“Somehow, this First Black President believes that ongoing structural and institutionalized poverty, year after year of record-high unemployment, constant, unrelenting housing discrimination, forced educational deficits, ever-growing mass imprisonment… will magically disappear if we just “press on…”
By Herbert Dyer, Jr.
“… [W]e will not let this day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial go without somebody going to jail, because Martin King would be right here with us.”
– Cornel West
The arrest and jailing of Dr. Cornel West on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on October 16, 2011 brings into stark relief the simultaneous and mainly corporate sponsored dedication of Dr. King’s memorial down the street and Dr. West’s lived dedication to Dr. King’s legacy, ideas, ideals, protest marches and, yes, dreams. It is fitting that October 16, 2011, also marked to the day the sixteenth anniversary of the Million Man March led by Minister Louis Farrakhan on and in Washington, D.C.
Dr. West was in D.C. purposefully, specifically, to demonstrate solidarity with the Washington contingent of the Wall Street occupiers in New York and throughout the country and now the world. One thousand cities in over 80 countries have a version of this fledging, ever growing phenomenon. He was also there to protest the deification and idolization of Dr. King’s image and the commercialization and commodification of his message. Dr. West’s arrest provides the clearest statement of his commitment to Dr. King’s personal and public sacrifice for jobs and justice for all peoples.
Dr. West is the kind of scholar who puts flesh on the bones of the term “public intellectual.” Like Dr. King, Dr. West is everywhere at once, and always with the same message. Like Dr. King, Dr. West’s is a message of love, of peace, of justice, of “freedom and equality” for all people everywhere. These words have gone missing from public discourse since Dr. King’s brutal assassination and the subsequent ascension of a virulent right wing’s reactionary ideologies and practices, together with corporate America’s enculturation of unchecked materialism and its step children — mindless consumerism and out-and-out naked greed. Almost singlehandedly, Dr. West has resuscitated these words. He has breathed not a new but a deeper and 21st Century meaning and relevancy into them. But for Dr. West, these words were well on their way to consignment forever as “nice” sentiments but far too distant, unattainable and unrealistic ideals. They lived only in a utopia of utopias, not germane to the market-driven, dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest “real world” of competitive winners and losers.
By inviting arrest, Dr. West conflated the Wall Street/D.C./worldwide occupations, the protest against the distortion of Dr. King’s message and memory, and the spirit of the 1995 Million Man March. Dr. West’s principled critiques of President Obama’s affinity to corporate power and this First Black President’s obviously politically gagged non-responses to mass demonstrations and protests against corporate malfeasance are bolstered by his arrest. The First Black President dutifully appeared at Dr. King’s memorial spouting the same timeworn platitudes and moralization that many of us have begun to tune out as a matter of course. For example, The First Black President’s assessment of Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech studiously avoided Dr. King’s “promissory note” reference in that same speech. And that is why corporate sponsored “celebrations” and commemorations of Dr. King are disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst. That is, like most protectors of the status quo, The First Black President refuses to acknowledge, and in fact publicly denies, that Black people are owed and deserve any special or “targeted” remedies for their centuries of slavery, suffering and death. Somehow, this First Black President believes that ongoing structural and institutionalized poverty, year after year of record-high unemployment, constant, unrelenting housing discrimination, forced educational deficits, ever-growing mass imprisonment and permanent branding with a Scarlet F for “felony”, and relegation to permanent underclass and bottom caste status will magically disappear if we just “press on,” as he sermonized at the recent Black Congressional Caucus gala and dinner.
And so, precisely because of this First Black President’s oppositional stance to mass Black advancement, he may ultimately be regarded as the most destructive force to emerge against Black people since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. No. I am not as charitable as Dr. West. I do not believe that this First Black President is waiting for us to “make him” do anything. I believe he knows exactly what he is doing. He is, after all, “very intelligent,” right? He is doing, as his former pastor Jeremiah Wright has explained, precisely what he was “selected” to do.
Thankfully, Dr. Cornel West has stood up in face of withering criticism and group-think to say out loud that this emperor has no clothes. I say it is not our place to clothe him. Thank you, Dr. West.
Herbert Dyer Jr. is an African American writer in Chicago. Herb also works at Roosevelt University’s “Life Skills and Re-entry Program” as a tutor in computer skills, language training, job-readiness skills to ex-offenders. He has a masters degree from Governors State University in Political & Justice Studies and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.