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Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama’s election: Free at last?


Martin Luther King Jr. holds a special place in my life. When I was at school I studied everything he said, everything he did; I used to write articles about him for my student newspaper. I am not into religion at all so sometimes I was uncomfortable with some of his speeches but Martin Luther King’s strength, commitment and powerful discourses always captivated me. This is why I often refer to him and cite him; I mentioned him in my last post of 2008 (Will 2009 be better or only ‘less worse’ than 2008?), and I mention him again in this first post of 2009. I knew Martin Luther King said something about the United States getting a black President someday, but I couldn’t remember exactly when it was and what were his exact words. Hopefully, this week BBC World News America has unearthed a clip of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to the BBC’s Bob McKenzie in 1964 in which he predicts: ‘We may be able to get a Negro president in less than 40 years […] I would think in 25 years or less.’ He was right, once again (watch the video on Youtube).

If I am not into religion, I am not into politics either. In 2008, the portrait I did of Barack Obama (click here to see it) encountered an unexpected success among some Democratic supporters and if it was fun to see this portrait had become emblematic (they used it on t-shirts, flyers…), I then realized some people thought I did this portrait in support of Barack Obama. Which I did not, of course, and I already explained everything in my post: Will the World of Obama ever become a reality? so I will not get back to it here. That said, Barack Obama being the first black president of the United States is an historical event, although to me it is far from being the main point. Like Obama said: ‘The country is facing economic crisis of historic proportions’, so no matter what the color of his skin is, he will have a lot of work to do. Maybe this is where I take some distance from the President because I know it is going to be hard and like I said in my post about Obama’s portrait: I don’t think a man (or a woman) of good will alone, even being a president, can change everything; one man cannot implement change all by himself.

I am not being pessimistic here, I just think the higher the expectations, the more prone to disappoint. I have heard so many people having such a strong faith in Obama, considering him almost like a Messiah and singing his praises, it has really begun to baffle me. I understand the expectations, the need to believe in someone capable of changing things but at the same time, I think our support (to anyone we believe in) should remain the most impartial possible because we should be able to carefully observe and criticize if needed so our judgement will not be motivated by our disappointment. Because there will be disappointments, bad choices and maybe even some misunderstandings. Of course it will never reach the catastrophic results of the previous administration, but as much as I want things to get better and hope for a deep-level change, Obama’s goals will be hard to reach, but not impossible.

Inauguration Day on Tuesday was a huge event, the ceremony and celebrations in Washington were of course broadcasted in France. Emotion was here too, journalists cried (even Miss France, she is French but her mother is African-American), many people were watching television and I could feel the enthusiasm my fellow citizens had for Barack Obama. But once again, if I can easily understand the high expectations Americans have for their new President regarding the crisis the United States is facing, I am more dubious about the positive effects the election of Barack Obama will have on France or any other country. Of course, if wise and respectful decisions are to be made, it will benefit to most of the countries (fair justice, peace initiative –Darfur, Burma, Middle East…-) but Obama is the President of the United States and his decisions will be first taken considering his country’s most important issues, and it will not necessarily be in our (outside the United States) best interest.

For many people, Obama campaigned as a protectionist and this is not a good thing for foreign countries. It is only to illustrate my point. Nevertheless, Obama is very popular in France as French identity is expanding to a broader definition. He represents the hope of a united country behind a -mixed-race/biracial/whatever you call it- President, skilled, motivated and realistic about the difficulties of his work. This is why I hope in the future, we will never have to refer to someone exclusively because of the color of his/her skin. The election of Barack Obama is a strong sign and now the world has to keep changing to make our societies more tolerant and fair, because we are all different from each others.

Damn, I just realized maybe I too want to believe great things can happen, although I still think change will come from each one of us and not only from one person.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s prediction was right, things are definitely taking the right course. Now only time will say if we will be Free at last.






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