The Rev. Al Sharpton said last night that there is a widespread belief in America that blacks should not clamor for social change because several blacks have gained prominent positions in the corporate and political sectors.

“Why is it when blacks achieve power, all blacks are supposed to shut up?” Sharpton said. “We must continue to agitate today.”

Sharpton, an outspoken political activist and minister who is seeking the presidency in 2004, addressed a standing-room-only audience Wednesday night in LC 102 on the topic “The State of Racial Equality in this Country.” The event was sponsored by the Yale College Student Union.

Earlier in the day, Sharpton missed a Berkeley College Master’s Tea, leaving a large group of students waiting for over one and a half hours. He arrived half an hour later than scheduled for the evening lecture.

While Sharpton acknowledged that there has been progress in the struggle for equality, he expressed disappointment that the movement for civil rights has been viewed as a “fashion” that comes “in and out of style,” and said that much more can be done.

“There have been some gains. But we are still living in a society that is unequal,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton, who founded and leads the National Action Network, an organization supporting progressive social policy, described examples of what he believes to be serious inequalities in the United States. He said blacks receive less health care than their white counterparts, are four times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, and that the education of blacks is of a lesser quality than that of whites in the same school districts.

A man who often attracts controversy, Sharpton said he feels U.S. leaders have cheapened public discourse by telling people what they want to hear, rather than what is actually true.

“I say what I believe; I do not get caught up in trying to convince. I’m not here to make you like me,” he said.

Sharpton also spoke of a “new McCarthyism” that he says is sweeping across America in response to Sept. 11, which he said brands someone as being un-American and unpatriotic for questioning the wisdom of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies.

“[It is] more patriotic to question the things that weaken the country,” he said. “You don’t suspend the Constitution in war.”

The minister, who used flamboyant hand gestures and pitch changes to emphasize his points, brought the audience to laughter throughout his speech.

Expressing amusement as to why American authorities cannot locate Osama bin Laden yet manage to find his numerous videos, Sharpton said bin Laden “has out more videos than Mary J. Blige.”

In the question-and-answer session, Sharpton expressed support for reparations for Native Americans and said Yale students should become more involved in the Dixwell neighborhood, which he referred to as “the ghetto.”

Responding to a question from Boris Volodarsky ’05, Sharpton said Yale should rename residential colleges named after proponents of slavery.

“I think it is an absolute outrage, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves and change the name,” Sharpton said.