Van Jones has resigned as President Obama’s special adviser on Green Jobs. He says he didn’t want political flak about his past to interfere with the administration’s agenda.
Criticism of the photogenic activist has come from a variety of sources but Glenn Beck of Fox News appears to be the muck-raker in chief. According to the egregious Beck, Jones once accused George W. Bush of planning the 9-11 attacks, made derogatory remarks about Republicans prior to his appointment and has been associated with an anti-capitalist peace organization.
I have only met Van Jones on one occasion. We were both speaking at a progressive conference in Washington D.C.; I was on a panel on new media and Jones gave a keynote address at the banquet that opened the gathering. He was talking about the environment. If you have heard Al Gore lecture on the subject you get the message–it was standard issue environmentalism. The young people at my table looked up to Jones and were thrilled to be in the same room with the man.
When the session concluded, Jones saw the phrase “Friends of Justice” on my name tag, told me he used to work with James Rucker at Color of Change, and complemented the Friends of Justice-Color of Change cooperation on behalf of the Jena 6. I remembered this brief encounter when I learned that Glenn Beck was leading the charge against Van Jones. Color of Change has mounted a remarkably successful petition campaign to encourage advertisers to stop sponsoring Beck’s unreality show.
Color of Change was outraged by Beck’s recent comments about Mr. Obama: “This president has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people … this guy is, I believe, a racist.”
Glenn Beck couldn’t offer one scintilla of evidence to back up this inane charge. Even the Fox regulars who were on the sound stage with him looked stunned when the right wing demagogue made the remark. Perhaps they were offended. Maybe they secretly shared Beck’s radical sentiments but couldn’t believe the man who looks nice and talks nasty had spilled the bigotry beans in front of God and everybody. Whatever the case, only folks on the radical right have risen to Beck’s defense. Nonetheless, Beck has refused to explain his comment or apologize for it.
Instead, he launched a frontal assault on Van Jones, the co-founder of Color of Change. Glenn Beck couldn’t tangle with James Rucker of Color of Change (pictured above) without defending his indefensible remarks about the President, so he decided to go after Rucker’s former associate at Color Change.
When you wrestle with the crazy-making racial history of the United States you understand why a bright, attractive, charismatic guy like Van Jones would be attracted to socialists, peacemakers and the philosophy of Black nationalism. Plenty of progressive universities, think tanks and policy organizations have courted black intellectuals; but there is little appetite in liberal white America for frank expressions of honest-to-God black opinion. Clarence Thomas is often criticized for selling out to the man, but mainstream American liberalism also demands that aspiring black leaders check their inconvenient opinions at the door. You don’t want to lose the support of well-heeled financial backers. It should not surprise us if young black men like Van Jones occasionally finds himself in the company of fringe folk with radical opinions; black intellectuals get tired of self-censorship.
The only white people in America who have shown much interest in getting it straight from black America are socialists, sociologists, Unitarians, Quakers, peace and justice groups, and the leadership of the National Council of Churches. (I exaggerate slightly, but you catch my drift). Mainstream, normal white people want to make up and move on; we aren’t interested in learning how it feels to be black, Latino or a citizen of the Third World. For better and for worse, we have shaped the world and are thus responsible for its prosperity and its pain. The crushing weight of guilt is the real white man’s burden.
Which explains Glenn Beck’s “Obama hates whitey” lament. Beck inhabits an echo-chamber world in which the civil rights movement (and the black leaders who made it happen) are associated with socialism and moral collapse. If a black man dares to complain about his lot the inhabitants of Planet Beck start howling about reverse racism. If you want the pure, undistilled version of this worldview check out the Council of Conservative Citizens website where Jones is disparaged as “uppity”. If you can’t take your bigotry straight up, tune in Glenn Beck and you will get the same BS in slightly diluted form.
Black nationalism remains a viable option for black intellectuals because white liberal America celebrates the civil rights movement while refusing to wrestle with the harsh implications of that social upheaval. I know how it feels to be intimidated and threatened by black nationalists. During the fight for proportional justice in Jena I occasionally dealt with men and women who refused to shake my lilly white hand. I didn’t like it; but I didn’t take it personally either. It isn’t easy in America for black and white folks to work together. So many painful subjects have been evaded for so long that no one knows where to start.
That’s what Eric Holder means when he says Americans don’t know how to talk about race.
I would love to see a frank conversation between Glenn Beck and Van Jones on the subject of race in America. I envision a cage match. Neither man should be able to leave the table until a winner emerges. It isn’t going to happen, of course. The fact that a significant slice of white America is afraid of our accommodating black president shows how little progress we have made in the past forty years. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were game-changing events; but beyond that, what have we accomplished?
Meanwhile, Glenn Beck and his white boosters aren’t the only ones who are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore. Check out this post from the Rev. Gerald Britt and pay particular attention to the parallel he draws between the anti-Obama rhetoric in 2009 and the anti-Kennedy equivalent in 1963.