Whether it was George Washington who could not tell a lie, or Christopher Columbus who “discovered” America, we embrace the hero that ushers us to the happy ending.
Cultural pedestals of worship are problematic. They lead us to disappointment. This disappointment leads to societal scorn all while the hero falls upon the very same ground of imperfection on which we all travel.
I often wonder if we have unwittingly set Barack Obama up for a similar fall from grace. It’s been a year since his inauguration, and I will never forget the historic significance of it.
Along with this came the media’s penchant for seizing on Cinderella-like tales just to make sure we get what we’re supposed to get — at least in their editorialized view of the world.
Besides the news coverage of all that was red and blue, posters filled the landscape bringing messages of hope and of change. No doubt that these words fed those whose ideologies were screaming for something different, and those who were desperate for inspiration. Then, in an apparent well-meaning nod to history, came a poster which I struggle to embrace. In this poster are two pencil-sketched images of President Obama and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Under King are the words “I have a dream” and above Obama the words “I am the dream.”
Certainly, there is no doubt in my mind that the election of Obama as president serves as a momentous benchmark in our nation’s struggle toward tangible equality, but it is hardly the realization of the dream itself. And frankly, to suggest otherwise exchanges history’s well-established patterns for unrealistic falsehoods.
History’s story tells us that the Civil War didn’t end slavery; rather, it ushered in the era of segregation and the doctrine of separate but equal.
Sadly, even modern civil rights initiatives have failed to live up to the aspirations of advocates and lawmakers. In the nearly 20 years since its passage, perhaps the Americans with Disabilities Act’s greatest achievement is that it has provided more public accessible parking spots, which, on its face, seems like something to celebrate. That is, until reality sets in: people with disabilities remain one of the most unemployed and poorest groups in our country.
Now, to be fair, I’m not African-American, but I can’t help but wonder if the poster declaring the dream’s finale is as offensive to them as it is to me.
I wonder what this poster really means when law enforcement continues to abuse their authority or when the achievement gap continues to widen for minority students.
I wonder what this poster means to migrant farm workers who work hard for little pay, only to come home to houses without plumbing or electricity.
And yes, I even wonder what President Obama thinks of his likeness being attributed to such a fictional feat. Does he bask in the adulation of such lofty praise? Or, is he more like me? Is he weary of the infinite trappings that come with such idolatry, knowing that the innate imperfections of being human often lead to a fall without a soft landing?
In the end, no matter what this poster suggests, whether you are Barack Obama or a nameless, faceless bureaucrat like me, the dream is still a dream.
Shawn Murinko is the state Department of Transportation’s ADA compliance officer and serves as a commissioner on the state Human Rights Commission. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, Murinko, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, can be reached at email@example.com.