This is a really interesting interview. Shoutouts to Gina and to Essence.com for this unique exchange. I’m pleasantly surprised that Essence noticed us black bloggers blogging our little hearts out. It’s a good convergence of new media and newer media that will keep old media relevant.

There’s a mention of the article by guest blogger Tami over at Gina’s blog What About Our Daughters. I’ve excerpted my favorite parts of the interview here. Gina, thanks for bringing out the best in the man. I like it when Jesse talks about maturity. We could all use a little more of that in today’s politics.

Essence.com: As somebody who was born in South Carolina, what do you think about the way African-American voters were portrayed by the media leading up to the primary? For example, they started talking about the barbershop and the beauty shop vote. Do you have any problem with the way South Carolina voters were portrayed?

J.J: No. My concern is that while focusing on the color of the vote, they were not focusing on Black issues and substance. For example, student debt—I think student loans are like a billion dollars. The disparity between Black and White student loans is alarming. The great disparities in infant mortality and life expectancy—great disparities.The income disparity… The college enrollment disparities… The largest industry in that state is no longer cotton. It’s the jail-industrial complex. There’s 24 state prisons in South Carolina and only one state college, South Carolina State. So we are free, but not equal. We live in one America under one flag, but there are some structural inequalities. Stop focusing so much on the color of our vote and start focusing on the substance of our situation.

Essence.com: Considering how much attention was given to the Black vote, do you think that African-Americans sufficiently stressed their demands with these candidates? Did we demand enough of them?

J.J: The civil rights agenda must always be kept out front: the civil right to equal opportunity. The civil right to health care, the civil right to adequate housing, the civil right to fair employment. There was this assumption that we’re all free now and it’s over. We’re all free, but we are not equal. Dr. King said that the next big chapter of our struggle was that we’ve won the battles of decency over barbarism, but equality? That was in the coming campaign.

Essence.com: I’ve encountered many people who say we shouldn’t question Senator Obama about what he will do specifically for African-Americans, that we should just get him in the White House and then worry about specific issues. Should we be attempting to nail him down?

J.J: Every issue that came up, he addressed. The issue of affirmative action; he’s for affirmative action. The issue of jail or criminal disparities; he’s addressed that issue. The issue of should every vote count; he’s addressed that issue. I think in this setting, we really have to look at the common ground that includes our interests. For example, in South Carolina, 62 percent of the people who work don’t have health insurance. That affects everybody. The subprime crisis. It affects us disproportionately, but it affects everybody. The Iraq War affects everybody. In Iowa I was talking about family farmers. By the time we got to Chicago, I was talking about urban abandonment. I am about addressing the structural inequalities. The media has some responsibilities to ask the right questions.
[...]
Essence.com: I understand that. But Rev. Jackson, there are a whole lot of Black folks who are very upset with the Clintons. They see a pattern. This is Bill Clinton, he knows how to craft words. So are you saying that the press is misinterpreting what President Clinton said?

J.J: I don’t know what he said. I was on my way to India. My point is I know that in November, whoever wins, Clinton and Barack are going to need each other. I saw in 1980 there was such a dog fight between Carter and Kennedy that they could not reconcile at the convention, and that opened the door for Reagan to get through to win. So, however tough this thing gets right up in here, keep one eye on the primary and an even bigger eye on the Super Bowl, which is in November.

Essence.com: It’s interesting that you say that, because I’m a younger voter. I’m a blogger and a lot of bloggers are saying that they are so turned off, and they are so irate about how the Clintons are treating Barack Obama that they absolutely will not vote for her if she wins the nomination.

J.J: That means that they’re going to vote for some anti–civil rights Republicans, who’s going to further stack the Supreme Court. And they’re going to vote for some anti–affirmative action Republicans. So you have to be mature in this process. You have to think this thing through. Politics also comes down to options. In this marathon race, you have to be walking through a storm and thinking at the same time. Barack has my vote. My point is that when it’s over, the two of them and the others who ran must close ranks because you cannot beat the right wing unless you do.

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