When I got the news that my dear brother Barack Obama, President Obama was going to put his precious hand on Martin Luther King Jr’s bible, I got upset. I got upset because you don’t play with Martin Luther King Jr. and you don’t play with his people. By his people, what I mean is people of good conscience, fundamentally committed to peace and truth and justice and especially the Black tradition that produced him. All the blood sweat and tears that went into producing a Martin Luther King Jr. generated a brother of such decency and dignity that you don’t use his prophetic fire as just a moment in presidential pageantry without understanding the challenge that he presents to all of those in power, no matter what colour they are. No matter what colour they are.
So, the righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King Jr. becomes a moment in political calculation, and that makes my blood boil. Why? Because Martin Luther King Jr., he died on the three crimes against humanity he was wrestling with.
- Jim Crow: traumatizing, terrorizing, stigmatizing – Black people lynching and so forth – not just segregation the way the press likes to talk about it.
- Carpet bombing in Vietnam, killing innocent people, especially innocent children – those were war crime Martin Luther King Jr. was willing to die for.
- Poverty of all colours. He said that it’s a crime against humanity for the richest nation in the history of the world to have so many of its precious children of all colours living in poverty and especially on the chocolate side of the nation and on Indian reservations, in brown barrios, in yellow slices and Black ghettos (we call them hoods now but ghettos then)
So I said to myself, okay ain’t nothing wrong with putting the hand on the bible, even though the bible is talking about justice and Jesus is talking about the least of these but when you put it [on] Martin’s bible, I said that this is personal for me, cause this is the tradition that I come out of. This is a tradition that’s connected to my grandmother’s prayers, that my grandfathers sermons and my mother’s tears and my father’s smile and it’s over against all of those in power who refuse to follow decent policies. So I say to myself, brother Martin Luther King Jr., what would say about the new Jim Crow? What would you say about the prison industrial complex? What would you say about the invisibility of so many of our prisoners? So many of our incarcerated, especially when 62% of them, are there for soft drugs when not executive a wall street bank going to jail? Not one. Martin doesn’t like that. Not one wire tapper, not one torturer under the Bush administration at all. Then what you’d say about the drones being dropped on our precious brothers and sisters in Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen? Those are war crimes, just like war crimes in Vietnam. Martin Luther King Jr., what would you say? My voice hollers out then don’t tame it, with your hand on his bible. Allow his prophetic voice to be heard. Martin what would you say about the poverty in America now, beginning with the children, and then the elderly, then our working folk, in all colours – not just here – but around the world? Don’t hide and conceal his challenge. Don’t tame his prophetic fire.
So, as much as I am glad that Barack Obama won, I think that brother Mitt Romney would have been a catastrophe, and I understand brother Newt told the truth about vampire capitalism but that’s for the system as a whole, not just Mitt Romney in that regard. But when Barack Obama attempts to use that rich tradition of Frederick Douglas, and Ida B Wells-Barnett, use the tradition of A Philip Randolph, use the tradition of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, use the tradition of Tom Hayden and so many others struggling to produce that voice that pushed Martin Luther King Jr., in the direction that he did, I get upset. People say, “Oh brother West, Smiley and West hating Obama.” On no, we just loving the tradition that produced Martin Luther King Jr., and we[‘re] not going to allow it to be in any way sanitized, deodorized, and sterilized. We want the subversive power to be heard. That’s what made me sick when he said he was going to put his hand on that bible. I’m praying for him. I’m praying for him, as is Newt – both of us Christians. You catholic and I’m holy ghost funky butt baptist, but we’re praying for him; we’re putting pressure on him.
Do you believe that Dr. West has a point about Obama using MLK’s bible or is it more of the same vicious back biting that we have heard from both him and Smiley for some time now?