Also see Tolu Olorunda’s follow up piece to this article.
Now there is another myth that still gets around: It is a kind of over reliance on the bootstrap philosophy. There are those who still feel that if the Negro is to rise out of poverty… he must… lift himself [or herself] by his [or her] own bootstraps… The people who say this never stop… to realize the debt that they owe a people who were kept in slavery two hundred and forty-four years… It’s all right to tell a man [or woman] to lift himself [or herself] by his [or her] own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man [or woman] that [s]he ought to lift himself [or herself] by his [or her] own bootstraps.”
“[N]o matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose or how many government programs we launch — none of it will make a difference… if we don't seize more responsibility in our own lives.”
- President-Elect Barack Obama, NAACP Annual Convention, July 14, 2008.
For decades now, since April 4, 1968, a global audience has been inculcated with perverse distortions of the character and disposition of the great moral crusader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This audience has been fed a steady diet of caricatures of what commercial media hopes to convince it, was Dr. King’s ultimate priority – a dream. King, the fiery and impassioned leader, has been repackaged as a peace-making-clawless-uniter. The opportunistic misrepresentation of Dr. King notwithstanding, perhaps the most lethal untruth sold by mainstream media, of recent, is the claim that Obama is the fulfillment or culmination of Dr. King’s dream-turned-nightmare. This rather erroneous claim has become, long before the President-Elect’s victory on Nov. 4th, 2008, an accepted myth. Those who have propagated it seek to rewrite history, before our very eyes!
Obama’s historical and unprecedented election is, for many Blacks, a double-edged sword. Whilst it inspires some to engage more critically in the democratic process, and redeem their diminished self-worth, it also welcomes the cynical and abrasive rhetoric of right-wing racists (and their allies on the left) who seek to use this reality as a justification to nullify the 400-yr. old concerns and pains of Black folks. With Obama’s ascent comes the emergence of such absurd claims as, an existent reality of a “post-racial” and “color-blind” world. Many liberals and their conservative counterparts have accepted the lie sold by the corporate press, that Obama’s election is a significant milestone in inter-race relation. Whilst it does suggest the willingness for certain factions of society to overlook race and ethnicity momentarily, the Obama ’08 campaign was very transparent in its decisions to eliminate all forms of race-consciousness from its approach – except when it played in their favor (a la, Bill Clinton).
David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, was skillful in marketing – as in the case of Deval Patrick (Massachusetts Gov.) – Obama as a new, race-transcending figure, who is willing to forget the past, in hopes of moving on. This logic of thinking built a foundation for confusion – created by Obama’s victory. Obama’s – and his presidential campaign’s – flipping of Race, as a sort of political coin – when expedient – is a direct assault on the ministry of Dr. King. Obama is not King – and four seven definitive reasons:
1) Confusion: As mentioned above, with Obama’s popularity comes an unexpected level of confusion/denial around Race-related issues. Following Obama’s election, the Supreme Court now feels justified in questioning a 44-year tradition, and debating the necessity for the renewal of the Voting Rights act, which Dr. King labored so tirelessly for, because “[t]he America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when [the law] was first enacted in 1965.” The rationale behind the Court’s action seems to be the election of a Black president, and an alleged decrease in value of a significant document which guaranteed voting privileges for Blacks and other – considered – minority communities. Obama has yet to comment on this issue.
2) “The Excesses”: Whilst Dr. King was on a mission to elevate the level of humanity of Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and economically-challenged White brothers and sisters, he never envisioned that a beneficiary of his service would, decades later, acknowledge his immeasurable contributions as “the excesses” of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which Ronald Reagan, thankfully, helped clean out.
3) Black Males: Barack Obama has always had challenges in dealing with issues of Black manhood. As an Ivy-League educated, bi-racial male, it is understandable if he, occasionally, thinks differently from the average Black male; but Obama has made very troubling remarks, time after time, when addressing Black males – remarks he wouldn’t dare promote before other ethnic groups. On Father’s Day 2008, Obama paid a stop at the Apostolic Church of God, on Chicago’s South Side, to lecture Black fathers on the responsibility of fatherhood. In his stump speech, Obama warned that too many Black fathers had “abandoned their responsibilities,” and were “acting like boys instead of me.” The President-Elect would later continue: “You and I know how true this is in the African-American community… Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities. But we also need families to raise our children…” Reminding black fathers that “any fool can have a child,” he admonished them not to “just sit in the house and watch ‘SportsCenter’ all weekend long.” Obama’s Bill Cosby-esque tirade would be picked up as a play to the White-male demographic which, at the time, seemed to still hold reservations about voting for him. Obama’s cold, devious, unmerited, generalized remonstration against Black males pales in comparison to Dr. King who, in 1966, met with the notorious Chicago street-gang, the Vice Lords, and several other street-gangs in Chicago, to better understand their plight. Obama seems to be more comfortable with speaking, a mile away, at Black males, than to, or with, them.
4) Black Females: Dr. King, though imperfect, struggled with inherent forces of patriarchy in Civil Rights movement. With the incorporation of Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Marian Wright Edelman, Odetta, and Dorothy Cotton’s prophetic voices, King sought to console the wounded soul of Black Womanhood. 40 years later, Obama, supposedly a legatee of King’s heritage, is more interested in questioning the intelligence of single-Black mothers, than enacting policies than can help alleviate some of the intumescent burdens they carry daily: “Y’all have Popeyes out in Beaumont? I know some of y’all you got that cold Popeyes out for breakfast. I know… You can’t do that. Children have to have proper nutrition. That affects also how they study, how they learn in school.”
5) Black Poverty: To immerse themselves in a better understanding of the economical conditions the Black mass was entrapped in, Dr. King and family left their humble abode for a temporary stay at one of Chicago’s most dilapidated neighborhoods – North Lawndale. Spending months there, King would help lead Black and Brown Chicago tenants in historical protests against slumlords and avaricious landlords – whom Obama tends to befriend. Dr. King would also help in the cleaning up of the war-zone-like neighborhoods he visited. Dr. King welcomed this experience as a re-education of the problems confronting financially-disempowered Black people.
Four decades after his historical commitment was physically extinguished, a Black senator, speaking in front of black legislators in South Carolina, advises that “a good economic development plan for our community would be if we make sure folks weren’t throwing their garbage out of their cars.” Unlike Dr. King and Malcolm X who encouraged Black people to patronize their neighborhood stores, and ‘shop Black,’ Obama is convinced that gentrification is not a major factor in the unsuccess of community-stores, but rather, littering – which, following his logic, is a genetic deficiency of Blackness.
6) Race: Speaking to a packed-room in March 2007, at Brown Chapel A.M.E Church, the President-Elect would announce to the whole world that “the previous generation” – the Civil Rights generation (whatever that means) – was remarkable in transporting Blacks “90% of the way there [to equality].” Obama would intimate that his candidacy was the “10%” needed “in order to cross over to the other side.” Dr. King, who probably turned in his grave upon hearing such junk-talk, established race-reality as a center of discourse in enhancing the moral imperative of truth and justice. Obama, his ‘successor,’ is given to inflation and exaggeration of racial progress, to obtain political profit.
7) Affirmative Action: As far as Obama seems to be concerned, there’s barely the need for Black, Brown, Red and Yellow brothers and sisters to have a safety net of security, in the fields of employment and education. At the Unity Convention, in July last year, Obama suggested that Affirmative Action policies, under an Obama administration, might undergo reform, as they, presently, function under a broken system – that of race-based consideration. Obama unequivocally mentioned that institutions “should be able to take into account race, but they should also be able to take into account class, and hardship, and difficulty in making assessments about whether or not a young person is deserving of - of opportunity.”