Monday, August 21, 2006

The Cousin Jeff Manifesto...

BET personality & public relations executive Rev. Jeff Johnson's somewhat lengthy mixed rebuttal/explanation regarding his new association with OH Sec. of State Ken Blackwell's campaign transformed itself into a sort of modern Black political manifesto.

It's truly unfortunate that a credible activist with Johnson's track record should suffer such scorn and have to justify himself through an open letter. Too many Black people cry foul when the predominant White society creates an intellectual barrier against free thought, yet are quick to police other Black people's views ...

However, we also see this as an opportunity where "Cousin Jeff" - as he is affectionately known on BET - makes quite a compelling and very significant point:

That post-civil rights shift brings us in many cases to where we currently exist: the era of the professional activist. The post civil rights leadership provided by many we know and some we don’t know has been both incredibly effective in some areas and simultaneously negligent in others. We have seen great gains by many people of color as a result of much of their work. However, many of our leaders and organizations are now supporting these same alliances without the manifestation of social or policy changes for our community.

Certainly, Johnson's new affiliation is bringing much glee to Republicans and conservatives seeking to attract just enough Black votes to hold Democrats at bay in November. And, yes, we hear the familiar cackle of certain public Black conservative commentators who believe the "new" Black political strategy is a mass defection to the GOP.

But, the real point is not that simplistic. Johnson argues for a much more independent, smarter and effective strategy that leverages party alliances rather than buying into them. Part of that strategy assumes that we're savvy enough to use both major parties for whatever purpose serves our best interests - not the other way around. On that point, we completely agree with Johnson.

In retrospect, Johnson had to have known he'd get this kind of reaction. If truly caught unaware by it, perhaps - being the public relations expert that he is - a preemptive and personal press release prior to Blackwell's announcement could have avoided some of the backlash. Instead, there's a hint of bad coordination, and Johnson writes as though he may be privately displeased with the Blackwell media machine. That all said, he comes off surprised or a bit flat-footed by the firestorm - we could be mistaken. Whereas we srongly disagree with the "sell-out" accusation, we can see how Johnson stands to gain from this sudden spurt of publicity. It definitely broadens his audience beyond the hip hop generation/progressive youth activist crowd and positions him as a leading voice in that new strategy taking shape.



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