President Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Racism


San Jose, CA , January 22, 2014 — Last Sunday on January 19th, New Yorker magazine published an interview with President Barack Obama in which, among other things, he stated that some people in the country do not like him simply because he is black. It is interesting to hear this mantra yet again, and it seems to be something that is now quite old. The interview came out (coincidentally?) just before the nation celebrated the day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. It seems that president Obama wants us to sympathize with him because he is not appreciated by all of the American people. Harry Truman said, “if you can’t stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen.”

Ironically, while Obama was campaigning during the 2008 election, many of his supporters believed that the fast-rising rock star Senator would heal the racial divisions in the United States. Yet since he has been in office, there seems to be a greater prevalence of accusations of racism flying from one end of the country to the other. Even from the president himself, there were occasions of jumping quickly to “weigh-in” on specific incidents: jumping to assess the issue of Harvard University professor (possibly an old acquaintance), Henry Louis Gates, Jr. after Cambridge, Massachusetts police arrested the professor on charges of disorderly conduct; additionally, he made very public remarks about the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

In each of these two noteworthy incidents, the president chose to provide a commentary of localized issues. In each of these cases, the facts were not crystal clear examples of racism, yet they made national headlines due the president seemingly taking sides, which eventually generated extenuating repercussions. The president and his administration readily employ the race card again and again as one line of defense against those who would question governmental policy rolling down from the offices of the White House. The sum of such efforts has left the country even more racially embattled during Obama’s presidency. Such tactics are not fully aligned with the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many Americans were moved when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and shared his dream that, “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content  of their character.” This is an incredible dream and when Dr. King spoke those words the impact of their significance resonated with citizens of all races. In fact, of the many words that have been shared by Martin Luther King, Jr., that specific phrase may be one of the ones most well remembered by most Americans. Yet, today the United States is more racially charged or volatile than in many years in the past.

Although Barack Hussein Obama made history by becoming the first black president in    the United States, he does not need to use race as a shield or a weapon. Yet, because he is a politician, he seems to find opportunities to do so. Young Americans, no matter skin color, who look up to Barack Obama should understand that his way is not in alignment with Rev. Martin Luther King’s way. This is essentially a fundamental perspective. King was more than just a p0ltical and social reformer; King was a man of God. Obama is indeed one who could be seen as a political or social reformer; but, Obama is, primarily a politician.

In the New Yorker article, Obama did speculate that those who oppose him are among the segment of older white citizens. He cleverly made it seem, in the context of the interview that those who oppose him may do so because he is a black man. Despite whether he really believes that or not, it seems that he is intelligent enough to realize that many oppose him not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character and the nature of his policies. However, to insinuate that those who oppose him are racists may be a clever political device, but the tactic runs directly counter to the core of what Martin Luther King, Jr. understood about racism.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. defined racism as a disease of the heart. Whether by subtle implication or by vociferous accusation, calling people racists for their opposition to the policies rolling out of Washington, does not solve any disease of the heart. Such efforts are basically divisive; they do not heal wounds, and they do not seem intended to do so. Such efforts play upon the resentment and the most destructive of human sentiments: hatred. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to fight racism through love since it was a disease of  the heart. It was not cholesterol that was causing the blockage of the flow of love – it was  bigotry, prejudice, and hatred against human beings that was the source of this disease.

When someone is suffering from a disease – any disease – it normally does not help to accuse and condemn the person suffering from the disease. It does not take a doctor to comprehend that. So, if Dr. King’s assessment is correct and racism is a disease of the heart, then all the accusations, all the implications, or all the blatant uses of the label of racist or racism will not correct the fundamental problem. Unfortunately, the ones who employ such crude tactics may already know that. It is sad but many black Americans and organizations within the black community like the Black Muslims and the Black Panthers rejected Dr. King’s assessment of racism and his dream even while he was alive.

America is indeed a land of diversity, but not all black voices raised about racism are in harmony of how to dissolve the problems associated with the disease. Some, unlike Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., use the term as a shield to protect them when they are working against freedom and genuine equality; some use the term as a weapon to accuse and to attack. Dr. King was so much bigger than that. In the “I have a dream” speech he also dreamed that:   “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood… to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

As historians of the future write Barack Hussein Obama’s story, his legacy would not seem to resemble a genuine effort to establish a symphony of brotherhood. However, history will likely assess Obama, not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. Rightly so.

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Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member at West Valley College in California. He currently writes a column on US history and one on American freedom for the Communities Digital News, as well as writing for other online publications. During the 2016 presidential primaries, he worked as the leader of a network of writers, bloggers, and editors who promoted the candidacy of Dr. Ben Carson. He founded the “We the People” Network of writers and the Citizen Sentinels Project to pro-actively promote the values and principles established at the founding of the United States, and to discover and support more morally centered citizen-candidates who sincerely seek election as public servants, not politicians.
  • Tanya Grimsley

    You are exactly spot on Dennis!