by Dr Boyce Watkins
Black Enterprise Magazine is one of the most respected black publications in the country. I’ve followed them for years, and will continue to do so in the future.
But a lot of people on social media were taken aback when an image of a “Black Mount Rushmore” was presented to readers that put Michael Jordan and Barack Obama right next to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The title of the cover said, “Black Mt. Rushmore. Which African American leaders are on yours?”
It is debatable that President Obama belongs next to famous and respected black leaders of the past. After all, he’s repeatedly made it clear that he’s not the president of black America. Also, one of the greatest criticisms Obama has faced is that he has been AWOL in helping African Americans overcome the effects of the Great Recession of 2009. At the same time, the white middle class and corporate America have experienced very strong recoveries. They have a lot to thank him for. He also fought hardily for the gay community, pushing gay rights forward more during his presidency than over the previous 25 years.
There’s nothing wrong with Obama representing those he cares about, but it’s difficult to find evidence that he even wants the black leader label that people sometimes force upon him. It’s like telling your mother’s new boyfriend that he’s the best father you’ve ever had, when he just wants to visit your mama in the middle of the night.
But even if one allows President Obama to be placed next to Martin and Malcolm, it’s nearly impossible to justify Jordan’s presence on the mountain top next to the greatest black men in history. Yes, Jordan was an amazing basketball player, and yes, he’s made a lot of money. But as it pertains to committing himself to nearly any cause related to improving the state of the African American community, Michael Jordan appears to have virtually no desire to involve himself whatsoever.
One common theme that we should observe about how some mainstream black media outlets select the most prominent blacks in the country is that most of those selected are chosen largely because they’ve received acceptance from whites. Along with this acceptance may come vast economic rewards, which seal the deal in terms of leading other black people to feel that a person has actually accomplished something. This could be why there are some black folks who will celebrate drug-addicted rappers or reality stars who beat their many baby mamas in public, when most of us might agree that some of these individuals are mentally ill or dysfunctional.
Black Enterprise is still wonderful in its own way. But Jordan has no place next to Malcolm, Martin and other black people who’ve fought our oppressors, rather than conspired with them. I’ll let you decide how you feel about Obama, but in my mind, he’s just another president, nothing more, nothing less.
Here are a few faces they might consider putting up in place of Jordan and Obama:
1) Angela Davis
2) Dr Claud Anderson
3) Shirley Chisholm
4) Min. Louis Farrakhan
5) Dr Cornel West
6) Michelle Alexander
7) Dr Umar Johnson
8) Johnny Cochran
9) Dr Dorothy Height
10) Harriet Tubman
One of the reasons that we are biased toward identifying conformist black people as our greatest heroes is because white Americans control nearly every aspect of black thought and culture: They control most of our media, our educational systems, and our economic systems. In fact, the easiest way to control a group of people is not to fight them. Instead, it is best to make them dependent upon you to get the things they need. If you are responsible for feeding another man’s child, then that man will never cross you, until/unless he becomes man enough to get access to his own food.
If you’re going to pick out heroes for the African American community, you can’t measure them by how much approval and money they’ve received from whites. In many cases, this approval comes at the cost of counterproductive complicity that has slowed the advancement of the community as a whole. It’s kind of like thinking that Samuel L Jackson’s character was the most successful negro in Django Unchained because the master said he was a good boy.
It’s time to think differently about these things in the 21st century. We must confront the mind control head on and identify it when we see it.