“You talkin’ to me?!?!”
With the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington approaching this Wednesday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama will take the podium to deliver a much-anticipated public address commemorating MLK’s legacy and his lauded “I Have A Dream” speech.
Obviously there will be many comparisons drawn between Dr. King and President Obama before, during, and after this speech, but Tavis Smiley asserts that Obama and Dr. King are dissimilar not necessarily in form, but in function.
Since the White House announced that President Obama will speak to the nation on Wednesday from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I have been asked the same questions again and again:
Is it appropriate for the president to occupy that sacred space? Does Obama have the moral authority to speak where King spoke? Does anyone?
My honest answer to these questions: I don’t know. But here is what I do know. The future of our democracy is inextricably linked to how seriously we take King’s legacy. A legacy of unarmed truth and unconditional love. A legacy of brilliant prose and prophetic witness.
The president’s decision to honor the march is proper and commendable. But when he stands where King stood and delivers a speech of his own, he inevitably invites comparisons between his words and King’s. I hope Obama rises to the challenge to be truly King-like, not just King-lite. His speech cannot be full of great sound bites but devoid of sound public policy.
Smiley goes on to say:
The unsettling truth is that during the Obama era, black America has fallen even further behind. The African American unemployment rate, for instance, remains stubbornly and disproportionately high at 12.6 percent, compared with the national rate of 7.4 percent. And while private-sector jobs are experiencing a slight uptick, the lack of public-sector jobs is suffocating black livelihoods. Sadly, a few black chief executives notwithstanding, race still matters in the private sector. Education is not the great equalizer. I know too many black Ivy League graduates whose degrees cannot close this gap, and heaven help you if you’re applying for a private-sector job with a “black-sounding” name. Researchers have found that these applicants receive up to 50 percent fewer callbacks than applicants with “white-sounding” names.
Black misery is the fierce urgency of now. Do we want history to record that black folk fared even worse under the first black president? I certainly do not.
We all understand that Obama is a politician and King was a prophet. But does that mean that the president, even with the structural and political constraints of his high office, cannot speak more truth?
…But if Obama is to be transformational and not just transactional, a statesman and not just another politician, a thermostat and not just a thermometer, then it’s time for him to use his power to help regulate the temperature of our society and not just settle for recording the temperature of public opinion. It’s time to take some risks. To stop playing it safe in the second term. To tell the truth about the suffering in America that’s being rendered invisible simply because we choose not to see it.
What kind of speech do you expect from POTUS Barry on Wednesday? What issues and topics to you want to hear him address?
Image via AP