21 January 2013

President Obama, Doctor West, Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Tradition

Political Traditions are crucially important. They are in some respects a non-renewable resource. We are thus well advised to protect them from manipulation. So, while I am not nearly as eloquent as Doctor West, and while I do not agree with everything he says here - mostly because my own religious commitments are roughly non-existent - I nonetheless find it ironic that Obama is seeking to lay claim to the tradition of the struggle for civil rights via a symbolic appropriation of Martin Luther King, Jr.. The irony is two-fold. First, as Doctor West points out the President's party and policies are rife with that Doctor King would find deeply objectionable. There is no need to recount the items. But even the sanitized version of King that I have repeatedly complained about here over the years would surely resist being recruited into the mainstream of the contemporary Democratic political establishment. And, second, it is important to remember that, notwithstanding his accomplishments and stature, Dr. King's relationship to 'the movement' in fact was fraught with conflict and contestation. I have mentioned that here before as well.  The inauguration today is yet another attempt to sanitize the American political tradition and it's debt to African Americans.
P.S.: And if you think that centrists like Obama are the only ones seeking to appropriate the King legacy, have a look at this post and the various links it contains.

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Blogger John Edwin Mason said...

Wow. Dazzling verbal virtuosity. The African-American oral tradition at its best. As an improviser, West is up there with Coltrane. (And I mean that seriously.)

I've heard West speak live several times, and it's always a delight, even if I don't agree with his message, as it sometimes the case. Here, form and substance come together nicely.

21 January, 2013 13:59  
Blogger Stan B. said...


21 January, 2013 16:03  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

John, Interestingly, West has extremely insightful things to say about Coltrane (as well as other principals of the blues-jazz tradition)and the ways they transformed the democratic tradition in the US. Thanks for the reminder! Jim

21 January, 2013 17:55  

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