Reflections on Martin Luther King, JR and President Obama

Obama at the MLK memorial

Make America Great Again!—Donald Trump

I feel out of place in our own country—Marco Rubio

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.


Debates and differences of opinion are a hallmark of democracies. And during every president’s term there are debates about taxes, war, social services just to name a few issues and Obama’s presidency has been no different in this regard. But, the vitriol hurled at Obama is something much different than any president has faced before. It’s personal.


From the beginning of his presidency to the end, Obama has faced questions about his citizenship status—the so called “birther” critiques—to his religious beliefs, with some claiming he’s really a “Muslim, “ as if that disqualifies him from being President. Cartoons depict both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama by tapping into the worst racial stereotypes: monkeys. At the 2009 State of the Union address South Carolina congressman Wilson stood up while Obama was in mid speech and called him a liar.

And, at one of the final GOP debates before the Iowa Caucuses Chris Christie called Obama a “petulant child.”

Many of the GOP candidates for president in 2015 and 2016 are voicing what many Americans apparently feel, that Obama’s policies are problematic, but more importantly Obama’s very presence in the White House represents a threat to the machine of white supremacy; a machine that has for centuries protected the rights of white men, and to a lesser degree white women, and denied access to education, jobs, personal safety, and the American dream to African Americans, Native Americans and everyone else who is labeled “not white” and churned up and spit out by the white supremacy machine. For gosh sakes, if a Black man can be President of the United States, what’s next?


On this, the 30th anniversary of the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the end of the presidency of the first African American president, Barack Obama, the rhetoric of the GOP presidential candidates suggests that an apocalypse has taken place, that, in the words of Marco Rubio “we” feel out of place in “our own” country. Yet by all measures, we have not entered a post-racial (or post-anything) society, and the numbers tell the real story.


  • African Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as White Americans
  • Barely more than half of African American young men will graduate high school and in DC, only 25% of African American students read at grade level
  • African Americans earn, on average, 54% of the wages White Americans earn
  • 50% of African American children live below the poverty line
  • More than 1/3 of African American men will spend time in prison
  • African American men die 10 years earlier than White men
  • African Americans don’t own businesses and they are considerably underrepresented in the Congress; today there isn’t a single African American US Senator.


And, for the second year in a row, despite loads of great films and actors of color, the Oscar nominations don’t include a single person of color #OscarsSoWhite.

We are left to wonder what world Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are talking about. One in which African Americans are denied the opportunity to attend the college or university of their choice, let alone the opportunity to get a decent education and graduate from high school? An America in which despite the same credit scores, African Americans are denied fair mortgages? An America in which despite appropriate training and credentials, African Americans earn barely more than half of the wages White Americans earn? An American where African Americans still can’t access the American Dream.

Clearly Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are calling for an America in which an African American is no longer the President of the United States and living in the “White” House. An America in which the wheels of the machine of white supremacy are allowed to churn away unchallenged. Let’s make America great again and let’s retake “our” country. Wake up Donald Trump and Marco Rubio: White America never lost “its” country, “we” only let President Obama visit for awhile.

To read more on the impact of President Obama’s presidency on the African American community check out our book: African American Families: Myths and Realities


Follow me on Twitter: @AngelaHattery and Facebook: SmithandHattery

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