Today will be a day of great rejoicing in America. And rightfully so. A hurdle will have been crossed for the first time. It doesn’t mean the end of racism, but it is tremendous that someone of African descent will be behind the desk calling the shots, rather than cleaning.
However, despite the fight that has been waged, we should not forget the words of the late Martin Luther King Jr. I speak not of the early King who’s dream has been co-opted and is used to eclipse his other work, but the later King, who at Riverside church gave his speech: A Time to Break Silence. It is a fantastic speech and one necessary to remember on Martin Luther King, Jr. day and inauguration day.
We live in a nation-state where the moralizing arm declares, “The bottom line is: George Bush is a healer.” The truth, shown in King’s speech above, is that the notion of Bush as a great healer is simply not true. Of course acts of charity are good, but this is like calling Carnegie a humanitarian. The structures are imbalanced and our acts of giving money has the ring of the old feudal system or the colonialism that we claimed to have left behind. While some money is given back to the world in hopes that some of life’s problems will be fixed, this philanthropy is at best an act to ameliorate the guilty conscious of the ones who have profited greatly from privilege, at the expense of others. However, when we target the purses of those in power, I suspect we will go the way of the later King.
In truth my hopes for Obama’s actual work is small — he is within a structure that seeks its own ends. And to this end, I want to remind those who think life will fundamentally change, “Memento mori! Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento!” However, in the same breath, despite the state’s sacral pageantry, I am proud to have Obama sworn in. To open up boundaries and inspire imagination, in a culture that is unable to imagine, is a terrific thing. I have seen tears of happiness on many faces. With the suspicion I maintain about the state and the language of change and hope, I still rejoice in this. Whether this is a culmination of struggle for some who faced suffering, or for others, a direction for a new path forward, I want to rejoice with and for those who have had their horizon expanded, even though I cannot fully grasp it because my horizon has never been limited, nor my humanity called into question. While I do not believe Obama in the presidential capacity to be salvific, the rejoicing and seeing people rejoice over it, I believe is. It has helped me see in new ways, or old thoughts in a new way, and in ways far bigger than the temple mount in DC may care for. Let us never forget King’s words.