The word ironic can mean coincidence or unexpected. The MLK holiday comes in the same week as the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. I would say that’s ironic because it’s a coincidence.
Eight years ago it was Barack Obama. I would say that was ironic because it was unexpected. Yet, it was also fitting because it apparently fulfilled the famous dream. To the amazement of all who had very present memories of racial injustices, segregation and inequality, the first African American president raised his right hand and pledged to “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States…to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No one missed the poignancy of this ascension to the highest office in the land, this audacity to set up residence in a house built by slaves. It made that inaugural day truly inaugural, both historic and unprecedented…
There’s another word for us wordies to think about, unprecedented. It has become the buzzword for this current political season as businessman, reality show star, leader of the “birther” movement and Obama nemesis, Donald Trump set his sights on that highest office. (Of course, we remember that he misspelled the word in one of his infamous Twitter posts—“unpresidented”—perhaps he was attempting a pun?) But, is Trump’s ascendance to that position more astonishing than Obama’s? What made Obama so “different” was mostly his skin color. People criticized his lack of political experience, but he was president of the Harvard Law Review and senator for four years. He had, at least, been working in the political field. Trump, on the other hand is “different” because his experience has been in corporate rather than national politics. Yet, this lack of experience was “trumped” by his wealth, race and gender. Being a wealthy white man opens doors that no amount of intelligence or experience can touch.
Let’s face it. If you’re black, poor, or female you have to prove yourself worthy of respect. If you’re white, rich and male you don’t have to prove anything.
Ironic? Not really. Unprecedented? Definitely, no. It’s the way of the world.
So, while many of us called Trump’s meteoric rise shocking, we have merely forgotten where we are. Those very present realities (not just memories) of racial unrest and inequality never went away. The fact that we had an African American president merely soothed us with the appearance of change. But the reality is we never entered that post-racial era that optimists heralded in 2008. Race is as much a divisive presence as it ever was in the past. Thus, with the rise of Donald Trump we merely see the resurgence of what was always there, white power “taking back” what it never lost. There’s the irony. The real irony is that all the while that we clapped and cheered the rise of Obama, we were merely hailing a dream that is still deferred.
“…with the rise of Donald Trump we merely see the resurgence of what was always there, white power ‘taking back’ what it never lost. There’s the irony.”
This year, in the wake of the 2016 social and political unrest, the MLK holiday leaves me melancholy. The hope and change that I had hoped for hasn’t come and the future seems frighteningly uncertain with the mercurial man who stands next to lead.
Nonetheless, this image reminds me that the path forward must be paved in love.I am reminded that this is why we honor Martin Luther King every year, because his words are timeless, his vision unhindered by current circumstances, nor by the winds of change–good or bad. Whether the dream is alive and well or withering like a raisin in the sun, we must keep hope alive! That’s no irony, just straight talk.
Happy MLK Day!