In a lengthy profile of the Rev. Al Sharpton on the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post, reporter Eli Saslow captures the controversial civil rights figure in the midst of an existential crisis.
And yet, between moments of confident posturing, Saslow reveals that Sharpton’s harshest critic might the reverend himself as he begins to measure his long career against those of the former civil rights heavyweights whom he always aspired to become like.
“Am I good enough?” he asks at one point. “Am I more than just a showman?”
Sharpton may not have had answers for those questions, but within hours of the profile’s publication, the Internet certainly did. Fox News Channel called the story “eye-opening” and said Sharpton comparing himself to Martin Luther King was “like Pee Wee Herman wondering if he’ll ever be Clint Eastwood.”
Meanwhile on the left, a handful of younger activists spent the afternoon attacking Sharpton on Twitter with the hashtag #SharptonSays. Chief among them was DeRay McKesson, a school administrator turned protest organizer in Ferguson, Mo., who highlighted a number of brazen Sharpton quotes for his 65,700 followers.
Coretta. #SharptonSays pic.twitter.com/sZSHDyOE4W— deray (@deray) February 8, 2015
Porta-potties. #SharptonSays pic.twitter.com/Jy940v8tpI— deray (@deray) February 8, 2015
"I will be the next national civil rights guy." #SharptonSays— deray (@deray) February 8, 2015
I. Don't. Hate. Al. Sharpton.— deray (@deray) February 8, 2015
The way he performs justice work, however, is dangerous.
Others, such as organizer Charles Wade, said they had respect for Sharpton and his many years of activism, but have grown disinterested in a strategy that relies on a centralized leader chipping away at change incrementally.
“Our generation doesn’t believe that we have to wait anymore,” he told The Post, referring to young activists as members of a “microwave generation.” “What’s happened in Ferguson takes movements years to get without the use of the Internet. We’re tired of being spoon-fed a little reform at a time when we want a revolution.”
Other Twitter users reacted to statements in the article that they felt were signs of Sharpton’s outsize ego.
Isn't Martin Al's role model? Martin said that a riot is the language of the unheard... Al did you forget that?— Johnetta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaaa) February 8, 2015
Let's be clear, not all the victims families want him to help them. RT @deray: Phone number. #SharptonSays pic.twitter.com/PAwsOyThJA— Johnetta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaaa) February 8, 2015
"Freedom ain't free, pay ME." #AlSharptonbylines— ashley yates (@brownblaze) February 8, 2015
That entire washington post gets to the crux of the corportization of the movement which everyone sees as problem except #AlSharpton— Jamar Hooks (@jadore_jamar) February 8, 2015
Despite becoming a staging ground for Sharpton condemnation, Twitter was not devoid of Sharpton supporters.
i ain sayin #AlSharpton is a saint, i aint saying he da answer. im jus sayin he has valid points. who really out here? what are they sayin?— amen. (@sweetjeus) February 8, 2015
And then there was Sharpton himself, who seemed to welcome any attention that Saslow’s article stirred up, regardless of what it might bring.
On the front page of today's @WashingtonPost there is an in-depth profile of me by @EliSaslow. Read it here: http://t.co/jGJkvfyfJP— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) February 8, 2015