Working For a Better America: Thoughts on Obama’s Second Inauguration, Dr. Cornel West, and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although I wrote this piece nearly five years ago, the theme and message of Dr. West’s speech are as true today as they were in 2013…
At 8:00pm on Sunday, January 20, 2013, during Kennesaw State University’s Annual Observance of the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Dr. Bobbie Bailey and Family Performance Center, Dr. West gave the keynote speech in a program titled “Globalizing the Black Legacy.” Following a beautiful and uplifting musical selection by the KSU Gospel Choir, led by Dr. Opal Moses, the stage was yielded to the esteemed Dr. West, who exalted music as an integral component to the Civil Rights Movement. He claimed there would have been “no Martin Luther King without Mihalia Jackson” and promised of his speech that “The last thing I want to do is deodorize [MLK]. It’s gonna get funky up in here.” Dr. West stayed true to his word, offering a view of Dr. King that many of us forget.
“MLK was a radical and a real person,” said Lauren Wiginton, who was in attendance at the event. She said Dr. West’s speech “made me think about the truly controversial nature of [Dr. King’s] message, and how even today it would be considered controversial when you look at the heart of it.” Dr. West spoke of how MLK’s movement highlighted “unarmed truth and unconditional love,” regardless of whether those ideals fit snugly with any political agenda. His message called for the world to think about what it means to be human, reminding us that you reap what you sow.
Let me be clear from the start: I do not want to see Donald Trump lead the most powerful nation in the world. He would wreck our international relationships, ruin the country’s credit, and generally run the United States into the ground. But having him run for president might be exactly what America needs right now.
As Ted Cruz announces he is backing out of the race for the GOP nomination, it seems to some like a sign that half the nation is ready to bring back old-fashioned racism and bigotry. This year, Republicans across the country have turned out at the polls to vote for a man who openly diminishes immigrants, degrades women, and doesn’t seem to have any real plans for when he gets in office. The Grand Old Party is certainly shifting, but has it really moved so far backward that we might as well pull out the Dylan hits and organize a sit-in on the Mexican border?
Before the Canadian consulate gets flooded with questions on how to get a permanent visa, maybe we should take a minute to look at the real culprits behind this tangled mess. I have a hard time believing half of this country is ready for a racist misogynist to lead when only 62 percent of the population is white and nearly 51 percent are women.
Instead, I see the 2016 election as a culmination of good timing, dirty party politics, and a flawed election system.
In today’s working world, quick innovation and technological advancement has flipped the traditional system of seniority on its head. Where once experience was the fasted path to respect and a promotion, now it seems to only matter if you know the newest media platform or computer code. This is especially true in our education system, where innovation has left some of our best innovators in the dust. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Georgia high school teacher Jarrod Shirley recently approached me about featuring a new project to address this issue. Soon to graduate with his master’s degree from the University of Georgia, Mr. Shirley has been working on a website that allows experienced educators to familiarize themselves with new teaching tools. They can watch videos on tools like Screencast-O-Matic and learn how to use platforms like Google Slides. Even better, the site Old Dawg New Tricks uses learning examples that compare old methods to new technology, making it accessible and effective.
Since when did being “pro-life” become synonymous with being prudish and anti-woman? Why does being “pro-choice” make you anti-family?
When did the dehumanizing ad-tactics of the Mad Men-esque marketing world take its attack labels away from business and onto the political battlefield of Values vs. Rationality? Better yet, when did the two concepts become mutually exclusive in the minds of the American people?
It seems to me that the labels – self-made or media-given – that we use to identify these groups have done little to bring about positive change. And instead, have done more to damage any chance we have have at helping the people who are really in question: The Next Generation.
In the language of gender inequality, we moved rather quickly from banning “bossy” to blaming a gendered “Confidence Gap” for the disparity between men and women in jobs, pay, and treatment in general. While I can respect the need to pinpoint how we change this grand societal flaw, I find myself still peeved by the overarching sense that the problem is a) based on female shortcomings and b) easily solved by doing this one thing, whatever that may be.
I tend to agree with Jessica Valenti that the female “confidence gap” is a sham. It hearkens back to Jimmy Carter’s fateful speech where he told the American people that we were doing poorly due to a crisis of… you guessed it: Confidence! As Valenti posits, this lack of confidence is more likely an understanding of how society views women, not necessarily how women view themselves. What’s more, this “confidence” problem is NOT just a U.S. problem, nor is it just a female problem.
Recently, a female Turkish acquaintance became flustered in one of our graduate classes. She could not understand why political scientists keep using formal mathematical models instead of explaining everything in words. “The math just makes things too complicated!” she exclaimed. Yet, every time she talks about the content of one of these articles, she seems to have understood the models perfectly. Why would this intelligent woman continue to discount her understanding of math because it seems “too complicated”?
And the issue of confidence extends to many men, as well! Think of all the plotlines involving young nerds who stop short of asking a pretty girl on a date for fear of rejection. Think of what the world might have lost if Steve Jobs hadn’t talked Steve Wozniak into leaving Hewlett-Packard!
But the fact that the confidence gap is a universal problem is really only the surface of the issue. Buried beneath this mask is a larger set of societal flaws. Instead of looking for the simple answer to “Why are women paid less than men?” we should be looking for the root problem of these greater questions: