Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2003 / 24 Kislev, 5764

Stanley Crouch

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Rev. Al is going for a
lot more than the glory | Al Sharpton was absolutely correct when he discounted last week's endorsements of Howard Dean and Wesley Clark by local black politicians. As he has proven in two New York races before - and as he demonstrated at a press conference surrounded by minority public officials on the steps of City Hall Tuesday - Sharpton will take all the local black communities, with or without outsiders' endorsements.

If Jesus were to return as a white man, walk on water, raise the dead and then run for office, he might take Sharpton down. None of the other pols has a mouse's chance at a cats' convention.

But Sharpton wants to go beyond being perceived as a New York rabble-rouser with straightened hair and get us accustomed to seeing him hanging out with the big guys.

That is what his presidential campaign is about. Do not be deceived: Sharpton is actually running against Jesse Jackson, in whose shadow he has long lived because the Rev. Al was never involved in anything as serious as the civil rights movement. His initial claim to fame was a starring role in the despicable Tawana Brawley affair.

Sharpton is surely given to what they used to call in the pool halls "the stuff game," but he maintains our interest because he also is capable of bravery, moral gravity, integrity, intelligence and great wit. The humorous gab is why the press loves him, whether or not it takes him seriously on any issue.

Sharpton almost assuredly wants the respect necessary to broker big deals and bring money into the base of his followers, the National Action Network, or to those who support him locally and nationally. In other words, he wants everything that Jesse Jackson has. If he can master what some call the diversity hustle, he might make it into the boardrooms from which much big dough flows.

Ever wily, Sharpton also may aspire to more than becoming the new president of Black America. He may see that there is another set of possibilities that have been proven by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Powell and Education Secretary Ron Paige, which is that black Americans can rise above the narrow political reservations of racial issues.

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It is time for America to understand that sooner or later, there probably will be a black President, who will arrive as the result of what ought to be, as far as I'm concerned, the reinvigoration of black political ideas.

No matter the self-serving nature of Sharpton's campaign, it is part of the process of black Americans being recognized as more than an alienated special interest group. Black Americans are, first of all, Americans who go back further in this country's history than the ethnic groups that began arriving after 1865 - groups that too often can be counted on to condescend to black Americans or pity them for not being able to get it together. That is the wrong way to look at it.

Black American interests are national interests, and every improvement in black America improves the nation as a whole. Consequently, black so-called leaders need to argue that those on the ship where the hull has been punctured are not being done some special favor when the hole is closed. The ship is made safer and more seaworthy.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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