Lenny McCalister Talks Sharpton, Zimmerman, and How Some Conservatives ‘Just Don’t Get It’ When It Comes to Race

Conservatives, Zimmerman and The Trayvon Race Gap

It’s easy to allow the animus towards figures such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and others to color the opinion of Black leaders’ active role in the Trayvon Martin case.

Ever since the Trayvon Martin case hit mainstream media with full force, the targets of frustration, mistrust, and outright racial hatred came out front and center in the minds of many Americans.
Tweets, Facebook messages, and comments at the water cooler echoed some of the same familiar opinions:

The Rev. Al Sharpton is race-baiting America once again.

President Obama is racially dividing the nation simply for the sake of his re-election bid.

Yes, these men have served as valid antagonists in conservative horror stories of the political left’s agenda being advanced in America. At times, though, both have also been placed as convenient boogeymen by some, used collectively as a handy excuse to downplay racial issues or ignore legitimate concerns. They are accused of overextending their importance when speaking from their bully pulpits. Folks say that they are parlaying fear and mistrust to bolster their careers – and perhaps for some, even their bank accounts.

However, there are times when some Americans – and, sadly, many conservatives – refuse to admit or see the worthwhile role that figures such as Sharpton and Jackson have played in the ongoing toxin of race relation failures and its subsequent disparities they cause in America. It is as if many conservatives believe that calls for civil rights activism made by these two and many others (including people on both the political left and conservative right) are ineffective echoes from a distant past made by attention-hungry people causing more trouble than it’s worth.

An example of why these conservatives would be wrong is the recent arrest of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case.

Sadly, many conservatives still have a hard time seeing the value in modern-day civil rights activism from Black political and civic leaders (on both sides of the aisle). There is a widening gap between conservative thought and effective, affable, and unifying legacies of leadership in an increasingly-diverse America.

Those that actively and openly abhor the presence of Rev. Sharpton and others in the Florida case seem to forget that without the public outrage nothing would have happened. Before that, the likelihood of anyone combing over the facts thoroughly – much less garnering an arrest for second-degree murder in a sketchy tragedy complete with overtones of stereotyping and overboard vigilantism – was slim and none. Those that inaccurately portray President Obama as some race-baiting politician using this case to his re-election advantage forget his famous diss of Attorney General Holder concerning race relations in 2009 or his “rising tide lifts all boats” statement concerning racial economic disparities. They fail to recall how President Obama was criticized by Black civic figures for being silent for too long on these types of issues. They also forget that all presidential candidates – including Republicans – were challenged to symbolize “Moral Compass-in-Chief” for a hurting nation in a manner reminiscent of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and a select group of past presidents.

Civil rights awareness, activism, and vision still have a much-needed place in America. Granted, much of the attention must be shifted towards urban-centric issues such as education and economic disparities to address today’s plagues. Black-on-Black crime must be more of the focus instead of always being directed towards Black-versus-White issues, even though the racial disparities and increase in racial tension demands full attention throughout the spectrum. With this movement being vital to improve and strengthen America in the 21st century, there is a necessary role that conservatives must play in the process. That role cannot be one of disgust or animus.

Reacting to civil rights activists without an honest analysis as to whether their involvement in a situation is valid is nothing more than a shallow reaction to yet another stereotype.  In the end, it limits the effectiveness of conservatives in their quest to “take back America.” If conservatives – including and especially Black Republicans – maintain an elusive stance on race in America or continue a condescending and non-cooperative approach towards addressing our deep-rooted racial issues, not only will they continue to see the likes of Reverend Sharpton in both necessary and “questionable” roles, but the conditions prompting their appearances will further permeate throughout urban America.

The criticism of those such as Sharpton from the political right – even in the midst of just and successful activism as with the Martin case – is not reactive to over-aggressive liberalism in America. Sadly, much of it has to do with the growing chasm between modern-day conservatives and their historical roots as defenders of justice for all, regardless of color or greed.

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