Today is the 45th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I won’t presume to speak for a man I never met, who died when I was in eighth grade; but based on what King said when he was alive, I suspect that if he were still with us today, he would be appalled at what is going on in the country that he loved.
King was a dreamer. He dreamed of a day when the quantity of melanin in a person’s skin would be irrelevant, when character would be what mattered. Listening to the speeches he gave toward the end of his life, you can’t help feeling that he really believed his dream would come true some day — even that he might live to see it.
It was a lovely dream, but what we have ended up with is the opposite: a country where skin color matters more than ever, and character and achievement are irrelevant. We have a country where persons of color are held to lower standards than persons of pallor — what George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” We have a country where black on white crime is far more common than white on black crime, but the former is seldom reported (and when it is, the race of the perpetrator is rarely mentioned); while the latter, when it occurs, receives massive media coverage and sparks demonstrations and riots and all manner of mayhem. We have a country where tests of any sort are denounced as racist and declared invalid if whites score better on them, on average, than blacks. We have a country where institutions of higher learning employ racial quotas to achieve “diversity,” even when it means that less-qualified black applicants receive preference over more-qualified white applicants. We have a country where it’s acceptable to gerrymander congressional districts in order to get a congressperson of a specific color elected.
But for conclusive proof that racism is alive and well, one need look no further than Barack Obama — the man Harry Reid described approvingly as a light-skinned Negro without the Negro dialect, the man Joe Biden described admiringly as the first black candidate for president who was clean and articulate and good-looking, the man who gives Chris Matthews a thrill up his leg every time he reads words off a teleprompter.
Candidate Obama’s qualifications to be president were practically nonexistent; a white man of either party with a résumé like his would have been laughed out of the primaries. But as we all know now, that didn’t matter. The American people were so excited about electing the first black president that the fact that Obama lacked any executive experience and had never distinguished himself academically, professionally, or as an elected official didn’t matter a hill of beans. The lamestream media had collective orgasms over the man, swooning and hyperventilating whenever he came into view, rhapsodizing over his superhuman intelligence and matchless beauty, sweeping his frequent gaffes under the rug, and relentlessly informing all of us unworthy peasants just how blessed we were that this incomparable paragon of brilliance and virtue was actually willing to serve as our president… and warning us in no uncertain terms that anyone who failed to vote for Obama was a despicable racist scumbag.
It became painfully obvious as the 2008 election approached that we were doomed to have this pathetically unqualified and hopelessly misguided man as our president, and those of us whose brains were still functioning knew from the get-go that his presidency was going to be a disaster. But we gritted our teeth and waited for the four miserable years to pass, hoping that once the voters saw what a terrible president Obama was, they would snap out of their reverie, come to their senses, and vote him out of office.
This was not an unreasonable expectation. If a white president of either party had presided over four years as miserable as the four years that Obama had just presided over, he would almost certainly have had a primary challenge from someone in his own party (as happened to the luckless Jimmy Carter), and had he survived that, he would have been trounced in the general election (as also happened to Carter). No white president who was as incompetent and manifestly unfit for the office as Barack Obama would have been re-elected.
But in twenty-first century America, black presidents are not held to as high a standard as white presidents. The voters simply refused to treat Barack Obama the way they have always treated white incumbents whose terms in office were disasters. The inescapable conclusion is that American voters just don’t expect as much from a black president. He isn’t held responsible for his failures, as a white president would be; in fact, the voters give him a second chance — something they would never do for a failed white president.
And Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream — that character and achievement would some day matter more than skin color — seems farther away than ever.