I will keep this short and sweet.
The March on Saturday was an utter disappointment. Besides the fact that the 1963 March on Washington was not a nation-wide fieldtrip to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, speak though he did, the reality is that the 2013 March failed not only to live up to King’s profoundly Christian legacy, but failed to even do justice to the spirit of the 1963 March.
Yet again, Cornel West was right. No way were the speakers this time around going to address with the prophetic courage and directness of King the real issues at stake in our day—the New Jim Crow, the growing number of dead children and other innocent civilians because of American drone strikes in the endless war to uphold the American Empire, or the ongoing structural racism in the American legal system. As Dave Zirin put it:
Based upon the speeches during the main portion of [Saturday’s] events there can be little doubt that the Dr. King who was murdered in Memphis in 1968 would not have been allowed to speak at this fiftieth-anniversary commemoration of his life. There was no discussion of the “evil triplets.” Instead, we had far too many speakers pay homage to the narrowest possible liberal agenda in broad abstractions with none of the searing material truths that make Dr. King’s speeches so bracing even today.
But how can this be so?
The answer is somewhat ironic: we have a “black” president. Again borrowing from West, it is noteworthy that the leaders in the black community have continued in their infatuation and undying support of Barack Obama. It is awful to say it, but let’s be honest—if George W. Bush was in office right now, the commemorative 2013 March would have been far more radical. But because there’s a black man in the big house on the plantation, all the house slaves can do is rewrite history and mumble, “Yes, masta.”
More than ever before, what is needed is a thick, critical race analysis of our society—one that takes seriously the fact that being black is more than having a certain skin color, but being a member of the underclass of American society. This is about class. The fact that a brown-skinned man occupies the White House indicates not that we live in a post-racial America, but that, as I said a few posts ago, the niggerization of America has begun to consume everyone.
We must follow the lead of the great American theologian James Cone, and recover blackness as a theological symbol for oppression, as a social metaphor for the oppressed in this country and all over the world. We must preserve the legacy of King, and take far more seriously the challenges of Brother Malcolm, in order to turn this American Nightmare into the “beloved community” that King longed for. It is time to wake from our dreams, and confront this nightmare.