May 27, 2008

Guest Commentary: King, Obama and Kentucky: It’s all about image

BY RICKY L. JONES

ATLANTA,
Ga. — Last week, a few important things happened. One, Martin
Luther King Jr. was back in the news because of a recent Washington,
D.C., statue controversy. Two, Barack Obama moved another step closer
to securing the Democratic nomination. Finally, one in five
Kentuckians admitted in exit polls that race influenced their vote in
the state’s primary, with the vast majority of them voting against
Obama.

So
what does it all mean?

Let’s
take King first. The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has its panties in
a bunch after Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin submitted a plan for a D.C.
King monument that the Commission believes is “a stiffly frontal
image, static in pose, confrontational in character.” The word
that’s caused so much of a buzz in the media is “confrontational.”
Hmm. King? Confrontational?

Washington
Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a thoughtful piece that is right
on point. He opined, “(King) didn’t ask for an end to Jim Crow
repression, he demanded it; he didn’t request equal justice, he
required it. Confrontation, basically, was the whole point.” Well
said. I’ve often argued that the image of King that America is most
comfortable with is a false one. Many want to remember him as a
passive, emasculated teddy bear. He was not. King was a hard-nosed
warrior, and if Yixin’s statue helps to remind us of that fact,
more power to him.

The
major problem here is that America has tried to repaint and repackage
King in a misleading way. Much of this has to do with the historic
and contemporary gravitation of the country’s mainstream to “safe,
different” black men and away from “bad” negroes. Sorry, but
King did not change the world by playing it safe. Like Jefferson,
Washington and the other Founding Fathers, he saw something wrong and
broke all the rules to change it. Like them, King was a “bad”
American — straight gangster. Like them, King was revolutionary.
Like them, King was confrontational. Now people want to continue the
whitewashing (no pun intended) of King. Sad.

This
brings us to Obama. Without a doubt, much of Obama’s appeal has
been because of a well-managed image that depicts him as “safe”
and “different” to white America. To a degree, this is necessary.
That considered, Jeremiah Wright’s greatest transgression might
have been that he tampered with Obama’s raceless image and reminded
many that Barack is … shhhh … black. Not only is he black but
also has (at least to some degree) led a life influenced by the black
world — a world many white Americans simply do not, or do not want
to, understand.

Of
course, Obama and his campaign understand that race is still alive in
America. Why do you think they’ve worked so hard to keep it out of
the campaign — even when it should have been legitimately injected
into it? Nothing made this more evident than Kevin Merida’s article
a few weeks ago that detailed the absolute atrocities heaped on Obama
workers because of racial mean-spiritedness. The Obama campaign’s
response? Keep this stuff quiet, so that people won’t think we’re
talking about race. Why? Americans don’t like to talk about race.

That
brings us to Kentucky. Do we have a worse race problem in our fair
state than the rest of the country? Even though Hillary Clinton needs
Adrian Balboa to show up and scream, “You can’t win!” she beat
Obama by 35 points in the old bluegrass state. Everyone from Al
Jazeera to NPR reported on how some Kentuckians outright said they
would never vote for a black man. One theory, of course, is that
these were politically incorrect, uneducated, barefoot,
sister-screwing eastern Kentuckians, not the sophisticated citizens
of Lexington and Louisville. Maybe. Or maybe our friends to the east
are just more honest and say what many other Kentuckians only do.
What’s that say about OUR image? Let me know.

If
you want a more comprehensive look at my take on the Obama phenomenon
and American leadership, pick up my latest book — “What’s wrong
with Obamamania?: Black America, Black Leadership and the Death of
Political Imagination” hitting shelves in June.

Remember,
until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do
justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.

Contact
the author at blackvanguard@hotmail.com