A must-read from Jelani Cobb on Race and Obama.
Barack X: Race and the Obamas
The post-racial myth is the logical outgrowth of an older mythology that the black struggle for freedom was anchored in a moral crusade to redeem America at large. The truth of the matter is that Martin Luther King, Jr., was more of a backroom operator than that. The idea of redemption stemmed from a moral sales pitch proffered by King, a transaction in which whites would confront the awful contours of American history and be granted exemption from its implications. Black people had a more tangible yield in mind: removing the dusty boot of Jim Crow from our necks. If fashioning spiritual redemption as a form of higher patriotism was enough to end abominations like the waterlogged obscenity that was Emmett Till’s body, then so be it. But the deeper truth is that black people were more concerned with saving our own necks than saving America’s soul.
For this reason, white claims to have “marched with Dr. King” eventually became an unintentional punch-line, a disclaimer for whatever racially obtuse commentary followed that preface. The joke, however, was on us. Few could conceive that forty years after King’s death, the nation would elect a black President—an event deeply rooted in the civil-rights ethos, a bolder redemption, a stronger immunization against the claims of history. And, as with the claims to have marched with Dr. King, the very fact of Obama’s election has been a disclaimer against the racism that came after it.