“Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1968).
“...We've heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation, and that rightly offend white and black alike. I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy and, in some cases, pain.”
- President-Elect Barack Obama, A More Perfect Union, (March 2008).
The corporate media fangs have begun biting their way into the consciousness of the public. Salivating at the mouth, they hope to sell the notion of Obama’s election being the actualization of Dr. King’s dream – without any obstruction. In my first article on this issue, I attempted to outline seven distinct reasons that refute this concept of Obama – his compelling oratorical skills notwithstanding – putting the final stamp of approval on Dr. King’s dream, by taking the oath of office on Tuesday, January the 20th. In the previous essay, I listed seven issues of unmistakable contradiction between King and Obama, in relation to the maladies confronting Black America: Confusion, “The Excesses,” Black Males, Black Females, Black Poverty, Race, Affirmative Action.
With the National (official) King-day celebration placed just in time for Obama’s inauguration tomorrow, many mainstream pundits have declared, with unseemly haste, the end of racial individuality, and race-consciousness. The fact that a recently released study documents an unprecedented level of school segregation, since the ‘60s, seems to be a lessening factor in mass-media’s distortion of this truly historical moment – a time when people of conscience (of all colors and stripes) stood by as oligarchic-minded personalities became the new faces, and voices, of racial analysis.
The same journalists who christened Obama, early on in the campaign season, as a “race-transcending” Santa Claus of sorts – delivering white liberals from guilt of the past, and wiping away historical sins with a pledge to “move forward” – are now perpetrating a dangerous fraud. The same ones responsible for the “post-racial” myth are currently attempting to draw an imaginary, self-constructed parallel between Dr. King’s legacy and the President-Elect’s. To buttress this point, and be absorbed of any racist or sinister labels, they have sought Black parrots (too many to list) through which this message is propagated.
For people of insight across the world however, Obama’s endless dissimilarities with King are too transparent to ignore. Lest I be cast a sophist with no proof, Obama is not King – here are five additional reasons:
1) War & Peace. On April 4, 1967, Dr. King delivered one of the most impassioned speeches of all time, “Beyond Vietnam.” Offered before a packed-room at the Riverside Church in New York City, King outlined, with impeccable grace, the moral/spiritual ramifications of the Vietnam War. Drawing strong parallels between the (mis)treatment of the Vietnamese people, and Black folks in the U.S., King was able to pick up where Malcolm X left off (following his tragic death), and make a convincing case for an end to the occupation. King’s rationally-humane and morally-fervent indictment of the Vietnam War would earn him a special nickname from his former ally, President Lyndon Baines Johnson – “that goddamn n-word preacher.” The incompatibilities between Obama and Dr. King’s philosophies, vis-à-vis war and its implications, are apparent from the outset. The only anti-war-street-cred Obama touts till this very day is a 2002 speech against “dumb war[s].” As one who has consistently promised an escalation of the Afghanistan War, and an extension of militaristic-programs such as AFRICOM, Obama spits in the face of Dr. King, without mercy.
2) Poverty. In the last years of his life, Dr. King embarked on an historic fight against poverty. Dr. King had come to understand that the struggle for economic justice was an integral part of the fight for equality. King was aware of the increasing wealth disparity, and sought to employ revolutionary strategies to decrease it. Commissioning the “Poor People’s Campaign” was one of the ways King came close to that reality. By 1965, King had begun the process of genuinely laying down his life for the most vulnerable of society – the financially-disempowered. King, who successfully assembled a “multiracial army” of economically-challenged citizens, ultimately lost his life for campaigning in favor of sanitation workers, in Memphis (1968). Obama, on the other hand, seems to find no redeeming value in highlighting the plight of those stricken by poverty. In the course of his luxurious campaign, the President-Elect never once mentioned the word “poverty,” in a satisfactory way. Compensating for the “middle class,” Obama successfully ignored the more than 40 million people living in poverty, in the U.S. alone.
3) Social Health. In the last week, President-Elect Obama has aroused the frustration and ire of many social activists who never imagined him to be the epitome of a freshly-packaged neo-liberalist. Obama’s Reaganesque posture on Medicare and Social Security has caused many to question the credibility of the soothing promises made in the heat of his campaign. Last Thursday (Jan. 16th), in a press-conference on the economy, Obama cautioned that “the nation’s long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.” Obama’s characterization of Medicare and Social Security as “entitlement programs” is a disgrace to Dr. King’s legacy of strident advocacy on behalf of the least of these. The only missing scene in Obama’s Reagan act would be a remonstration against “welfare queens” who refuse to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
4) Political Ambition. Barack Obama has progressively worsened, as one supposedly committed to truth and justice. With incalculable velocity, he has launched after every opportunity to advance his political career. As expected, the illimitable political constraints of higher office have effectively shackled his (presumable) willingness to represent his growing constituents in a progressive fashion. Political ambition has played a large role in rendering Obama’s prophetic possibilities paralyzed. His fervent desire (as told by friends, colleagues and classmates) to someday become president molded his beliefs and actions – even from childhood.
Dr. King, however, was much different. Significantly conscious of the many catastrophes of political success, Dr. King, when pressured (constantly) and recruited to run for public office, including the presidency of the U.S. (at the height of his popularity, of course), declined. To keep his feet planted in the rich soil and foundation of unrelenting public service – not the kind of celebrity-inspired opportunistic stunts (now deemed community organizing) Colin Powell, Barack Obama and Corey Booker (Newark Mayor) are fond of – King denied himself the pleasure of becoming the world’s most powerful figure – by force. Instead, he achieved that objective through his unimpeachable degree of commitment “to... doing this job of Civil Rights.” Obama, unfortunately, cannot claim likewise.
5) Courage, Humility, Integrity. Dr. King opposed the Vietnam War; was cussed out by LBJ, and subsequently disinvited from the White House; labored in the forest of financial drought for many years; faced internal critique (within the youth SCLC leadership, and partnering organizations); embraced opposition and antagonism from personal friends and lieutenants; was confronted by unexpected hatred from liberal organizations who were appalled by his sudden (but timely) shift in political rhetoric; was ripped apart by Editorial Boards of corporate newspapers and magazines (a la, the Washington Post, National Review, New York Times). In the face of such stormy weather, Dr. King still kept going strong (bless his soul). Obama, sadly, has come nowhere near – and is unlikely to in the near future – Dr. King’s indubitable level of courage, humility and integrity. Unlike King, Obama, in moments of criticism, has responded with rabid condescension and outright denigration.
Due to the high sensitivity at this time of the year, it must be made clear that the purpose of this essay(s) is not to diminish the significance of Obama’s election. I am, in fact, thankful for the calm, and leadership-orientation President-Elect Obama has, at times, promoted in his many years of active political engagement. I, alongside millions others, celebrate his most recent accomplishment – though limitedly. What I’m disappointed with, however, is the inability of Obama’s many adoring fans to look beyond the flat façade of a Black president, and commence a process of organized resistance to the countless forces of Economic Exploitation, Militarism and Racism (Dr. King’s triple evils) Obama becomes, in little over 24 hours, an official employee of.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If we cannot lend credence to our conscience, and all we pursue is the felicity of an historical moment, we would have to explain to the next generation – and the one coming after them – why their livelihood was exchanged for the comfort of the historicalness of Obama’s presidency.