I feel afraid.
I want to write about the fact that Barack Obama’s candidacy for President is an opportunity to honor the very last message uttered publicly by Dr. Martin Luther King:
“Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Mason Temple Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968
Dr. King was assassinated approximately 24 hours after he uttered these words.
I want to write about Americas’ promise and the ripeness of this moment to fullfill part of our human destiny and ascend beyond divisions and group differences. I want to write about each person’s love for their fellow man and the inherent goodness that God has bestowed on each of us. I want to expound on the creative solutions to the economic crisis that America will devise in the future. Unfortunately, creeping nihilism, mixed with my usual angst have conspired to force me to confront a monstrous truth. There is still a deep, long vein of racial hatred in this country.
America sells itself as a meritocracy. The idea of pulling oneself up from the bootstraps and being rewarded for talent and hard work are central themes in our belief system. No problem. If the current Presidential race were based on pure merit, however, the right would not resort to conjecture about Obama’s religion, or his parentage or any other issue than his ability. Hatred is the origin of that line of inquiry.
WOL Radio has the sad duty to announce that at 6:01 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. We repeat, today at approximately 6:00 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King was fatally shout outside his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee.”
In my 7 year old world, at 7:00 p.m. April 4, 1968, I felt that hate. Hatred reached into my living room, stopped me from doing homework, and hit me in the face. Hard. It was personal, and I could envision the shooter gloating and bragging to his friends about what he had just done. I felt as if He’d shot me and every other person in my community. In the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, the graphic coverage of the Vietnam War, and visions of the Civil Rights struggle, grief, loss, anger, and confusion all worked in unison to derail my belief in the opportunities of tomorrow…at least for a while. For years, I was wracked by fear that the country would change and that the government would cease to exist. When I discussed these fears with my Dad, he looked at me and said: “Don’t be afraid, everything will be allright.”
I don’t believe that America will have another day like April 4, 1968, but I do see the storm clouds of division tearing at the fringes of the country. The difference between 1968 and today, among other things, is that Barack Obama is not a black candidate for President, he is the duly selected nominee of a major party who is black. His candidacy alone perhaps fullfills part of King’s dream.
The Presidential race is becoming more hotly contested as we speak, and candidates and pundits alike have made some startling statements. America has or should have moved beyond hateful rhetoric. None of us should be exposed to ‘leaders’ talking about who is “un-American” or who is “patriotic”. It is irresponsible and insulting. The economic crisis of this time requires Americans to unite behind the best candidate and forge ahead with unity, regardless of race, or class or gender.