So. Russell Simmons, Al Sharpton, and PETA have all signed a letter condemning dog fighting and calling Mike Vick out for his indictment in a dog fighting ring. Well and good. Dog fighting is reprehensible and calling out Vick for his participation in and connection to the sport is a reasonable act for two men who claim to be trying to represent African American interests in the larger national culture. Their castigation of Vick (albeit guided by PETA) is a clear effort to show that dog fighting is not an acceptable pastime within the black community as some may claim.
But let’s ask a couple of hard questions of these two.
First, why is Russell Simmons suddenly interested in animal rights in the black community? Rap, with which Simmons is most closely associated, has long used pit bulls and Rottweilers as icons of male power and violence in both lyrics and images associated with the music. It would be interesting to hear how Simmons came to his conclusion that this moment, when a prominent NFL player is caught up in a criminal case related to the “use for sport” – and abuse – of pit bulls is the proper moment for him to take a stand against the mistreatment of dogs. Certainly PETA would have welcomed him with open arms had he chosen to take a stand at any time on this issue.
And why in alliance with Al Sharpton? Sharpton, who is known more as an activist and spokesperson on civil rights issues, seems a strange bedfellow for Simmons on this matter. Neither Sharpton nor Simmons has been noted as interested in animal rights before this sudden condemnation of Michael Vick (again, I don’t disagree with their condemnation – I just wonder why it appeared on the event horizon so suddenly – and without context). Sharpton, whose recent connections with GOP support would seem to have made him a pariah among many of his colleagues, and who has defended Louis Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism, when Simmons has (at least indirectly) criticized the Nation of Islam leader, seems at odds with his younger colleague….
Second, and more important, perhaps, why are Simmons and Sharpton focusing their energy on the criminal indictment of a wealthy NFL star when more pressing issues such as the Jena travesty (see also here and here) would seem more important, both for shedding light on the injustice there and for helping those who truly need it?
Why the silence from these two prominent African Americans who seek to speak for their communities?
However, it’s also possible that they do know the facts. But that supporting poor black kids being bullied in Louisiana doesn’t carry the publicity and promotional possibilities that jumping on the Vick story offer. Let’s hope it’s not that.
Let’s hope they remember this role model. And emulate him soon….