When doing political analysis, one has to be able to separate the statements of political figures from their deeds. If one does not do this, then people can end up confused. Since this writer has no reason to assist in concerted effort to muddy the waters of understanding, I must be clear in what I say. Today, President Obama spoke on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
After listening to the speech in its entirety, I must be forthright. Less important, but noticeable is that this speech was very subdued. It was almost like it was phoned in. While President Obama is a great orator, I have seen him give more spirited speeches on the campaign trail. But, let’s leave aside the window dressing, and deal more with the content. In a nutshell, the President paid tribute to the past, and obfuscated the present. How so? I am glad you asked.
For starters, President Obama masterfully laid out the realities that people faced 50 years ago. This is what he is best at, creating a sweeping narrative broad enough for everyone to take hold of in some way. This is the same exact skill that makes him dangerous. While Obama spins a narrative, he sneaks in insidious and ahistorical notions that some may buy into. Obama makes mention of “self-defeating riots” – alluding to the urban uprisings of the 1960’s. To say that these disturbances were self-defeating is dishonest, because it is them that resulted in changes in policy. It was not just people marching in the streets. This was the real meat of the speech, the rest was the set up, and this was the blow. The target? The militant legacy of the civil rights movement and its turn to more radical means.
In addition to blatantly papering over this key piece of history, President Obama goes on the attack against Black people -again. For those that may think I am making this up, you can pull up the transcript right here for yourself. For the purpose of this blog post, I will highlight the glaring statements below.
Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse- making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself. All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided.”
And there you have it. In a speech commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the historical significance of the March on Washington- President Obama manages to weave in a few gut punches to Black America for good measure. The reason why progress in this country has stalled is due to criminality, welfare dependency, deadbeat dads and seeing yourself as a victim. And who are these things associated with? It is almost amazing how many group insults this man is able to work into his routine.
Not to be outdone in today’s presidential procession, also Obama manages to completely erase the history of the anti-war/ anti-imperialist Martin Luther King. I suppose it would be highly inconvenient in a narrative in which your presidency is the outcome of the civil rights struggle. The actions of President Obama to put it mildly are at variance with the legacy of MLK. As a push is made towards a conflict with Syria, there is no commonality in world view with the great civil rights leader. However, it seems to be accepted. The sad fact of the matter is now that too many African Americans have aligned themselves with imperialism solely because the head of state is Black.
As a person in power, is giving a speech and alluding to the Cradle to Prison Pipeline enough? Or will there be any effort on his part to alleviate it? How can one mouth support for colleges and the importance of education, yet continue to undermine HBCU’s? Why tout King’s struggle against unjust laws and simultaneously encourage a surveillance state, where potential whistleblowers are chilled from taking action? We have a term for that- it is called duplicity. Let’s call it what it is. This is why we received the initial tepid response when the Zimmerman verdict originally came down, then a more personal response down the line.
While we have many who see this speech as praise worthy, some of us have to call it directly. Without any intentions to do anything, the words ring hollow- and contradictory. It amounts to little more than a PR move.
Marc W. Polite