The End Equals the Beginning: There Is No Black America, Says the President  

Obama told both houses of Congress Tuesday night that he doesn’t have the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt, but what he really showed, again and finally, is that he is only tangentially connected to King and the struggle he is so fond of symbolizing.

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2016.
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2016. Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images

Tuesday night looked so good, I almost didn’t pay attention to what President Barack Obama was saying. I did notice that he morphed back into his 2004 happy-warrior persona, attempting to tie a yellow ribbon around a country containing a substantial white population that will hate his Muslim, gun-removing, socialism-promoting presidency to his dying breath.

“Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word,” he said.

Sounded good. Obama always finds a way to bring it—particularly when he chooses, as he frequently does, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. in word or speech structure. This final time, it was in word.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

That’s from King’s 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. This is the King whose bust is in Obama’s Oval Office. This is the King the president paraphrases after bombing seven countries in as many years, which he did after a 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in which he said, as head of state, that he could not follow King or Mahatma Gandhi alone.

“Acceptance” is the key word here. Black America has now gone through stages of acceptance since it adopted, and accepted, Barack Obama 12 years ago.

First we accepted in 2004 that he said at the Democratic National Convention that there is no black America.

Then we accepted that he was a serious candidate for president in 2008. Then we accepted that he could, and would, win the presidency without being assassinated.

We followed that up by accepting that he would only have symbolic value, because we accepted that we would not ever publicly challenge him the way we historically challenge those in charge of what King called the triple evils of racism, militarism and economic exploitation, no matter what.

We accepted that his bop, his purposeful dropping of “g’s” at very specific times, his open singing of Al Green and gospel spirituals and his inviting Earth, Wind & Fire to the White House, were proof of our acceptance in America.

Now we accept that Obama is on a victory lap as president, his and Michelle Obama’s last turn at bat before being booked as keynote speakers for every national black convention for the next 20 years.

Obama’s words to the nation at the beginning of the speech made me think about the choices we must make in the forthcoming post-Obama era: “But such progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?”

Is this a Freudian slip on the president’s part? If so, it’s an interesting and, perhaps, ironic one, since so much black (radical) history has been deserted for his historical moment.

Thinkers such as Paul Robeson and Walter Rodney—and what they believed and fought for, at great personal cost—are just elective, college-class syllabus topics today.