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Friday, August 29, 2008

I had to work late last night, so I taped the speech on DVR. Luckily I extended the recording time by 30 minutes - because if I hadn't, I may not have been reminded that you really, truly, can't please everyone.

It taped the beginning of Tavis Smiley's follow-up to the speech. I resisted the urge to bypass it, for fear of more Tavis' crab-in-a-barrel act. Little did I know.

Cornel West and Julianne Malveaux were his guests, and to my real surprise (and it seemed, even Tavis'), they decried the speech as a failure.

Seems this passage was the one that got them all fuh-diddy:
And it is that promise that, 45 years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustrations of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead -- people of every creed and color, from every walk of life -- is that, in America, our destiny is inextricably linked, that together our dreams can be one.

It seemed a poetic tribute to Dr. King when Obama spoke the words. What was the problem Drs. Malveaux and West had with it? He didn't say Martin's name. (Or Fannie Lou Hamer's, or any of the other Black pioneers that helped pave the way for Obama's potential election to the nation's highest office.) She was particularly harsh, saying that Obama had "reduced" Dr. King to "a preacher from Georgia."

Ta-Nehisi Coates summed up my perspective on this so well:
I don't see it as particularly postracial. I see it in much more simpler terms--as my buddy Jabari Asim says, Barack Obama is running for president of the United States, not president of the Urban League. But moreover, I just don't have much respect for the "kissing the ring" critique...

What I see there is a reaction more out of anger than any real consideration of strategy. The thing about Barack is that for all his rhetoric, he's a pragmatist, and he's a politician. Half the reason for having John Lewis, for having the film of MLK, for having MLK's kids is so that Obama is free to focus on winning the election. I don't think you do that but making the speech a paean to MLK--God bless him. How many votes is that going to get you? When you're on the battlefield, you don't pause put down your sword and shield to praise God for allowing you the privilege of being there. Do that after the battle's won.

I couldn't agree more. There is an inauguration speech, you know, during which he can do just these things. Yes, it was the 45th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech - but the inauguration will take place one day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in 2009. Provided he wins the election, he'll have another shot.

Who knew I'd hear the most effective counterpoint to this nonsense by listening to TV One's "DNC After Party!" (don't forget the exclamation point). In one of their teasers, Andrew Young, one of King's proteges, said (and I paraphrase) that he didn't want to see Obama associated too closely with that preacher from Georgia. He related it to the tale of Moses, in which it was decreed that Joshua, who had not been born in Egypt, would succeed Moses as the leader of the Israelites. Young said that he hadn't been scarred by the past, and therefore wouldn't carry those scars into the future. Young likened Obama to his own civil rights past, saying that he (Young) carried the "scars of Egypt", and he (nor those who marched alongside him during the heyday of the movement) would have been able to reach the heights that Obama has. Now, I don't know if that's true, but I certainly don't think that Obama slighted his forebears last night.

Our ancestors don't need us to call out their names in order to be awakened. I'd like to believe that they watched last night's event with eyes and hearts open, knowing that Obama's mere presence there was all the thanks they needed.

(View the Tavis segment here and let me know what you think.)


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