Black America's Moral Emmissary
- Dr. King, McKinney and Obamaþ
Glen Ford - Glen.Ford@...
Black Agenda Report
The global reputation of Black America has suffered greatly under
George Bush, who deployed Black faces as fronts for his vicious brand
of U.S. imperialism. Barack Obama's silence on the Israeli assault on
Gaza suggests that his honeymoon with the planet won't last long. So
who is to represent the progressive values of African Americans on
the world stage? "Thanks to Cynthia McKinney, millions of Arabs have
been made aware of a different Black America, one that is not silent,
like Barack Obama, in the face of a purposely inflicted human rights
"Dr. King and Obama represent opposing moral and political camps."
The two days touch: Dr. Martin Luther King's Birthday observance and
Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, January 19 and 20,
respectively. To many, the juxtaposition is self-evident confirmation
of the intersection of the two men's missions on Earth. Dr. King's
journey, which ended with his murder, and Obama's ascent to the
presidency, are seen to merge as the dates approach to form a
perfect, tragic-glorious symmetry - a 48-hour revelation.
The coincidence of the calendar makes for good copy and grand
sermons, but in fact reveals a great moral and political dissonance.
It is true that there could have been no Obama presidency had Dr.
King and the movement he sprang from not existed, but that simple
fact of history does not amount to a King benediction from the grave
for Obama's moral character and political policies. Indeed, Dr.
King's life and words are indelible evidence that he and Obama
represent opposing moral and political camps.
Tens of millions of African Americans - who did not choose the little-
known Obama to be their champion, but supported him near-universally
at the polls once his candidacy had been made "viable" - will
celebrate vicarious attainment of power when Obama is sworn in. Yet
when confronted on Obama's political agenda, enough of which has been
put in motion and otherwise made plain since Election Day, few Black
Obama supporters can mount a cogent defense. "Better than McCain"
doesn't cut it, anymore.
"Few Black Obama supporters can mount a cogent defense of his
When the New York Times describes the emerging Obama administration
as "center-right," there is not much for an honest progressive to
defend - and most African Americans are progressive on economic
issues and questions of war and peace. Beyond a ritual counting of
the president-elect's African American appointees, most African
Americans seem oblivious to the political nature of his Cabinet, his
policy pronouncements and shameful silences. More likely, they
pretend to be oblivious so as not to lose that once-in-a-lifetime
feeling that happened when the Black man won.
Blacks who have taken on the task of defending Obama, often wind up
revealing themselves as persons of little moral or political
substance, in the process. New York's Dr. Leonard Jeffries is one of
the more prominent Obamists, a self-styled Pan-Africanist. In my
second debate involving Jeffries, in Baltimore, December 20 (the
first was the week before, in Harlem), he repeated his mantra, that
Blacks should "study Obama-ology." I asked him to define this area of
study. "Obama-ology," said Jeffries, visibly exasperated by my
questioning of the obvious, "is the study of Obama. How he raised so
much money...how he used the Internet...."
Dr. Jeffries' response revealed his position to have no political or
moral content. He genuflected before Obama because the candidate
raised hundreds of millions of dollars (from whom and in return for
what?) and created an Internet network (to what end, beyond Election
Day?). Most importantly, Obama was a hero because he won. What else
is there to know or say?
"None of the Obamites were even minimally capable of defending their
At the Harlem debate, an Obama defender kept shouting into her
mic, "Obama won! Black people have spoken!" - as if any discussion of
his political positions was extraneous, or racially subversive, on
its face. The woman was a leader of the group that organized the
debate, but like others in her organization clearly did not really
want a debate. None of the Obamites were even minimally capable of
defending their guy's record on the bailout, his retention of George
Bush's defense secretary and plans to expand U.S. military manpower,
his positioning of bankers at the controls of his new
administration's economic machinery, his support for AFRICOM, his key
advisors' advocacy of "humanitarian" military intervention - on not
one point did the Obama camp offer anything that could reasonably be
called a defense, coherent or otherwise.
It is not simply that the Obamites failed to muster a defense in
Harlem or Baltimore or other venues; admittedly, it is difficult to
defend the indefensible. What is most shocking - maddening - is their
rejection of any political or moral standard for evaluating the soon-
to-be Black president. All that remains is the fact of Obama's power
and the delusion that Blacks somehow share in that power. There is no
thought of speaking Truth to Power, and certainly no place for a
moral compass in such a valueless void.
We can understand, then, how such people would imagine Obama and Dr.
King to be soul mates. The fact that one of these men fought his
whole life against the forces of militarism and economic
exploitation, while the other empowers, and is empowered by, bankers
and militarists, does not register on their anaesthetized moral and
"There is no thought of speaking Truth to Power, and certainly no
place for a moral compass."
If the Obamites had more presence of mind, they would be avoid
comparisons with Dr. King, which can only redound to Obama's great
detriment. King's break with his onetime ally, President Lyndon
Johnson, set the standard for both political and moral behavior. When
it became clear that the War on Poverty was doomed by the war in
Vietnam, which acted "like some demonic destructive suction tube,"
devouring all available resources, King publicly declared against the
war. In doing so, he severed what had been the most productive
relationship between an American president and a Black leader in U.S.
history. But the war gave him no choice, since military expenditures
made "rehabilitation" of the American poor impossible. Both morality
and politics led to the same conclusion: the Movement could not
coexist with war.
The lesson is directly applicable today, but Americans, Black and
white, find it difficult to recognize the characters. Obama is Lyndon
Johnson. National revitalization, including redress of historical
African American grievances, is impossible unless military
expenditures are dramatically reduced. But Obama is committed to
putting 100,000 new pairs of Marine and Army "boots on the ground,"
an expanded war in Afghanistan/Pakistan, a beefed up AFRICOM, and a
generally bigger U.S. military footprint on the planet. This, in the
midst of global economic collapse.
Dr. King would find creative ways to confront President Obama's
militarism, and to actively resist further diversion of public wealth
to the bankers. Were he to survey the current political scene, King
would be most impressed, not with the Obamas party plans for the
night after his birthday, but with the way that a daughter of Georgia
salvaged Black America's moral reputation at the beginning of
Israel's assault on Gaza.
"Not all African Americans have morphed into warmongering clones of
Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice."
Cynthia McKinney's attempted voyage of solidarity with the besieged
people of Gaza on the medical relief boat Dignity, rammed and almost
sunk by Israeli warships, reminds the world that not all African
Americans have morphed into warmongering clones of Colin Powell and
Condoleezza Rice. Thanks to the presence of the former Georgia
congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate on the mission,
millions of Arabs have been made aware of a different Black America,
one that is not silent, like Barack Obama, in the face of a purposely
inflicted human rights catastrophe.
Cynthia McKinney is Black America's moral emissary to the world. She
exemplifies the Black America that consistently opposes U.S. military
adventures abroad, a people that recognize organized racism when they
see it, and therefore condemn Israel's treatment of Palestinians -
the Black America that Martin Luther King came from.
Some of us are still in our right minds. Hopefully, most of the
others will recover, sooner rather than later.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at