An impassioned challenge to the career and activism of the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Debut author Sinclair, a native Jamaican who was raised in New York City, makes clear in his book’s title that it isn’t a detached biography of a prominent African-American leader. He seems driven by a desire to tell black Americans that Sharpton is a “charlatan” who’s amassed vast personal wealth on “the commoditization and monetization of racial oppression.” He characterizes it as an activism-for-profit model, which he says has been imitated by a slew of others. This, he asserts, is dangerous for the black community, as it offers a perverse disincentive to actually alleviate the plight of African-Americans. Sharpton very publically embraces protests on behalf of black communities, especially in the media. However, the author posits that one would never find Sharpton working outside of the spotlight—behind closed doors, lobbying politicians and businessmen who could bring about real change. According to Sinclair, the reverend’s private life stands in sharp contrast to his public activism; at various times in Sharpton’s career, the author asserts, he personally profited as a pitchman for white-owned companies, including a predatory financial institution that targeted African-Americans; he sabotaged the careers of black leaders and politicians who might have challenged his status; he took money from conservative Republicans in his 2004 presidential bid; and he served as an FBI informant in the 1980s, allegedly spying on other black activists. Readers who share Sinclair’s objections to Sharpton, and the brand of public black activist that he represents, will revel in the book’s polemic tone. Others, however, will be put off by the author’s overt bias and the text’s dearth of sources, despite the numerous footnotes in the text. Particularly troubling is the author’s negativity toward the black community writ large, as he asserts that African-Americans would rather embrace Sharpton’s brand of hustling and victimization than try to address “Poor education and social skills, poor thought and widespread ignorance, poor health habits, licentious violence, teenage pregnancy, single-parent phenomenon, self-hatred, dissonance and ostentation, and multi-generational dependence on public assistance.”
A biography with some illuminating moments, but which often lacks thoughtfulness.