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Playboy Interview: Jesse Jackson
  • October 13, 2011 : 20:10
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Playboy: Are you encouraged by the young white radicals who seem determined to change America's value system?

Jackson: The issues that move them are qualitatively different from the ones that concern blacks. Many of the radical whites say that materialism is no good, that one must seek a new level of spiritualism. Well, we lived for years with spiritualism but without any materialism. Now we'd like to try to balance the two. Many of the young whites are living on the prerogatives of the materialism they shun. They confront their school in the winter, but in the summer, they go off to Sweden or Hawaii. Their discussions of America's corruption take place over steaks. They spend $5000 a year to attend the schools they shut down. We often have the same moral ideals, but the perspective is very different.

I have also been disappointed that we were unable to get any mass help from young whites on the hunger caravan we recently concluded in Illinois. The students were so radical that feeding starving people didn't constitute revolution to them, because "a man needs to do more than eat." But while they were saying that, they were eating very well. To us, they tend to be superfluous.

Playboy: Weren't the strikes at both Harvard and Columbia concerned mainly with accusations by white students that those schools abuse the black community?

Jackson: I do not mean to condemn their creative protests. They accurately reflect Jesus' position that man cannot live by bread alone. They come from houses with boats and cars and more money than they can spend, yet they find their lives empty. There is beauty in their hearing the heartbeats of other humans. What I'm saying is that there is a lack of depth in their protest, in terms of the black community's real and immediate needs. But I think I must reserve judgment on those whites who are living off the prerogatives of wealth. If they are legitimately concerned, they will take what Daddy leaves and pay back some of that money in reparations to blacks.

Playboy: Do you agree with James Forman's proposal that the churches pay reparations to blacks?

Jackson: Yes, and eventually the demands will not be limited to the churches. The black community in America is an underdeveloped nation, a victim of America's cold war against her own black people. In that war, all of our supply lines been the victims of an unjust war and are due reparations from those who launched it. Business owes us reparations, first for enslaving us, then for refusing to give us work or hiring us for only the lowest-paying, most grueling jobs. And even when we have an opportunity to do the same work as white men, we are paid less for it. The labor unions, for whom we fought, owe us reparations for locking us out. The church is also liable, because it has disregarded its own moral imperatives and cooperated in creating and maintaining a racist society.

Playboy: Do you expect these demands to be met?

Jackson: For the most part, no.

Playboy: Then isn't the plea for reparations a rhetorical gesture rather than a serious proposal?

Jackson: The demands are perfectly serious. If they were met, it would mean a great step toward unifying the two separate and unequal societies that the Kerner Commission described after it studied the Newark and Detroit riots. The point is that SCLC and I are not naive enough to think that the businessmen who control the assets of corporations, labor unions and churches will voluntarily act from some inner moral impetus. America's god is money. God is your ultimate concern, what you give maximum sacrifice for, what you will die for. God is what you worship. The American ideal is maximum profit and minimum person; there is no impulse to share the wealth, to raise up those less fortunate. What counts is the name on the front of the building. Well, I say what counts are the hands that do the work inside.

Playboy: Isn't money also one of Operation Breadbasket's major concerns?

Jackson: Yes. It's a concern because it's a reality. But the essential purpose of Operation Breadbasket is to have blacks control the basic resources of their community. We want to control the banks, the trades, the building construction and the education of our children. This desire on our part is a defensive strategy evolved in order to stop whites from controlling our community and removing the profits and income that belong to black people. Our programs are dictated by the private-enterprise economy in which we find ourselves. In my heart, however, I know that the entire system is a corruption. To me, the earth belongs to everybody; it's just a very successful rumor white folks have going that the earth belongs to them. The earth is the Lord's and no man creates anything that didn't come from other things that God put here. No man really takes anything away, either. No man can claim that he made soil or wool or milk. White folks can make airplanes, but they can't make mountains. They can make syrup but not water. Genesis says that the Lord created the earth and everything therein and gave man, not white man, dominion over it and created a dominion sufficient for everyone to be able to survive and prosper. Now the concept of Genesis has obviously been destroyed, and it is our concern to rid America of some of her arrogance and control of God's resources by saying that the food belongs to all the people.

Playboy: Do you think farmers and suppliers should give their food away?

Jackson: I don't care how the people get food, as long as they get it. The government can buy the food and give it away in a large-scale version of the present inadequate surplus-food and food-stamp programs. Or it can give the poor enough money to buy the food themselves.

Playboy: Many middle-class whites think that the poor would only buy booze and guns if they had the money.

Jackson: I challenge anyone with that belief to tour the reeking, rat-infested tenements of Harlem or Chicago's South Side and count the number of alcoholic welfare mothers. There won't be many. Welfare people do not account for this nation's high number of alcoholics. Nor are most guns bought by the black poor. In a home where the children are eating wall plaster because they are hungry, a gun isn't looked upon as an important commodity. But I don't care if the government wants to give out food instead of money. I would bless any device it might come up with, as long as it does something. The country is producing more food than it needs. There is inherent evil in a system that induces men to plow crops under while others starve.

Not only does the food belong to the people but the industrial profit also belongs to the people. If the employees of General Motors left tomorrow, it would have to stop. If the entire board of directors died tomorrow, nothing would stop. What's indispensable are the laborers, not the directors. The they are the basic need, they ought to reap the basic benefits. But in America, about six percent of the people control the basic wealth, and there's something infinitely demonic about that. It's no wonder that America needs the largest military in the world to protect the wealthiest super-rich class from people who would rebel against it. There's no basic conflict among the peoples of the world; Russian bus drivers aren't mad at American bus drivers. But the controlling groups are always in conflict with the people -- whether it's the government of the United States, which refuses to adequately protect the poor, or the boards of directors at GM and Ford, which encourage blacks to go into debt to buy automobiles but don't allow blacks to participate in the profitable manufacture and distribution of cars.

Playboy: Can blacks afford to buy automobile agencies?

Jackson: The companies will lend us the money to buy cars, which leads to profits for them only. They could lend us the money to buy agencies, but they won't, because that would let us profit also.

Playboy: Aren't there some black car dealers?

Jackson: About 14 dealerships out of 28,000. We are grossly underrepresented in all areas of the economy. There are no black TV stations, for example, and only seven black radio stations. Most of the stations that are beamed toward the black community and play black music are white owned. We can't get FCC outlets, and I'm convinced that there is a conspiracy to keep us from communicating with one another on a mass scale.

Playboy: Do you mean that the government fears a nationally directed riot?

Jackson: I don't know what they think; all I know is we can't get licenses when we apply.

Playboy: What does Operation Breadbasket intend to do about this sort of economic underrepresentation?

Jackson: We have the power, nonviolently, just by controlling our appetites, to determine the direction of the American economy. If black people in 30 cities said simultaneously, "General Motors, you will not sell cars in the black community unless you guarantee us a franchise here next year and help us finance it," GM would have no choice. We can affect their margin of profit by withdrawing our patronage and resisting the system instead of enduring it.

Playboy: Can this really work? And, if so, why hasn't it been done already?

Jackson: It hasn't been done because we weren't sophisticated enough to see it. This is a step that we haven't been ready to take. But it will certainly be done now, because we are organizing to do it. Black people purchase about 35 to 40 billion dollars' worth of goods each year. We represent the margin of profit in many industries. America depends on our cooperation with her economy, and we shall become the enemies of those businesses and industries that work against our interest by unfair hiring practices, by discriminating against black products, by not making investments in the ghetto to correspond with the profits taken out of it. There is an analogous situation in politics: The black people have not yet realized that we can determine who gets elected President; in 1960, it was the South Side of Chicago that turned in the vote that made John Kennedy President. The newspapers all said that Mayor Daley had once again come through with his Cook County machine, but that vote was black. The ghetto, however, has seldom voted in its own self-interest. It has even voted for black politicians who are contemptuous of blacks.

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