This afternoon President Barack Obama’s campaign sent out an email from famous African American writer Maya Angelo encouraging Americans to vote to reelect for President Barack Obama primarily because of the color of his skin.
I’ve come to expect this sort of logic from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and folks like the Obama phone lady, but it was extraordinarily saddening to see one of the icons of my youth Dr. Maya Angelou join the Obama campaign in its attempts to make race a voting issue in this election.
In the email Angelou explains that “It is your job to vote. It is your responsibility, your right, and your privilege,” and you should exercise it to your fullest because in her grandparents’ day blacks weren’t even allowed to vote. Fair enough.
However she then goes on to say this:
I once debated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about whether an African American would ever be elected president. He believed it would happen within the next 40 years at the time — I believed it would never happen within my lifetime.
I have never been happier to have been proven wrong.
And since President Barack Obama’s historic election, we’ve moved forward in courageous and beautiful ways. More students can afford college, and more families have access to affordable health insurance. Women have greater opportunities to get equal pay for equal work.
Yet as Rev. King wrote, “All progress is precarious.”
Angelou starts off the email by claiming that she is not “writing to you as a black voter” but the bulk of the email focuses on the African American experience in America, Obama’s “historic election” as the first black President and references Martin Luther King, Jr. not once but twice. Rather than sticking to the issues of this election, Angelou frames the entire 2012 presidential race in the context of the entire civil rights movement and disproving the late Dr. King’s belief that America wouldn’t be ready for a black President by the 21st century.
When civil rights heroes like Rep. John Lewis and Maya Angelou play the race card in politics it literally breaks my heart. It’s hard for me to criticize them because I have so much respect for their accomplishments and their struggle to ensure that people like myself are able to participate freely and fairly in elections.
I won’t try to speculate whether Rev. King would or wouldn’t have supported President Obama in 2012 – such attempts are foolish. However, I will say that King would encourage Americans to make their decision based on the content of Obama’s character based on his what I do know about his teachings. And while I personally won’t be supporting President Obama because I have not been pleased with what I’ve seen of his both his character and his policies, I don’t begrudge anyone who does as long as they are voting for him for the right reasons and not based on the color of his skin.
Full text of the email below.