a contentious racial history to say the least, but unlike a city like L.A., Miami, or even Philly, very rarely has it burst into flames as a result of racial tension. This is kind of like saying that Bush has been very effective at fighting terrorism because there hasn’t been another attack on US soil since 9/11. I’d like to hear more about the specific incident involving Haitian Americans and the NYC police at the funeral…but I’m not convinced about this argument in general.
I am not convinced that Sharpton has a great deal of support among black New Yorkers. How would we measure this? Again, I don’t think we can or SHOULD measure support by the LACK of some behavior (riots). How many votes did Sharpton get in his various electoral campaigns? How many people are involved in his National Action Network? Note that both of the arguments Steve is making here are in effect non-falsifiable…that is to say, you can’t prove them wrong.
I do think there is a logical reason why black people call on Sharpton–to the degree they do. (Because of the way that the National Action Network operates it is difficult to say when he is called, and when he does the calling.) But it has less to do with his supposed efficiency at generating results (again, what results are we talking about here?) than it is with the way that black people are relegated to some anti-place outside of the bounds of normal politics. And when black people are basically removed from the equation, SOMEONE has to be dealt with to try to negotiate a deal. Sharpton, like Jackson before him, and to a lesser extent King before that, wears the racial broker mantle well.
And we all suffer for it.