First MLK Day after BHO
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967 from “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”
Chaos, Community or Solitude?
It’s a year later, the first Martin Luther King holiday since America elected it’s first “black” president. It’s funny, I was going to write the first president of African-American descent, but then I thought, that’s not exactly true. He is the first black president of the USA and he’s clearly a “hyphenate” of African and American descent. But he’s not the descendant of American slaves, the people Martin was trying contemporaneously to lift up. He’s the son of an African culture inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., like Nelson Mandela and others. It will truly be something when a dark brown descendant of southern slaves will claim that office as well as the audacity to run as the president for all Americans, while speaking in his true voice. (I’m thinking in negative comparison of a poseur like Michael Steele who uses ghetto-isms to show he and the Republican Party are down with black “folks.”) Jesse ran with good ideas but was marginalized because he never truly seemed to speak convincingly as a candidate for all citizens. Al Sharpton had some good ideas, as well, but also seemed too marginalized by his past and present presentation. Shirley Chilsolm is the only candidate pre-Obama that really seemed to have an all inclusive progressive agenda. I watched a great documentary on her a few years ago called Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed, and I would’ve voted for her had I been old enough — though, ironically, I do remember seeing her as a kid and thinking how odd it was that there was this black woman, skinnier than my grandma running for president. I was a McGovern kid in my 6-year-old wisdom!
Anyway, what do we have in terms of mulatto moments after a year of Obama?
Obama may not be the descendant of slaves, but he’s certainly suffered the attempts at dehumanization that come from its legacy. What would’ve been the fall out if George W. Bush had said the police acted stupidly in arresting William F. Buckley inside his vacation home in Zimbabwe because they’d heard reports of a break-in in the black part of town? (He was alive during the Bush years.) The whole “Birther” thing was just another old farce to delegitimize the rights of a black man. If Henry Kissinger’s son were born to a white American mother in Hawaii and wrote a book about it twelve years before he ran for President, where he copped to going to a Muslim school, using drugs and living with an illegal alien, would his honesty have been questioned with regards to his birthplace. I don’t know about the “Tea-Baggers.” They seem to overlap with the Birthers, but Americans have always had issues with taxation. The problem is that people whom healthcare is supposed to help are the ones screaming so loudly about their tax dollars being used to help others. The Boston Tea Party was about taxation without representation. The Tea Partiers have representation. There’s a legitimate gripe that “Elites” have more representation, but that’s no more the case with the Democrats than the Republicans. But the vitriol is much stronger against this Administration, which arguably represents the poor more than the last one did. When anger and distrust of the elites was brought up then, it was combated by saying the aggrieved were un-patriotic, or worse. Now maybe I’m calling the angry ones racist spoilsports. Maybe that’s a similar accusation. It’s been said Democrats are always subject to more vitriol from the “heartlanders.” But isn’t that also true that the Dems are always considered the party of minorities and women?
More than one friend of mine has remarked that it felt like we were post racial for about a day after the election, then it was back to business as usual. For me it was that moment walking into the bank coming home from Vegas after canvassing on Election Day. My teller was a young black man and I just felt so good for him. I know that’s weird and entirely racial, but it was an exhale that said all opportunities are open to him. I walked around that day thinking that no one questioned my legitimacy as an American. The answer to the question, “What’s your nationality?” would be simple. “American, just like the President.” It’s sad that I carry around that sensitivity that people will try to delegitimize my status as part of the American community, but if you’ve been asked the question, “What are you?” in addition to “What’s your nationality?” thousands of times before you’ve reached the age of consent, you’re bound to feel suspected of “otherness.” Sadly, a year after we have the first “black” President and after a year of the sort of racial flare ups we’ve seen, my guard feels up at just about the same level.