Some people believe you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear. I believe you can tell more about a person by the t-shirts they have worn. This is the story of my life, as told by the t-shirts I have worn.
Originally posted as T-Shirt of the Week: WEEK 12 (September 2, 2007)
Okay, once again you may notice that I am not actually wearing this week’s shirt. The reason should be obvious enough: I’m a bit too husky to wear such a tiny shirt. I can’t tell you how depressing it is to know that I was once able to wear this shirt without my belly hanging out from the bottom, which of course forces me to acknowledge how much weight I’ve gained over the last two decades. But that’s a story for another time.
This week’s shirt features none other than the Reverend Jesse Jackson. This is a shirt from his 1988 presidential campaign. For those of you that don’t remember, 1988 was the tail end of Ronald Reagan’s two-term dictatorship. History has been remarkably kind to Reagan, but I was never a fan of his, and I still refuse to believe any of the bullshit hype that surrounds his mythology. The fact of the matter is that it was during the 1980s that major shifts happened within the American black community that sent it into a downward spiral from which we have yet to recover. Nearly all of these changes—which included the introduction of crack cocaine into the black community—happened under the Reagan administration. I’m still convinced that if you look closely, you can see the 666 on his forehead that was covered with make-up so most people would not recognize his true nature.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I came of age during the Reagan administration, and by the time 1988 rolled around, and I was finally old enough to vote in a presidential election, I was ready to do my thing. Jesse Jackson, or as some people call him, The Rev, was at what the height of his popularity. He was certainly a dynamic speaker, with a pretty sharp sense of humor, and most important, he represented a marked, visible change from everyone else in the political landscape in that he was black. And so, in 1988 I decided to back The Rev in his bid for the White House.
The interesting thing about this shirt is that it reminds me of both how politically idealistic and naive I was back in those days. I was disappointed when Mike Dukakis got the Democratic nomination over Jesse Jackson, and then I actually thought Dukakis could win (that man had no charisma). Looking back, I know that my support of The Rev had nothing to do with his political experience or his potential ability to be president. I supported him simply because he was black. In hindsight I now think Jackson would not have made a very good president. He would not have sucked nearly as bad as the current asshole running the show [NOTE: I was referring to George W. Bush], but I honestly don’t think he would have been all that good.
As I have grown older I now see The Rev in a different way. Yes, the man has done some great things, as well as some really stupid things—which makes him just like many of us. When I was in my teens and early 20s, Jackson was just barely speaking to my generation of black youth. He is now even more out of touch with the current generation of young people in the black community. When you stop and think about it, Jackson rose up to be the post-Martin Luther King voice of black America, speaking to my parent’s generation, who were born and came of age during the Civil Rights movement. By the time he ran for president, he was speaking to not only my parents and grandparents, but me and my peers. Now, Jackson and other black leaders are trying to talk to young people who are removed from the Civil Rights era by an entire generation (and in some cases two generations). Jackson and other leaders like Al Sharpton have carried the load of leadership for far too long, and have simply lost much of their relevance. They are from a generation whose time has past, and they speak a language the dialect of which is no longer easily understood by many people. But that’s not what this column is about, so I’m going to move on.
I got this shirt when I volunteered to do door-to-door campaigning for The Rev. It was during this afternoon excursion of ringing doorbells in a predominantly white neighborhood in Portland that I learned three valuable lessons. First, no one likes political campaigners coming to their door. Second, some white people really didn’t like Jesse Jackson. And third, door-to-door campaigning was clearly not my thing, and I hated it so much that I never did it again. Still, for a brief moment I got to be part of the political machine, see the ugly face of racism that openly dwells in Portland, and I got a t-shirt that no longer fits after 19 years [NOTE: Now it is 27 years]. That shit is priceless.