Brown University Professor Glenn Loury condemned comparisons between two-term U.S. President Barack Obama and slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday in the Massey Performing Arts Center during the pinnacle of Belmont’s MLK Week 2013.
During his keynote address, “Obama is No King: On the Fracturing of the Black Prophetic Tradition,” Loury emphasized Obama’s presidential election is not the fulfillment of King’s dream, despite its historical significance, because of the men’s contradicting agendas, actions and beliefs.
Loury juxtaposed the president’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech with King’s 1967 speech against the Vietnam War. In his speech, Obama acknowledged force must be used, and such an acknowledgment is “not a call to cynicism.” On the other hand, King continuously advocated for nonviolence.
Politics prevent Obama from acting as a champion of issues directly affecting African-Americans and fully acting to provide solutions for the numerous race-related issues that continue to plague the United States, he said, highlighting critic’s responses to Obama’s comments on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Gates in his home and the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Travon Martin. Instead, Obama focuses on rights for gays, women and illegal immigrants because advocating for African-Americans would make him appear as perusing his personal agenda, Loury said. Meanwhile, African-Americans continue to have higher incarceration rates, lower incomes and lower levels of education compared to their American counterparts.
Loury concluded by drawing a link between U.S. history on race and civil rights and turmoil in the Middle East. He said Americans should apply the understanding and compassion gained from the civil rights movement to the troubles in the Middle East.
Loury is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University and the author of the National Book Award-winning One by One, From the Inside Out: Essays and Reviews on Race and Responsibility in America.
MLK Week also included a community service event, candlelight vigil, Wednesday evening worship service, several academic lectures and campus dialogue on diversity at Belmont University. During the frank and interactive discussion on Thursday, students, faculty and staff responded to survey questions by text message and talked about why discussing diversity is uncomfortable yet necessary as well as perceptions on race and ethnicity at Belmont.