2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. & The "Post Racial" Fairy Tale


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Kofi Taharka

As we move towards the annual Dr. Martin Luther King birthday celebrations, across the country the presidential bid of Barack Obama and reaction to it; has brought discussions of race to the forefront in mainstream America. Comments made by Hillary Clinton uplifting Lyndon Johnson over Dr. King in their perspective roles in the civil rights movement have ignited a firestorm of controversy. Her comments were a classic example of a white supremacist worldview. She implied that Dr. King dreamed and gave great speeches while it took a white man, Lyndon Johnson to realize the dream through the voting rights acts of 1964. She was obviously drawing comparison to herself and Lyndon Johnson and Obama’s speaking ability to Dr. King.
This commentary is reflective of the mainstream coverage of the King Holiday, which regulates him to a two second sound bite which says "I Have A Dream". It fails to recognize him as a man who was a part of an organization The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was part of a broader movement which included many other organizations and groups. This period spawned formations which fought, bled, were inprisoned and died for real change and uplift for African people in America. Among them were the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The Deacons for Defense, The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), The Lowndes County Freedom Organization, The Nation of Islam (NOI), The Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), The Black Panther Party (BPP), The Republic of New Africa (RNA) and countless other foot soldiers whose names we don’t know. These groups did not always agree on strategies and tactics but they all helped to force changes in America.
Mrs. Clinton should be reminded that seldom have white people in power made concessions out of the goodness of their heart or because it was the right thing to do, conversely pressure has been applied through protest, marching, boycotting, self-defense, lawsuits, political organizing, community organizing and open rebellion.
Dr. King’s positions opposing the Vietnam War, calling for a radical redistribution of wealth in America, and a aspect of the I Have A Dream speech which focused on coming to Washington to cash the check are almost never mentioned in celebrations of his life.
In his I Have A Dream speech he challenged the America saying
"In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, which has come back, marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."
In his book Where Do We go From Here: Chaos or Community he provides insight into politics:
"The majority of Negro political leaders do not ascend to prominence on the shoulders of mass support. Although genuinely popular leaders are now emerging, most are selected by white leadership, elevated to position, supplied with resources and inevitably subject to white control. The mass of Negroes nurtures a healthy suspicion toward these manufactured leaders. Experience tells them that color is the chief argument their leaders are offering to induce loyalty and solidarity… Tragically, he is in too many respects not a fighter for a new life but a figurehead of the old one."
M.L.K. Jr. is not the only personality or group straightjacketed in the public packaging to a sound bite philosophy. Lack of serious examination has left us to identify certain personalities with limited ideas such as Malcolm X "By Any Means Necessary", Fannie Lou Haimer "I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired", The Black Panthers "Power To The People", Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) "Black Power", Imam Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) "Burn Baby Burn". The point is none of these figures or groups should be regulated to one or two slogans because their outlooks and programs encompassed a variety of actions to push the community forward. You cannot talk about this era without mentioning the fact that the United States government helped to destroy many of these organizations through it’s Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) conducted by the FBI.
Barack Obama as well as all of us are recipients of the opportunities we have today because of the great and mighty struggle conducted by the aforementioned groups and those who came before and after them. As Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) an active participant in the 1960’s said ‘no one in our community can solely claim they accomplished anything, it goes back to the blood of the people’. In the political discussion surrounding racial tension in the presenditial campaign commentators in large part have dismissed race as a non-factor. The terminology "Post Racial" has been introduced to describe Obama’s ability to gain white votes which supposedly proves racism/white supremacy is no longer a issue in America. This is like the movie "the matrix" in which people are deliberately deceived into accepting a fantasy as reality. Under reported white supremacist terrorism abounds in America including dragging, noose hangings, racial slurs and racially motivated kidnappings/ torture. This is not to mention how structurally white supremacy is engrained in institutions which control religion, education, economics, prisons, law enforcement, military, emergency response, housing and politics. The real fairy tale is trying to ignore historical and contemporary racism/white supremacy, which still infects American society today.
Malcolm X whose name dare not be mentioned during the presidential campaign offered instructive questions for us today in the political process. He stated that we should control the politics and politicians in our community. We should ask who controls Hillary Clinton, who controls Barack Obama? In addition, Malcolm asked Can A Chicken Lay A Duck Egg? Referring to the lack of capacity of this system to produce freedom, justice, and equality for Black people in America. Ultimately, neither the Democratic nor Republican parties will deliver the types of change we need in our communities, we will. Further, we are responsible for the preservation and accurate accounting of our history and our heroes and heroines.
As we look to the future and before we turn the page let us look deeply at the past and realistically at the present.
(Kofi Taharka serves as the Chairman of The National Black United Front – Houston Chapter (NBUF))

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