The recent lawsuit filed by media mogul Byron Allen against Comcast and the Reverend Al Sharpton, is telling for a number of critical reasons. Allen correctly asserts that Sharpton has done very little to use his visible platform as host of the MSNBC prime-time show Politics Nation, to advocate for African-Americans as a whole. Nor has Sharpton advocated for the hiring of other African-American hosts to join him on the popular network. This was the main criticism of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in 2011, who publicly protested when it was announced that Sharpton had taken the job that a respected Black journalist should have gotten in the first place.
That’s a shame, because for years, Sharpton has argued that more Blacks should have access to the public airwaves. I believe that Allen’s lawsuit will finally expose Sharpton for the whole world to see.
As mainstream media continues to hail Sharpton’s rise to prominence as a metamorphosis or reinvention, it’s clear that he operates as a one-man show whose focus is squarely on Al Sharpton. I should know. I spent eight plus years as the chief of staff for National Action Network, the organization that I helped him to create in 1991. I traveled the country and the world with him and was a trusted advisor. In the beginning, I was a believer who was firmly committed to his cause and the cause for civil rights. But over time, it became obviously clear to me that Sharpton was no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who used his public platform to advocate for a change in the laws.
Just name one case over the past two decades where Sharpton’s activism has brought about systemic change? In fact, on most of the police brutality cases in recent years where African Americans were senselessly gunned down by overzealous officers, Sharpton’s involvement has resulted in a grand jury refusing to indict the officers.
In the case of Akai Gurley in New York, where the family deliberately requested that Sharpton stay away, a grand jury swiftly indicted the police officer who shot the young, unarmed Black man. It appears that Sharpton’s absence brought about a victory for this grieving family. This example alone shows that among Black folks, Sharpton’s support, which was once strong in the 1980s and 1990s, has since diminished greatly.
Though his public persona has been strengthened by his access to President Obama and the White House, he has not properly leveraged this relationship to benefit Blacks as a whole. Can you imagine Dr. King gloating over visiting Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House? Or rejoicing over the opportunity to be invited to the White House to watch a Super bowl game? Absolutely not! King went to the White House with one focus in mind: to push Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act.
That’s why we march in Selma on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and it’s why Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay rightly produced Selma, which accurately chronicles King’s fight for racial equality. Sharpton, who claims to be in the King tradition, has been grossly ineffective in helping to groom a generation of activists who will come after he and the likes of Reverend Jesse Jackson, to continue the long and important fight for social justice.
With Obama in the White House and Eric Holder in the Justice Department, Sharpton has squandered the opportunity to push the White House and Congress to enact any meaningful legislation. In fact, I recall that during the 2008 election, his support for the President came during the last days of the campaign. Although I and a number of prominent politicians backed Obama, Sharpton refused to endorse him and suggested that his chances for winning the White House were slim to none. “Rev, I’m going with Obama,” I explicitly told Sharpton in 2008. His response was deeply frustrating. “You gotta be out of your fucking mind if you think Black folks and people in America are going to vote for a nigger with a Muslim name Barack Obama. You need to support Hillary Clinton, who is your sitting U.S. Senator from New York because you’ve got to work with her when she becomes President.”
Today, Sharpton claims to have been with Obama from the beginning, but if you check the record, his criticism of the former Illinois Senator was harsh and demeaning.
Black folks deserve more from those who claim to be public servants. At a time when the prison industrial system continues to incarcerate young Black men, it’s sad that neither Sharpton, Holder nor Obama have addressed this very issue. This crisis is very personal for me because my very own brother currently sits in a Utah prison cell, for up to five years, for a non-violent crime. Sadly, Obama uses Sharpton as his personal pit bull to silence any Black criticism directed his way.
With the lack of Black and Browns on television—as anchors, producers, writers and owners—Allen’s grievance is all the more important because he is speaking truth to power.
In a multi-billion dollar industry, Allen is shedding light on the viciousness of white supremacy, where Blacks are handpicked to remain silent for a few pieces of silver. For Sharpton, this has become a regular trend.
Last October, he sold out the Black community yet again when he published a book with Cash Money Records which promotes senseless violence and misogyny against African Americans in general, and Black women in particular.
At the time, I urged Sharpton to give back the blood money and apologize for his wrongdoing. He didn’t listen to me, but maybe he’s listening now that he has to answer to a lawsuit filed by a credible and respected Black entrepreneur.