I wasn’t planning on writing on this topic because I had hoped it would blow over in a few days, but it hasn’t. Earlier this week, I was so overwhelmed by the positivity of President Obama’s second inauguration that I refused to acknowledge the twin controversies that were brewing. Ironically, these twin controversies involved two inaugural guests that typically should not have caused any trouble–Martin Luther King, Jr’s Bible and Beyonce.
President Barack Obama chose to be sworn in for his second term using the Bibles that belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln. Professor Cornel West felt this was a bad idea and was vocal in sharing his critique on the radio program that he shares with Tavis Smiley. I wrote that off as Cornel West being Cornel West. After all, he and Tavis Smiley have always been vocal critics of the President. It made sense to me that the two of them would attempt to claim that President Obama’s use of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Bible was purely political. Last night, I was on the train with my mother who was excited to tell me about the discussion she had seen on Tavis Smiley’s talk show the night before. Apparently, the clip from last week’s telecast that had been circulating on the internet for days finally made it to our local PBS station.
“You should watch it tonight,” she said proudly, “They’re supposed to air the second part. Cornel West is going to be on there.”
“I think I’ve seen the clip online,” I replied. From there, we began examining the issues at hand.
“I feel like he just said too much,” my mother continued, “Maybe if he had kept it a bit shorter, I could have followed him better.”
“No,” I replied, “Cornel West, like many academics, is good at talking in circles. That doesn’t make him any less brilliant, but his critique was pretty hard to follow. It seemed like he was deifying King and implying that in some way, President Obama did not have a right to claim a connection to the African American religious tradition that formed him [Dr. King.]”
“I see,” my mother continued, “I felt that way too, but I thought I just wasn’t understanding him. After all, he’s this renowned professor. That was the reason I wanted to make sure you had heard about what he said. I know you have more training in that area.”
“You’re just going through what academics and intellectuals go through all the time,” I replied, “That’s why it is important to study things for yourself. People will always have points of disagreement and that’s fine. It’s just like church.”
After I connected it to church, she immediately understood. We often spent time breaking down sermons that we heard over the years. She often expressed her displeasure in the way that many people valued style over substance when listening to sermons. Perhaps her discontent resulted from her son (me) and her pastor (who is also her nephew) being ministers whose ministerial journeys have been a bit more difficult because our personalities lead us to preach without the traditional whoop and holler associated with the African American religious tradition. (Truth be told, that’s a part of why I gravitated toward music and writing for my ministry–those areas are much more open to plurality of expression. I’ve been preaching for over 8 years. My cousin has been preaching for about 20 years. It’s safe to say that the traditional whoop and holler probably won’t develop in our deliveries.)
Before the conversation ended, I was sure to encourage my mother to go with her instincts. She is a astute woman. I am pretty sure that I only possess a portion of her overall intellectual ability. She was just raised at a different time when African American women were not given the same opportunities they have today. As difficult as it was for my father to become a physician, it was essentially unheard of for African American women to receive college educations back then. My mother did the best that she could though. She ended up working as an operating room technician before resigning to marry my father. After their divorce, she went back to work and took on a different career as a billing specialist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Someday, I hope to have enough time to send to school to earn her own degree
though I am sure she would rather I just hurry up, get married, and have some grandchildren for her. Still, it is sad that people like my mother are so quick to go against their instincts when confronted by someone perceived to be of a higher pedigree.
Secondly, there was the question of whether or not Beyonce lip-synched the national anthem. Admittedly, when I first watched it, I felt that her voice was too smooth and subdued given the atmosphere of the event and the ridiculously cold weather. Compare that to Kelly Clarkson’s performance of “My County Tis of Thee,” which was amazing, but clearly affected by the near freezing temperatures. Nonetheless, I never expected it to grow into what it has become. According to CNN, an anonymous rep from the inauguration finally admitted that Beyonce lip-synched thereby putting the controversy to rest once and for all–or so I thought.
This morning, I found an article from the New Yorker stating that some Congressional Republicans are calling for President Obama’s resignation over Beyonce’s lip-synching. Although it was clearly a joke, it got me angry because of how accurate it was in some ways. The overall premise of this satirical piece is that Republicans are opportunistic and looking for just about any opportunity they can find in order to get President Obama out of office. Beyonce is arguably the most successful entertainer in the world, but her singing or lip-synching has nothing to do with President Obama’s overall ability. Nevertheless, Republicans have used plenty of trivial issues to try to discredit President Obama and force him out of office. Remember, how people conveniently forgot that much of the stimulus package of his first term was passed before his inauguration, meaning it was the doing of President George W. Bush. Also, Republicans were quick to point out President Obama’s difficulty in passing laws without acknowledging their role in the Congressional deadlock. I guess they’re consistent. It’s just disturbing that most of the country cannot see through their games. Then again, it could be a similar phenomenon to what occurred with my mother while she was watching Cornel West. Some people are quick to trust the judgment of those in authority over them–even when evidence suggests that they shouldn’t.
Although I have great respect for Professor Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, I am confused by their clear issues with President Obama’s use of the King Bible–especially since the King family approved it. I guess that’s just their prerogative. My overall concern with issues like West and Smiley’s critique or the apparent scandal surrounding Beyonce’s lip-synching is that they take the President’s attention away from more pressing issues. We should support him and let him preside over this country instead of forcing him to defend every one of his moves–especially on trivial, non-political matters like these.
What about you? What do you think?
Cornel West’s Critique
Beyonce Performing the National Anthem
Bonus: Kelly Clarkson Performing “My County Tis of Thee”