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Playboy Interview: Jesse Jackson
  • October 13, 2011 : 20:10
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Playboy: You have been accused of cynically manipulating that new mood in your personal choice of dress and hairstyle. Do you think that if you didn't wear sideburns and a dashiki, but dressed conservatively and looked somewhat like a young Martin Luther King, that you could make it as a black leader today?

Jackson: Style -- whether it's Afro or Ivy League -- isn't crucial. Hell, there are kids around who look like Chè Guevara, but they still need their mommas to get them across the street. Because of all the losses we have suffered, black people are looking for winners; that's the only way to get their respect. And a winner is someone who successfully defies white America. The reason Joe Louis will always be respected in the black community is that at a time when other blacks couldn't even talk back to white people, Joe Louis was beating them up, knocking them down and making them bleed. When I do a TV show, I'm aware that every black watching is scoring me against the white opposition, as if I were in a fight. Every black man who has won the loyalty of his community has indicated some expression of defiance for the white man. Malcolm X is a good example. He could look Whitey straight in the eye and tell him he was lying. And Malcolm showed that even the most brutalized experience could be overcome.

Playboy: You obviously don't agree with those who felt that Malcolm was a disruptive force.

Jackson: Malcolm had become an apostle of peace after his trips to the Near East. America has a knack for killing her men of peace, while men of war continue to thrive. Malcolm's death also pointed up the futility of thinking in exclusively white-black terms. Blacks killed Malcolm, just as a black man betrayed Marcus Garvey and a black woman once tried to stab Dr. King. Black is not always good, just as white is not always bad. We confirmed that lesson at Resurrection City, where white Appalachians shared the mud with us while some blacks on U Street were asking The Man to run us out of town. And it was a black woman who started many of Adam Powell's troubles.

Playboy: The consensus among white liberals is that Adam Powell deserved his fate -- and that he was a hindrance to the civil rights movement. Do you disagree?

Jackson: Absolutely. First of all, and to set the record straight, as head of the House Education and Labor Committee, Adam Powell was responsible for passing over 60 pieces of significant social legislation -- more than any other of his virtuous colleagues have ever done. But Adam is even more important, for a depressed black psyche, as a defier of white rules. Something happened to my dad in World War II that illustrates this. He was serving in France and Strom Thurmond came to speak to his all-black regiment. The senator's message was that they were there to fight the war, that they were not to bother any women; they were to know their place. In other words, it was all right for my father to risk his life to serve America, but he was still a nigger. So when Adam Powell walked down the halls of Congress with two white women on his arm, just the outrageous defiance of it gave us gratification. The appeal of that defiance will never be lost.

Playboy: That story touches on the strong sexual aspect of racism. Both Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver have expressed elaborate theories in which white sexual fears are cited as a fundamental cause of race hatred. Do you agree?

Jackson: Although sex is a crucial underlying cause of prejudice and racial hatred, it is not relevant to the black liberation movement. We will not allow the white man's sexual problem to stand in the way of our freedom.

Playboy: Can you just ignore it?

Jackson: Let me explain it with some awful history. In the South, when a slave ran away -- thereby expressing his manhood and independence -- and he was caught, the punishment for his first offense was whipping or branding. If he ran away again, which was the clearest way for him to assert himself, his punishment was likely to be castration. The slave was told that he was inferior, less than human and completely unappealing to the white woman; but The Man still castrated him. That says a lot about the psychosexual dilemma of the Southern white male. The other part of that dilemma was that because of his fear of black men, the white man had to desensitize white women. The white woman had to spiritually kill herself. For a white woman to see Jim Brown and not think of him as an attractive male means that the nerves are dead within her when the white man destroyed his relationship with his women, he got his satisfaction from the pursuit of money. So the white man perverted himself and his women.

If some great psychoanalyst had emerged 300 years ago, he might have solved some of the white man's problems and prevented the brutalization of blacks by whites. But we were not rescued, and the intervening 300 years have served to diminish the importance of sexual antagonisms and replace them with a more crippling form of racism. Today, racism is integrated into the ideology of capitalism. I said that the sexual aspect is irrelevant because even if sexual tensions disappeared tomorrow, capitalism would still require a racist ideology in order to maintain a cheap labor base. Racism provides a mechanism by which the slavemaster assures that society will have a ready supply of inferiors who can serve as slaves. Racism is as important to America's domestic colonialism as it was to foreign colonialism; it is an excuse to exploit and enslave a people because they have been defined as inferior. Colonialism is not built upon emotions; it is built upon behavior patterns that are designed to get a profit.

Playboy: Do you think, as some revolutionaries do, that capitalism will have to be destroyed in order to end racism?

Jackson: It is futile for us to think about ending racism; that is a psychological problem that seems beyond our attempts to affect it. We are fighting to end colonialism -- oppression and exploitation. That requires power. The civil rights movement is a lifetime struggle for power. A man who is impotent, no matter how courteous and pleasant looking he is, is told to wait in the lobby. But if you have power, you can be an illiterate boor with tobacco juice running down your face and they will open the door for you. As I said earlier, we are going to organize to exert power on the big corporations. We are going to see to it that the resources of the ghetto are not siphoned off by outside groups. Right now, black exterminating companies don't even get the contracts to kill the ghetto's rats. But that's going to change. If a building goes up in the black community, we're going to build it. And we're going to stop anyone else from building it. If we can't get into those construction unions, they're not going to get into our neighborhoods.

Playboy: But other neighborhoods don't control their business according to ethnic separation. They try to become part of what is traditionally called the American melting pot.

Jackson: I hear that melting-pot stuff a lot, and all I can say is that we haven't been melted. We've been getting burned on the bottom of the pot. We don't want anything that's different from the experience of the other ethnic groups. If you go into an Irish neighborhood, most of the businesses are run by Irishmen. The same is true in a Chinese or Jewish or Italian neighborhood. The difference between all of them and us is that they are all separate and independent groups, while we are separate and dependent. We want to control the vital elements of our lives: the school boards, the churches, the businesses, the police. The other groups are separate and control themselves, but they are separate and control us as well. That is a colonial situation. And the slums will exist as long as the colonists continue to turn a profit on them. As in any other revolution, we must fight for our independence.

Playboy: But Dr. King once said that his aim was to "break open the city," so that ultimately there would be no separate black and white communities. Have you forsaken that goal?

Jackson: No. But we recognize that a major part of the black community must first gravitate around itself, as other ethnic groups have done. In these areas, where our living together provides collective security, we ought to have the right to control it. But just as we have the private right to stay where we choose, we should also have the public right to participate in the public arena the way other people do. A man should choose where he wants to live, based on his income, or the fact that a house is close to his job, or because there's a good school nearby; he should not be refused because of his color. He should not be afraid of being bombed out by white bigots or of being harassed by police when he returns from work.

Playboy: Aren't the open-housing laws changing this?

Jackson: No. There is still segregation. In Chicago, blacks are 30 percent of the population, but they live on 10 percent of the land. That congestion is inhuman and a prime target for exploitation by slumlords. People are cramped in body and spirit, and those who can't afford it are paying more for the space in which they live. We are locked away from the resources of the community. Black children who are sick are untended and left to play in their own filth in understaffed, ill-equipped hospitals. Four- and five-years-olds who were lucky enough to enter Head Start programs substantially raised their learning capacity, only to have it fall again as soon as they entered public school. Yet the teachers call the children incompetent. We have no choice about schools and hospitals, because public mobility is denied us. When a white mother decides to move because her neighborhood doesn't serve the needs of her children, the broker asks her where she would like to live; when a black mother faces that problem, she knows where she can live -- and where she can't. In white communities, there are about 3,000 people per square mile; in the ghetto, there are 30,000 people in each square mile. The overcrowding produces bent and perverted people. They are made to suffer so much pain that they feel no need to conserve themselves or their neighborhoods, so they decide to destroy. These are the unheard -- until they riot.

Playboy: The majority of those who have participated in riots are in their teens or early 20s. Why?

Jackson: These kids have an awful lot of reasons for hating America. Their experiences with the dominant culture are nearly all negative; whether it be in school or a courtroom or applying for a job, they are being either deprived or discriminated against. This sense of resentment is acute, and it's just a matter of time before they give up on themselves and this country. Many of them already have. If Richard Nixon really cared about America's future, he'd be showing up at Operation Breadbasket meetings and offering to join us in the fight to reclaim these kids' minds and souls, because they are going to have a large effect on that future. He might at least give us equal time and attention with the moon shot.

Playboy: Weren't you impressed by the moon landing as a scientific achievement?

Jackson: The only thing that moon shot did for me was turn my stomach. I was in a migrant worker's shack in Georgia a few weeks before the launch. It was about 115 degrees inside in the daytime. It had no toilet -- not even an outhouse. No refrigerator, no running water. There was greasy butcher's temporary residence for a family of four and they actually paid rent for it. If they hadn't rented it, they wouldn't have been allowed to work the harvest. They were all hungry. The kids' bodies were bloated and discolored. And they suffered from worms. This was good time for these people. When the harvest ends, they have to move on and they have nowhere to go. That Sunday night of the moon walk, in my mind's eye, I could see those poor, broken people walking four miles to the company store to watch the two astronauts jump around. Each step Armstrong took cost enough money to feed that family for 100 years.

America has spent $57 billion since 1957 for the ego gratification of planting her flag on top of everyone else. One tenth of that was spent in the same period to inadequately feed the hungry. The psychological state of this nation is revealed by the fact that the men whose egos are swelled by putting a flag on a dead rock would not feel the slightest sense of accomplishment from the more humane task of feeding hungry people.

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