Now that the presidential campaign is entering the homestretch and Barack Obama's formal nomination at the Democratic Party's national convention is just weeks away, it's time to issue a primer for those older "black leaders" who still can't seem to bear Obama's ascendance.
We already have a "Greatest Generation." We don't need a Hater Generation—a group so blinded by petty jealousy that they failed to see the rise of Obama and other post-Civil Rights generation leaders as tethered to the strings of their own historic legacies.
It is not that Obama should not be scrutinized and criticized. Everyone should be scrubbing Obama on policy issues right now. But mean-spirited comments made by Jesse Jackson and others over the past several months, indicate that a handbook outlining more productive ways of raising legitimate concerns about the nominee (without resorting to racial stereotypes or threats of bodily harm) is in order.
Rev. Jackson's belief that Obama was acting like an uppity Negro worthy of castration for deigning to lecture black churchgoers about responsible fatherhood, should get top billing in the handbook's table of contents under the section labeled: "Go After the Issues, Not the Private Parts."
Andrew Young, a former United Nations ambassador whose rocky tenure led to his firing, could have used such a trusty manual when he said earlier this year that Obama wasn't as authentically black as former president Bill Clinton because Clinton had likely dated more black women than Obama.
And don't forget Bob Johnson implying that Obama was a drug dealer. A simple pocket guide could have helped the former owner of Black Entertainment Television, that bastion of tasteful and socially responsible programming, recast his remarks as sincere concern about the scourge of illegal drugs in black communities and Obama's position on drug control policy. A tip sheet, perhaps, would have made Johnson seem erudite instead of ridiculous.
When black men carried signs during the Civil Rights protests proclaiming simply and poetically, "I am a Man," this sentiment spoke volumes about the dignity of black men and their demand for respectability and full citizenship.
What message are some Civil Rights generation leaders now sending to black boys who see in Obama a future that they can now imagine for themselves? That only men old enough to be their grandfathers can be heroes? The impolitic remarks about Obama have the potential to confuse impressionable young minds and undermine a powerful source of motivation.
Just in case esteemed members of Generation H feel compelled to weigh in over the next few weeks, here are five simple tips for keeping the hate in check:
1. Remember that you do not speak for all black people. Resist the urge to feign offense on behalf of "the people" when you're really just being contrarian because Obama said something you personally disagree with or wished you had said first.
2. Stop living in the past. There's room at the top for more than just the old-school "Talented Tenth." Obama's moment in the political sun neither diminishes nor overshadows your own historic moments. Make "I'm okay, he's okay" your personal mantra.
3. Think before you pontificate. Check your feet at all times, and if you feel one jerking toward your mouth, run to a quiet place and get your thoughts and words in order. Keeping your foot out of your mouth will spare you the embarrassment of having to make a public apology, or worse, having your comments replayed and parsed in an endless loop by the haters at Fox News Channel.
4. Make yourself useful. Instead of offering up unproductive comments disguised as political analysis, offer yourselves to the cable talk shows during the convention to provide thoughtful, historical analysis, something that will be sorely needed and greatly appreciated.
5. Check your mic; check yourself. Remember that you live in the YouTube era. Don't pick your nose in public, and always assume that the microphone attached to your lapel—or in the hands of an unassuming "citizen reporter"—is on. If what you're thinking is not suitable for mixed company, keep it to yourself.
The envy—and make no mistake, that's what it is—has got to stop. There are more credible ways to hold Obama accountable. Keep trash talking and you may find that you've done more damage to your own legacy than his.
Marjorie Valbrun is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist.