Today in Post-Race History: Double Down
This morning, Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States, will take the oath of office and begin his second term. Although black folks are crunk, the event does not seem as grand as the first time. Four years ago I, having managed to cop two of second most important documents in black history (just behind freedom papers, it seems); witnessed little black kids holding hands skipping while humming “Hail to the Chief,” saw grown black folks cloaked in more red, white, and blue than I knew any self-respecting Negro owned; and despite the fact that there was no Obama version of Hawaiian Punch, saw the best in bootleg presidential wares (Obama handpuppets!?!?) D.C. had to offer.
It was simultaneously fascinating and sad to see black folks on their Sally Field so hard. But having spent most of my life on the outskirts of cool, I know what it feels like to want to be down #brandynorwood. And Obama does his part; he gets it. He understands his election’s importance to many black folks and he makes empty gestures accordingly. As such, along with the Lincoln Bible, Martin Luther King’s Bible will be featured at today’s inauguration. As an acknowledgement of the King federal holiday, President Obama will take the oath of office with the King and Lincoln Bibles under his hand.
If photoshopped images of Obama, King, and Malcolm X and the “Rosa sat so…” mantra were any indication, the election of Barack Obama was the best occasion to further misappropriate and assimilate the King legacy into the larger societal structure. And the inclusion of King’s Bible in today’s inauguration activities indeed show how far America has come, but not for the reasons we all think. King’s figurative inclusion today is not about racial progress or even steps toward’s King’s “Dream.” Rather, when President Obama takes the oath with King’s Bible, it will be confirmation that King’s life and message have been evacuated of all crucial meaning and emptied to the point that it can now serve as an appropriate symbol for (the African-American leader of) the American people.
Seriously. After years of waiting for it, I saw the advertisement of my first Martin Luther King Day sale. Now, a President who prefers to pretend to save the middle class instead of working to eliminate of poverty, chastises poor black people, bombs brown folks, has a kill list, and will occasionally throw bread and circuses–and his wife’s press and curl–at a black electorate after they vote him in, will place his hand on the Bible of a anti-war pacificist who spent the last years of a his life working to help poor folks and a labor union Mr. Obama would prefer didn’t exist.
Respectful gesture or not, President Obama and his hand upon this Bible is the ultimate soma. It is ironic. It is the red pill. It is the filthy aftertaste of the lesser evil. It is the calcification of a legacy that has been whittled down to white kids and black kids playing together because we think that shit is cute. And it undermines the message of a man who’s life we pretend to sing, sing celebrate today.
Frankly, I’d rather watch a McDonald’s commercial.