Sunday, February 25, 2007

american legacy

I remember when Al Sharpton first burst on the scene. He was divisive, abrasive, and the cause celebre which first made him famous was ugly. I won't mention her name here, it's not necessary. But a lot of time has passed and a lot of water has gone under that bridge. In the 20+ years since those days he's run for president, matured his ideals in the crucible of New York and American racial poltics, and become the leader he once only wished he was. His sense of humor is truly refreshing. His positions, such as his views on gay issues, have truly evolved as he embraced the logic of struggle for justice he has bravely pursued. He's still at times bombastic, still quirky, still abrasive, but I find him so much less divisive and I actually really like him now.

So the news has come, courtesy of an investigative investigation by the New York Daily News that his ancestors were once owned as slaves by ancestors of the late conservative segregationist politician Strom Thurmond. The phrase "only in America" takes on new and bitter meaning. On the one hand, how far we have come. On the other, what a bitter legacy to know this country was built on such cruel foundations. It leaves one speechless to consider the implications of such a revelation. The fact that Thurmond remained a staunch racist and that anyone--ANYONE--in this country in this century supported him is such sad witness to how much is undone in the healing of America's most tragic legacy.

Filmmaker Spike Lee's production company is named "Forty Acres and a Mule" after the empty promise of reparation made to freed slaves after the civil war. The news of Sharpton's ancestral lineage should make Americans work to fulfill that promise...not in the literal doling out of land and beasts of burden but in the uprooting and healing of racism and the ugly remnants of America's slaveowner past. All states must repudiate and apologize for slavery, as Virginia has begun to do. The confederate flag must be rooted out, like the swastika in Germany.

Al Sharpton is an American hero.

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