T-Shirt Confidential #7

Some people believe you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear. I believe you can tell more about a person by the t-shirts they have worn. This is the story of my life, as told by the t-shirts I have worn.

This week’s shirt features none other than the Reverend Jesse Jackson. This is a shirt from his 1988 presidential campaign. For those of you that don’t remember, 1988 was the tail end of Ronald Reagan’s two-term dictatorship. History has been remarkably kind to Reagan, but I was never a fan of his, and I still refuse to believe any of the bullshit hype that surrounds his mythology. The fact of the matter is that it was during the 1980s that major shifts happened within the American black community that sent it into a downward spiral from which we have yet to recover. Nearly all of these changes—which included the introduction of crack cocaine into the black community—happened under the Reagan administration. I’m still convinced that if you look closely, you can see the 666 on his forehead that was covered with make-up so most people would not recognize his true nature.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I came of age during the Reagan administration, and by the time 1988 rolled around, and I was finally old enough to vote in a presidential election, I was ready to do my thing. Jesse Jackson, or as some people call him, The Rev, was at what the height of his popularity. He was certainly a dynamic speaker, with a pretty sharp sense of humor, and most important, he represented a marked, visible change from everyone else in the political landscape in that he was black. And so, in 1988 I decided to back The Rev in his bid for the White House.

The interesting thing about this shirt is that it reminds me of both how politically idealistic and naive I was back in those days. I was disappointed when Mike Dukakis got the Democratic nomination over Jesse Jackson, and then I actually thought Dukakis could win (that man had no charisma). Looking back, I know that my support of The Rev had nothing to do with his political experience or his potential ability to be president. I supported him simply because he was black. In hindsight I now think Jackson would not have made a very good president.

As I have grown older I now see The Rev in a different way. Yes, the man has done some great things, as well as some really stupid things—which makes him just like many of us. When I was in my teens and early 20s, Jackson was just barely speaking to my generation of black youth. Since that time, he has become even more out of touch with the current generation of young people in the black community. When you stop and think about it, Jackson rose up to be the post-Martin Luther King voice of black America, speaking to my parent’s generation, who were born and came of age during the Civil Rights movement. By the time he ran for president, he was speaking to not only my parents and grandparents, but me and my peers.

I got this shirt when I volunteered to do door-to-door campaigning for The Rev. It was during this afternoon excursion of ringing doorbells in a predominantly white neighborhood in Portland that I learned three valuable lessons. First, no one likes political campaigners coming to their door. Second, some white people really didn’t like Jesse Jackson. And third, door-to-door campaigning was clearly not my thing, and I hated it so much that I never did it again. Still, for a brief moment I got to be part of the political machine, see the ugly face of racism that openly dwells in Portland, and I got a t-shirt that no longer fits after 30 years. That shit is priceless.

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