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Rev. Jesse Jackson on Attorney Gen. Holder’s “Nation of Cowards” Speech, Education Reform, and Sen. Roland Burris

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We get Rev. Jackson’s reaction to Attorney General Eric Holder’s branding of the US as a “nation of cowards,” a comment that drew a rebuke from President Obama. Rev. Jackson also talks about Obama’s plans to boost support for charter schools and his thoughts on the ongoing controversy surrounding Illinois Senator Roland Burris. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, I’d like you to stay with us. I want to play for you a part of what Attorney General Eric Holder had to say last month during that speech commemorating Black History Month.

    ERIC HOLDER: One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country, one must examine its racial soul.

    Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial. It is an issue that we have never been at ease with, and given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking last month. The New York Times asked President Obama last week about Holder’s comments. This is what he said, quote, “I think it’s fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language. I think the point that he was making is that we’re oftentimes uncomfortable with talking about race until there’s some sort of racial flare-up or conflict, and that we could probably be more constructive in facing up to the painful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination.”

President Obama went on to say, quote, “But what I would add to that is the fact that we’ve made enormous progress and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. And I’m not somebody who believes that constantly talking about race somehow solves racial tensions.” Reverend Jackson, your response?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: You know, we’re doing an awful lot talking about it; we’re not acting upon it. People talked about it last year. They looked at President Barack Obama as an African American and Hillary Clinton as a white female, and millions voted for him to be their president. So, a lot of talk.

The issue is not talking, but closing the disparity gaps. While we made great progress in, say, football, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis and track — when the playing field is even, the rules are public and the goals are clear, we do right well. But we’re number one in infant mortality and short life expectancy and target for home foreclosures and subprime lending. And so, now is the time to invest in closing the disparity gap. A report came out last week. The national average of unemployment is around 8.1 percent; for blacks, it’s around 14 to 15 percent. The disparity gaps are really what must be addressed, not just more conversation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you also, President Obama this week spoke on public education, obviously a major issue in terms of disparity, racial disparities, in our public schools, came out very strongly for the continued growth of charter schools. I’ve been looking into a lot of this recently in the Daily News, this vast private charter school movement or public charter schools, and I’ve been finding that a lot of the administrators for these charter schools are making huge, huge salaries, much more than your normal principal is. Your sense of how the charter school movement will help to reduce the inequities in public education in this country?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: You know, you don’t talk about charter schools for suburban areas; you talk about first-class public education. The ’54 promise, the promise in ’54, was not that your government poorly funded inadequate urban education or rural to a charter school, but to the central high, to the best. So the inner-city school and the suburban school must have an even playing field.

This year, they’re trying to get the Olympics to come to Chicago. But we needed an Olympic education. The suburban schools have the higher-paid teachers. They have the Olympic swimming pool. They have the bars for the gymnasts. They have a fully facilitated school. And then you get a private school, even — a charter. At best, when you get some kids in charter school, what about those who are left behind? There’s both a legal a moral question. Sure, we can salvage some of them. But the American promise is the big tent to salvage all of them. And that requires investment in all of them, not just charter schools for some of them.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, and then Michael Parenti will be our guest. But I wanted to ask about Senator Burris. What are your thoughts? As a fellow Chicagoan, I’m sure you’ve known him for many decades.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: I’ve known him for — as a very honorable guy. It is a messy situation. This involves a huge criminal case in Chicago. And I’ve not addressed it much, because there’s nothing much to say until Fitzgerald has done his work. And it is a situation that is painful.

It’s also a distraction, because right now the impact of losing more jobs, losing more homes, jobs leaving, drugs and guns coming, murder rate up, now is a moment we’re having these serious issues with which we’re grappling. And I’m going to maintain my of focus in that area, frankly.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Reverend Jackson. The latest on that, Senator Roland Burris has been added to the list of defendants in a lawsuit aimed at forcing Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to call an election to fill his seat. Reverend Jackson, thanks so much.


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