Jesse Jackson Doesn’t Think Soledad O’Brien’s “Black Enough”

The debate over racial purity rears its ugly head once again.

By Jamilah King Nov 08, 2010

In her new memoir "The Next Big Story", CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien recounts the moment when Rev. Jesse Jackson essentially revoked her black card. Here’s an excerpt from News One:

Even though I am not sure what he is saying, I can tell he is angry. Today he is angry because CNN doesn’t have enough black anchors. It is political season. There are billboards up sporting Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper. He asks after the black reporters. Why are they not up there? I share his concern and make a mental note to take it back to my bosses. But then he begins to rage that there are no black anchors on the network at all. Does he mean covering the campaign, I wonder to myself? The man has been a guest on my show. He knows me, even if he doesn’t recall how we met. I brought him on at MSNBC, then again at Weekend Today. I interrupt to remind him I’m the anchor of American Morning. He knows that. He looks me in the eye and reaches his fingers over to tap a spot of skin on my right hand. He shakes his head. "You don’t count," he says. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I don’t count — what? I’m not black? I’m not black enough? Or my show doesn’t count?

In the excerpt, O’Brien goes on to describe feeling angry and embarrassed. "Jesse Jackson managed to make me ashamed of my skin color which even white people had never been able to do," she writes.

Of course, it’s not the first time Rev. Jackson’s appointed himself the arbiter of blackness. After reportedly criticizing then-candidate Barack Obama for "acting like he’s white" in response to the Jena 6 case back in 2007, Jackson was infamously caught on tape in 2008 saying that he wanted to "cut [Obama’s] nuts out." The comment came on the heels of Obama’s Father’s Day address, in which Jackson felt like the Senator was "talking down to black people."

Jackson’s exchange with O’Brien didn’t make big news until now, but kudos to her for calling him out publicly. Though, of course, "debates" like these aren’t limited to quiet brawls in newsrooms. Back in 2007 Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote for Time about the big fuss over Obama’s racial identity. And I’m sure the buck doesn’t stop there.