TRNN Video: King, Malcolm X and Obama

Chuck D and wife Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson discuss rap, Obama and Black political tradition.

Washington, DC, July 22, 2009 --( "Barack Obama's presidency has stood on the efforts of many before him. You can't remove Reverend Al Sharpton and how he spoke, and you can't remove Jesse Jackson and how he spoke in '84 and '88. You can't diminish any of the things that have contributed to this point," Chuck D says, as he gestures towards a poster of Obama, with the headline "WE CAN."

In the latest TRNN video with Chuck D, member of the legendary rap group, Public Enemy, Senior Editor Paul Jay visits the rap artist in his house and talks to both Chuck D and his wife, Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson. They discuss the indebtedness of Barack Obama's presidency to the figures of black American history in politics and music.

Both Chuck D and Johnson emphasize the importance of this history in understanding Obama's political success. Johnson also says, that though Obama's rhetorical style closely resembles that of Malcolm X's, the current US president is a "conservative Democrat."

"I think Obama is someone who believes deeply in our system," she says. "I think he said from the beginning that he is a conservative Democrat, at best, and I think that Malcolm X never believed in the system and the legacy of his speeches, of his scholarship, of his activism [demonstrates] that this system cannot work because of its roots and the way that it's carried out."

Johnson points out that both the liberal and conservative press have given Obama a break from mentioning any prejudices that he or his family might have experienced, living and growing up in America. Instead, he is portrayed as the symbol of a country that has transgressed its problematic past of racism, (and simultaneously eliding its precariously racialized present).

Claiming the presidency of Obama as a symbolic point of transgressing racism is premature, Johnson says. "Will he and the people that are around him acknowledge [black history] in ways that are true and give dignity to black people, and not just white liberals who want to claim this history as their own now, even though they are pro-policing, they're at this very moment enacting all kinds of policies against fair housing and fair hiring, these are the people we call liberals. We hope that the legacy of radicalism that is inherent in Rosa Parks, King, and Malcolm X can also find a home in Obama's America as well."

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