Debate on race takes center stage during Jackson speech

During a testy panel discussion on politics and race on Monday, August 25 at the Denver Democratic National Convention, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. compared Barack Obama to Jackie Robinson. “(Obama) has the capacity to hit,” Jackson said. “But he’s in a situation where he cannot hit back, which baseball legend Jackie Robinson could not do. He had to catch the ball, he had to run the bases, even though the crowd was jeering the first African-American on the field. He has to keep smiling… No one wants an angry African-American man in the White House.”
Jackson, co-chairman of Obama’s presidential campaign, continued the comparisons, stating that Sen. Hillary (and Bill) Clinton would be using the convention to play the role of Pee Wee Reese, Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers’ white teammate and supporter.
“Throughout this convention, as these microphones are stuck into everyone’s faces, they’ll be given an opportunity to put their arm around our guy so he’ll have an opportunity to run the bases,” the Illinois congressman said.
Jackson was one of several prominent African-American leaders participating in the panel, which was sponsored by the Denver Post, Yahoo News and, at the Denver Athletic Club.
Among the panelists was former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, who made history in 1990 when he became the first African-American to be elected a state governor. John Harris, editor-in-chief and panel moderator, asked Wilder if he thought Obama, who could become the first African-American president, was running on history-making star power over an actual campaign.
“He’s never emphasized race, never spoken to the fact that he wants to make history,” Wilder said. “History doesn’t pay the bills. History doesn’t pay taxes, it doesn’t improve the schools, doesn’t make the area safe.”
Wilder also commented on the tension between Clinton’s supporters and the Obama campaign.
A recent New York Times poll of white voters found that 5 percent of those polled admitted they would not vote for a black candidate, and when asked if someone they knew wouldn’t vote for a black candidate, the number jumped to 19 percent.
 Wilder remarked that race posed a potential factor in tensions between supporters.
“The ultimate question is: are (Clinton supporters) supporters for Barack Obama to be president? And if not, why not?” Wilder said. “I’m not at all suggesting race, but I’m not eliminating race.”
During a question-and-answer session, the Reverend Dr. James Fouther of the United Church of Montbello asked panel member Dr. Cornel West about Obama’s occasionally disputed African-American blood and ancestry.
“Barack is different in that he doesn’t have any Negroes in his lineage, he’s got Negroes in his progeny,” said West, an Obama supporter. He added that Obama had essentially embraced black heritage by marrying Michelle Obama and raising two daughters, both of an African-American ascent.
Jackson objected to West’s use of terms, stating: “When (audiences) see us on this panel, they see us as representatives of Obama at this convention. And when they’re sitting in their living rooms, listening to us, they’re sensitive to ‘Hey, I want these guys to have access to the president?’”
Fouther later said he respected West and was not surprised with West’s comments on the lack of importance in the ancestry argument. While Fouther found the panel compelling, he continues to question what would come of the general election.
“I’m still wondering at the end of the panel whether or not we’re going be able to traverse this bridge of race in the country, and whether or not folks who are white and folks who are non-white will really embrace this person of color in Sen. Barack Obama,” Fouther said.

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