A new article on the New Republic written by Randall Kennedy focuses on the career transformation Rev. Al Sharpton has experienced from firebrand civil rights activist to prime-time show host.
Sharpton, who is now the host of PoliticsNation on MSNBC, has gone from an unpopular figure amongst many Americans to a mainstream darling for many morning talk shows and magazines.
There was a time, not long ago, when the dominant arbiters of opinion relegated Al Sharpton to the outskirts of serious, respectable discussion. Sure, he was a fixture on the Ebonymagazine list of the 100 “top” black Americans. Sure, journalists called him when they needed a provocative quip. Sure, Democratic Party politicians courted him. But “the Rev” was unmistakably relegated to the black ghetto of celebrity activism.
No one thought to ask his opinion regarding issues other than those perceived as directly pertinent to aggrieved blacks. The deference accorded by Establishment bigwigs stemmed more from fear of his ability to cause them trouble than respect for his skill at envisioning positive initiatives. Among white opinion leaders he was widely seen as the very embodiment of a race hustler, a living version of Reverend Bacon, the demagogue that Tom Wolfe concocted in his novel Bonfire of the Vanities. There was, alas, a basis for this negative impression.
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