Dr. Wilmer Leon: What Does Obama’s Re-election Have to Do with Dr. King’s Dream? Not Very Much

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by Dr. Wilmer Leon

On Sunday, January 20th at 12:00pm, America’s 44th President, Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term.  The public celebration of his inauguration will take place on Monday, January 21st which is also the legal public holiday celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many see the public swearing in of the first president who is African American taking place on the same day we celebrate the life of one of the greatest Americans as another invaluable symbol, a breakthrough for America, a double helix.  Some see the reelection of President Obama as the realization of Dr. King’s “Dream”, while others see the inauguration as an incredible irony, an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning of the events.

The symbolic significance of the reelection of President Obama cannot be understated. It took this country 219 years to elect its first African-American president (George Washington was elected in 1789). In spite of Americas schizophrenic perspective on “race” (race is really an artificial construct) this country swore in its first president who is African American on January 20, 2009. As I reflect upon the historic election of Senator Obama, my thoughts go to the Constitution and three specific provisions:

  1. Article 1, Section 2, the Three Fifths Compromise;
  2. Article 1, Section 9 which allowed for the importation of slaves for 21 years after the Constitution was ratified;
  3. Article 4, Section, the Fugitive Slave Clause that allowed for escaped slaves to be returned to slaveholders.

These constitutional provisions come to mind since they were the legal and conceptual foundations of the oppression that Africans in America, and later African-Americans, have been subjected to since the founding of this nation. The election and re-election of President Obama does represent how far African Americans have come.

The Obama administration has done great work.  The President is able to claim a number of legislative successes during its first term.  For example, the Obama Administration passed or supported:

  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010;
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
  • Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
  • The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and supported marriage equality;
  • Appointed first black Attorney General, Eric Holder and appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court.

These are all significant actions and should be recognized as such.

Some see President Obama as the fulfillment of Dr. King’s “Dream.” Not so fast! Never confuse a down payment with the balance being paid in full. The “Dream” was never about electing an African-American president. The Dream was about freedom, justice and equality for the least of us so that the true meaning of the American creed could be enjoyed by all of us. As Dr. King said, “And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

We must always remember that before Dr. King made reference to “The Dream” he said, “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free… the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination…the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity…the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”

Hence, the irony of America publically swearing in its first president who is African American for his second term on the legal public holiday celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that the nightmarish conditions that led to articulation of The Dream still exist in America today!

The Dream cannot be fulfilled when a candidate for president has to run a deracialized campaign in order to make the masses comfortable with the obvious aesthetic. The second inauguration of President Obama does not negate the reality of Driving While Black.  It does not erase the fact that unemployment in America is 7.8% but over 17% for African Americans. We cannot ignore the fact that African Americans make up 13% of the population and 53% of those incarcerated.  Dr. King’s dream was about using the power of government and its resources to eradicate poverty yet today 14.5%  of U.S. households—nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2 million children—struggle to put food on the table. Nearly one in three African American and Latino children is at risk of hunger.  All of this while conservatives want to destroy the public safety net and create a permanent underclass in this country.

It is ironic that in spite of these stark realities for the poor in America and specifically the poor in African American communities, African Americans gave President Obama 95% of its support and none of these issues were addressed during the 2012 presidential campaign.  As leaders of an invaluable political constituency too many in African American leadership are either unwilling or unable to challenge this president to use his bully pulpit to address them

It is also ironic that as we celebrate the civil rights legacy of Dr. King, a man who vehemently opposed the War in Vietnam, President Obama has a “kill list’. He supports warrantless wiretapping, the indefinite detention of American citizens, drone attacks that kill innocents through collateral damage and the assassination of American citizens any place in the world without judicial review.

The president can proclaim his support for Israel to all corners of the world.  He can support marriage equality; immigration reform and through executive order support the Dream Act but African Americans are supposed to sit quietly and Hope for Change.

Never confuse a down payment with the balance being paid in full. This inauguration is a great step forward in America but remember, we have miles to go before we sleep.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with  WilmerLeon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at HowardUniversity in Washington, D.C.  Go to Dr-Leons-Prescription@facebook.com,  www.wilmerleon.com , email: wjl3us@yahoo.com.  orwww.twitter.com/drwleon

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  1. It is so amazing that if any FREE thinker say any thing true or negative of the POTUS the cosmedic crews are out to shout any one and every one down, lets face it the POTUS has done nothing for the black community but get their vote. and those that say it is not his fault that blacks are inprisoned , yes he is the President and what goes on in the country he is in charge the issues need to be addressed by HIM it seem he is more instrested in trying to run other countries telling them what to do, he need to spend more time correcting the problems in America

  2. I don’t care what religious and other former prominent African-American leaders say about President Obama. All I care is I am happy the president of US for the next 4 years is President Obama. In fact I am amazed that some fellow African – Americans would diminish the impact President Obama has had on African-Americans. Before Obama, it was inconceivable that a Black man would ever hold the WH position. We had been written off ourselves and by the society. And that goes to explain that why some former prominent African Americans are jealous their president is of their own color. I hope they are not unhappy Mitt Romney lost. I am happy Romney lost. Romney had vowed to ignore African-Americans and other poor people problems. It’s a pity what some African-Americans said about Obama. You remember what Herman Cain and Allen West characterized Obama: “He is African-American – not Black American.” I did not see the difference between the two. Allen Keyes even sued to disqualify President Obama for the WH job. He lost. President Obama does not have foreign accent or African accent. In fact his voice sometimes sounds like MLK’s. Listen carefully when President Obama is giving speeches. Remember what he went through during his first term and especially his 2nd year in office: TEA Party, Boehner in Congress Mitch in Senate and other racists had ganged to make him One-term President. Why? – Because Obama has Black blood. They lost. Final note – I don’t care what these religious leaders say about President Obama. All I am saying is that I happy Obama is President of this Country for the next 4 years. Case closed.

  3. So i guess our vote meant very little because as the lady says in an earlier message” the white boys hold all the purse strings!” Not true!! WE have to look to others for investment as Marcus Garvey stated( Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Singapore etc), the white boy gets money form all those folks and its about time we look for another solution to economic development, which includes asking those in our community with fat pockets to take a look at the many great ideas for biz that are in our community. Its up to us, to save us!! Hotep

  4. @Pastori

    I am not going to rain all over your Obama parade. I am glad you are so happy with him. However, I do not view him as our great Black hope because he was never a symbol of my dream (or even MLK’s). And I say that without diminishing or taking anything away from him and his achievements. He is a long way from the half employed community activist of Chicago. Congrats!

    But what is this ‘we’ have written ourselves off and by society?

    See, I never wrote myself or my progeny off. Hell, I haven’t even written black people off collectively. But I cannot accept your assumptions that no black man could have ever held the WH or that people are jealous of his color. I did not see POTUS getting any ‘extra benefits’ in either run except in overall black support, and I for one, am not hopping around on my tail with glee over whatever impact he has personally had on me.

    My POTUS benefits are on the low side— pride does not pay the bills, lower black unemployment rates or address other social ills. In fact, this is the first presidency where the First Lady did not have a strong personal pet project focusing on some American social blight that they got quid pro quo funding for. I am guessing Obama is saving his currency to cash in for himself post office—which is standard operating procedure so I am not mad about it at this point.

    I am only glad Romney was sent packing because I believe the current effects would have been worse under Mr. Money & Erratic Ann, which is sad because it means I had no truly good options during the election. He is highly ineffective and part of that is solely his fault since I think the thrill is gone much like him after this term (which makes his lack of any hardline stances all the more perplexing). The ballot was essentially choose: the shit sandwich or the crap-kebob? I lost either way. It was a matter of how badly and how much I wanted to lose. That was my choice. Hooray!

  5. I love our president and our first lady they are to be commended for taking on such a humongous task. They are qualified and bonafide! It is not an easy job never the less he asked for it and now he has it, not only for four years but eight. the POTUS has done great things for this country already but there is much more to be done. We must continue to lift our voices to press him to do them and to give him a voice from the American people to do them.

    I agree with the article that his elections have symbolic significance especially for the pride of African Americans in this country. Our children can ” say it loud I am black and I am proud.”

    However as blacks in America we can not stand idle and say or do nowthing hoping that our problems of unemployement, over incarceration, and continued discrimination will just disappear because we elected a black president. We must mobilize in communities, churches, and organizations to educate African Americans and all miniorities on how to elevate ourselves but it must be backed by presidential leadership addressing
    the chronic presense of racism, the black and brown struggle of and I dare say white privilege ( however he sees fit ) in this country.

    Even though we love our president we must not forget that as a people it is tough love that propels us.

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