Saturday, March 22, 2008

Martin Luther King, jr and Barack Obama

One of the highest privileges in my life was the opportunity to meet and speak briefly with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.

As one who pushed the battle for civil rights since grade school, I was particularly interested in what Dr. King thought would be the impact and legacy of landmark civil rights legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dr. King's response indicated that when people start living and working next to each others, barriers that separate them should, over time, naturally begin to fall -- essentially that the laws would hopefully position people into situations where they can be called upon to do the right thing.

Of course, Dr. King had a lot more to say, but it was interesting how he interfaced law and society. And, although we still have a ways to go in eradicating discrimination, the fact is that in the four decades since that conversation we are seeing people judging each other by the content of character or at least making an attempt to do so. We are seeing, particularly among young people, a nation less hung up about race. Maybe Dr. King was right after all.

And then there's Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

Obama, who, having a white mother and black father should really be characterized as mixed race, grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia (hardly white enclaves), was educated at Columbia University and Harvard Law School and had a meteoric rise in politics to where with only three years in the United States Senate he's a serious contender for the Democratic party's presidential nomination.

If there is ever a poster child for a beneficiary of the blood, sweat and tears of Dr. King and the legions of others who struggled and sacrificed for civil rights, Barack Obama is it.

Obama showed that America is capable of putting race behind it and moving forward in a very dramatic way. The only monkey wrenches are the ones he put in the mix himself.

First, Obama for years has belonged to a church whose pastor has uttered well-documented bursts of bigotry and intolerance with nary a peep in response from Obama until they became more widely known.

And then, when pushed on the subject, Obama delivers a confusing diatribe on race, simultaneously blasting and praising the deranged minister and lecturing us on race. It was lame and insulting and raised more questions than it answered.

Obama's attacks would hold more water had they been made years ago when he wasn't a candidate. Further, as one of the most privileged persons of color in American history, his condescending lecture was unnecessary and plain insulting.

Barack Obama's double-edged sword is that America is fully capable of judging a person by the content of his or her character. His problem now is that when that evaluation uncovers flaws in his own character, Obama wants to deflect attention elsewhere.

There's a saying from the 1960's: "You're either part of the solution or part of the problem." Barack Obama is clearly the latter.

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