Dr. King’s legacy and Obama’s presidency: Why the two are ‘unevenly yoked’
Monday, January 21, 2013, will now forever hold a link of historic significance: the birth of the father of the civil rights movement and the first black president of the United States sworn into office for his second term, intertwined on the same day. But are we “unevenly yoking” both men?
"Yoke" is a biblical term meaning "tie together," and the comparisons of President Barack Obama with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have fluctuated from the positively lofty to the bitterly scathing. Though I understand both, I also cringed at the comparisons. Here is why.
History is interpreted based on the view we get from our vantage point. Add personal experiences, and we have a worldview uniquely ours. Therefore, one has to be careful not to over-simplify, whitewash or heavily personalize.
Dr. King was a renowned advocate for social change: justice, racial equality and equity, unity, and generally a place at the table where all are given a chance—not scraps for some and the choice fillet for others.
But the civil rights movement was just that—a movement. A collective roar for a societal revolution. A collective struggle of blood, sweat and tears through persecution, protests, imprisonment, marches, walks, boycotts, defiance, perseverance and, ultimately, murder.
Dr. King preached a “revolution of values” for America, where every man, woman, boy and girl had the same unalienable rights—and it was that fierce fight by many who came before us that paved the way for a Barack Hussein Obama in the White House.
Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, Malcolm X and several others died so that we may live. That said, Obama is not a civil rights leader. He is the president of the United States, and there is a distinct difference. To keep comparing the two men does a disservice to both of their legacies. President Obama will never take up the mantle of Dr. King, for it is impossible. Moreover, he shouldn’t have to.
Those who marched during the civil rights movement or grew up in the era of legal segregation, discrimination, blatant racism, acute inequality—all with the federal government’s blessing—will obviously have a different perspective, for your vantage point to history was up close and personal. But expecting Obama to fix all that ails the black community is not only unrealistic but unfair.
Did he do all that he could have done? Of course not—which politician has ever done that? But expecting the first black president to ride in on his magical horse and eradicate centuries of systemic inequality in four years in the stuff of fairy tales.
We should hold him accountable, like any other president, and evaluate him on what he has and has not done to help eradicate poverty, unemployment, unequal wages between the sexes, marriage inequality, unfair taxation and the ever-widening wage gap in this country. But to hold his feet to the fire about ignoring the black communities will get us nowhere fast.
Professor Cornel West and host/activist Tavis Smiley have been on a crusade about Obama’s fallacy toward the black community, and though they have a right to require more of their president, to expect he would have singled out one group of people to help because he is the same color is highly naïve.
Obama is a politician, not an activist, and I think some have been woefully confusing the two. Dr. King was an activist, not a politician, and therein lies the difference. His "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, was a powerful predictor of what was to come, and it behooves each and every one of us to live that dream, cloak ourselves in that legacy—not just look to the president.
Do you actually think if President Obama had gone to Washington and worked primarily on “the black agenda,” he would have survived politically?
(See Obama’s inauguration speech here: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/13853433-the-presidential-inauguration-motorcade-speeches-swearing-in-ceremony-parade)