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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Al Jazeera English Speaks with Afronerd......Dr. King's Legacy

I just wanted to share with our readers a brief question and answer session that I was fortunate enough to participate in, courtesy of Sarah Brown, Senior Journalist with Al Jazeera English. The Al Jazeera site (again, emphasizing the English part-home of Sir David Frost) is doing a special Black blogosphere report inquiring about our thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King (as tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of his death), his legacy and Senator Obama's candidacy. Check out our exchange:

1) Forty years on from Martin Luther King Jnr's death, how do you see his legacy today? How close, or how far, are Americans to fulfilling his dream?

One would readily admit that Dr. King's legacy permeates through just about every facet of our current societal structure. We have seen sweeping and demonstrative changes in media, entertainment, government, politics and of course in public accommodations. These changes have been so circumspect and commonplace that I suspect many have taken them for granted. These societal transformations would also go beyond the Black/White paradigm that King experienced prior to his death-i.e. Women being the predominant beneficiaries of affirmative action, and the advent of gay rights and multiculturalism. However despite America's transition over the past 3 to 4 decades, we are still pretty far from fulfilling Dr. King's dream as can be exhibited in African-American stats post War on Poverty programs and Kerner Commission findings.

2) How do you think MLK would view the candidacy of Barack Obama, and Obama himself? How do you yourself view Obama and the other candidates regarding race relations?


In a nutshell, I would suspect that MLK would view Senator Obama's candidacy as truly an amazing accomplishment, if not the stuff of science-fiction. Again, we are talking about a time when someone of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr's status being something that engendered a great deal of pride amongst African-Americans-and rightfully so. Again, during King's time just striving to see a Black person attain a certain degree of personal autonomy, freedom of movement and the right to public access was a feat unto itself, much less (seriously) running for the presidency. King would more than likely see a kindred spirit in Obama and obviously view him and his candidacy as the natural progression of the Civil Rights movement. Personally, I see Obama as a beacon of hope for people of color who would otherwise believe:
a) Whites would never vote for a Black person (for the presidency-but perhaps for a lesser office) and ;
b) that breaking the glass ceiling is an impossibility-Obama, in essence debunks such a notion.

Unfortunately due to recent events (the Rev. Wright controversy and the trials of the campaign in general) , Obama has been put into a racial corner but he has also risen to the occasion admirably. The other candidates on both sides of the party aisle (excluding Gov. Huckabee), in my estimation have done a poor job in addressing racial concerns. But then this criticism would apply to leaders of various racial and cultural strata.

3) What do your own experiences tell you about US race relations in the past 40 years? How far does America have to go to attain the ideals espoused by MLK?

Anecdotally, I would have to say that at least on a superficial level, race relations have improved greatly within the last 4 plus decades. It is undeniable. Also within the last 40 years, marriage between people of different races/cultures was made legal and thankfully interracial liaisons are appropriately seen as commonplace. However, we still see flashes of racial violence and intolerance hearkening of an era past. We have also seen the reemergence of minstrel (or neo-minstrel) and pandering images that pay favor to negative Black perceptions for the entertainment of both Black and White audiences. America still has a great deal of distance to cover if we are to live up to Dr. King's ideals-but an Obama (or Hillary Clinton) victory would be a great indicator of substantive change.

4) What lies in the future for US race relations? If elected, would an Obama presidency alter race perceptions in the US, and perhaps world perceptions of US racism?

Well, with apologies for slavery coming from states like Florida and New Jersey and recent PEW polls that reveal that many people of color are not blaming racism as the sole fault for some of our (people of color) internal dysfunctions, the future appears hopeful. I do think that Obama's presidency would play a role in changing racial perceptions but it definitely cannot be seen as some sort of panacea. We would still have to see a cultural shift amongst many people in order for these aforementioned perceptions to dissipate. But a man of color as POTUS on the world stage would undoubtedly demonstrate a sea change for how the world sees us (or U.S.) and how we would see ourselves. Even as a Black conservative blogger (and many would see that as an oxymoron) I would like to see such a feat. In the immortal words of Spongebob Squarepants, I'm ready....I'm ready.

Well I enjoyed the Q & A, and stay tuned as there may be more from Al Jazeera English and the Afrospear in the near future.

And click on the link below for the Al Jazeera news special (in its entirety) regarding the blogosphere's take on Dr. King's legacy:

Bloggers weigh King's legacy

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