Rep. Keith Ellison on Activists, Politicians, the Big Tent, and Telling It Like It Is.

Keith Ellison, who represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district, is unique. He is the first Muslim to serve in the House of Representatives. The fact that an African American Muslim could be elected in a House district whose population is 12% black is something of a breakthrough.


Representative Keith Ellison, MN-05

Ellison is interviewed in the October 2008 issue of The Progressive magazine. He offers some interesting thoughts on the current and future state of black leadership:

Q: Do you agree with Reverand Jesse Jackson’s criticism that Senator Obama talks down to African Americans?

A: Now, let me tell you this. I don’t want to sound like I am equivocating but I see both sides of this thing.

The fact is that one of the things in the incoming era we’re emerging into will be the separation between the (black) activist and the (black) politician.

There will be an important role for people like Jesse Jackson. They’re like Jeremiah of the Old Testament. They’re lamenting the fallibility of society, the abandonment of its values. They’re going to call the country back to its better self.

And then there will be people who will be politicians. Politicians sound a little less strident than activists because they have to keep everybody in the tent-so to speak-in order to move the agenda. When you have to keep everybody in the tent, you just can’t “tell it like it is.” You have to be sensitive to everybody who is under the tent and keep them all moving in the same direction to achieve a definable outcome.

Whereas the activist has an equally important role, which is to help build a national consensus for a more just, more fair, more equal society.

But the roles are separating, and that is a result of this generational shift (in African American leadership).

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One comment

  1. soltrane

    very interesting. and very true. i can’t decide if the separation between black activist and black politician is necessarily negative, or just something we should adjust to. i don’t like how it’s estranging black activists from the voting process.. i think an understanding of the whole ‘tent’ thing is crucial..

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