Barack Obama Likes Mayonnaise (Weekly Dig)


Originally published in the March 14, 2007 edition of Boston's Weekly Dig

I’m having a hard time with all this talk about Senator Barack Obama not being black enough, so I plan to address, explain and end discussion of the matter right here. Pay close attention.

The topic seems to have originated in black media outlets. Radio shows especially have questioned Obama’s “black authenticity.” Because his mother was white and his father was—get this—actually African (the original black), his life doesn’t parallel the lives of “real” black people. (Any black person who has a reasonable shot at the White House clearly doesn’t have a life paralleling that of the average black American, but that isn’t what they meant.)

Black leaders were hesitant to support Obama because he didn’t come up with them, and the story gained momentum with polls showing that black people overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton over Obama, presumably because of these same issues of authenticity. By the first weekend in March, however, Obama was gaining on Hillary, as they both planned to speak at a historic civil rights event in Selma, Alabama.

So the story was ratcheted up yet again. We got word that Obama’s mother’s ancestors owned slaves. Imagine that! Who ever heard of white people owning slaves in America?

By the time you read this, they’ll be saying Obama’s favorite show is Friends, he loves mayonnaise, and he actually owns slaves today.

This is all a bunch of nonsense. Why would we immediately reject a man like Barack Obama, with his history of neighborhood activism and accomplished academic background? Consider the shady characters that black people have embraced.

We embraced O.J. Simpson after he killed his damn wife.

We embraced R. Kelly after he peed on a child and videotaped it.

And if you want to consider the racial purity question, we embraced a 100-percent-white Bill Clinton and actually had the nerve to call him “the first black president”—but only after he cheated on his wife.

Now, let’s talk about the wife. This black authenticity story, which started in the black media, has crossed over to the mainstream, but where are the stories questioning Hillary’s womanhood?

Where is the story that attacks her for staying with a man who so publicly shamed her? Where is the story that says Hillary is the ultimate throwback woman because her campaign is largely predicated on the success of her husband’s presidency? There’s a reason she’s not running as Hillary Rodham.

While there is a sometimes-real divide between black people with slave ancestry in America and those who voluntarily immigrated, I think the truth of Obama and black folks is more complicated. When Obama was elected to the Senate, we didn’t see these stories questioning his blackness from black or mainstream media. No one seemed to care, even though he’s only the fifth black senator ever, and the first since 1998.

Even when given a choice for “blacker” presidential candidates, like Sharpton in 2004, black people have usually voted for the white candidates. I think black voters haven’t quite joined Obama for President because, more than anyone else, they know America can’t handle a black president.

Think about it. America can’t even handle black people in horror movies. We’re still the first to die.

America doesn’t know how to deal with black club-goers on the night before their weddings. America shoots them 50 times.

America even has trouble with fictional black presidents. On 24, they tried to kill President David Palmer three times. Have you ever seen such murderous determination targeting fictional white presidents? The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet seemed pretty safe. 24 finally did assassinate Palmer—on the fourth attempt, when he wasn’t even president anymore. Why would you write that into a script? I can imagine the writers’ group:

“I don’t know. He’s not president anymore. What’s the point of killing him?”

“Well, he’s still black, right?”

“That’s what’s up. Cap that fool.”

Palmer’s brother Wayne is president now. Yes, we now have “Brotha President.” And you know what? They tried to kill him, too. On the very first episode of this season. Did the man even get an inaugural ball?

America is sending a very clear message: Yes, there can be a black president, but we’re eventually gonna kill him. Maybe black America just likes Obama better alive.