"Barack Obama Is Not Like The Rest of ‘Em!"
I’ve pretty much tried to stay out of the race-relations fray when it comes to this “very special episode” of the American Presidency known as Election 2008. The main reason is a rather shallow one: my nerves won’t allow me too get too involved in the tumultuous Philadelphia Eagles’ football season let alone a presidential election whose results will either say “Yes, a black man CAN become our leader,” or “Negro go home, we’d rather have eight more years of lies and mismanagement than vote for you.” It’s too much of a nail-biter for my frail emotional constitution, so I’ve been selfishly keeping to myself.
But lately I’ve been asked to give my perspective on current events, and I’ll be sure to do so more often in the coming months. The first of such issues was suggested by a Latina reader of WWTD who took issue with these comments that country star Toby Keith made on Glen Beck’s radio broadcast regarding Barack Obama. For those of you who would rather avoid the audio, here is the transcript:
Keith: “I think the black people would say he (Obama) don’t talk, act or carry himself as a black person.”
Beck: “What does that even mean?”
Keith: “Well, I don’t know what that means but I think that that’s what they would say. Even though the black society would pull for him I still think that they think in the back of their mind that the only reason he is in is because he talks, acts and carries himself as a Caucasian.”
My first thought was, “wait…who is Toby Keith? Don’t you mean Keith Urban or whatever?” After looking on Wikipedia I learned that Toby Keith, aside from having a first name that conjures that crucial moment in the Roots miniseries that gives all black folks a permanent chip on our shoulders, is a very ignorant (and very proud to be so) redneck. Toby Keith is a Good Ol’ Boy who calls himself “White Trash With Money.” He is from Oklahoma, sings Ford truck commercial jingles, and has repeatedly defended his wartime jam “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which has lyrics such as “you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./’Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” Oh, and let’s not forget that last week on “Colbert Report”, Keith performed his down-home lynchin’ jam “Beer For My Horses,” with lyrics about hanging “bad boys” from trees like his “grandpappy” said to do. You just can’t make this stuff up.
And I’m sure that all of you mildly politically inclined, media-fatigued black people are sighing and saying “Well, what do you expect? Leave me alone because he sure does not have the legitimacy to speak for us. Barack in ’08!”
But here’s the thing: Toby Keith describes himself as a Conservative Democrat. He is not only representative of a large chunk of the American voting population, but has a whole pick-up truck of awards and hit songs to prove that millions of people appreciate his message. Sadly, this is where we live. While I’m sure that his hyper-patriotic lyrics are just as much of an embarrassment to the average Southerner as any mention of “superman that ho” is to the average Urban black person, this man has a substantial following, if not financially certainly in spirit. This is the dilemma of race relations in America today: We can shoot the messenger all we want to, but someone is helping the messenger get to the forefront. Just like no one cares what Pookie Johnson says about American politics, Chet and Rod from the trailer park can talk smack all they wish but are not very likely to be featured in the New York Times like Nas or Toby Keith.
Is Toby Keith really talking about hanging black people from trees? Not necessarily, but he certainly doesn’t seem to care that lynching, which was never exclusive to black Americans, definitely needs to be put into retirement at this point along with the concept of vigilante community justice just for the simple sake of peace on Earth. Call me a hippie, but really, couching the desire to murder another human being in patriotism is no better than voicing that same desire over a drug deal or gold chain. What wears me out, and I’m sure many of you will agree, is that Toby Keith has not made me or the media believe that Country Music is a hateful and violent art form. America’s perceptions will simply trod forward as they always have, with the heart of America and the red, white, and blue as the catch-all defense for anything that any flag-waver chooses to say. Southerners certainly have the right to Southern pride, just like I rock my Philly pride or black pride, but the difference is that I rep Thurgood Marshall and cheesesteaks, not lynching and secession from the Union. The vital lack of constructive American thought in the latter form of pride is the disturbing difference between the two, and it needs to be left in the twentieth century. Just leave it alone. Just don’t talk about it and certainly don’t thrive off of it. If lynching people is at the cornerstone of your regional pride then you are doing something wrong. Pop in a Lynyrd Skynyrd mixtape and keep your mouth shut.
Now back to Toby Keith’s statements about Barack Obama. Since the media has already led the statistically-challenged to believe that most black Americans have AIDS, are in jail, or are unwed mothers, I’m sure that Keith is not the only American who accepts as fact that most black people are sitting around burpin’ bastards, cuttin’ up coke, and talkin’ bout some “Barack Obama acts SO…Caucasian.” Yes, he thinks that we can be bothered with the word “Caucasian.” I’d hate to let him know that most of the black people I know are also Harvard alums like Barack, many are also lawyers like Barack, and the overwhelming majority of us certainly “act” and “talk Caucasian,” whatever he takes that to mean (I’m still not sure what brotherman soul stroll Obama is supposed to be doing to “carry himself” black, but that’s another issue altogether). Toby Keith could call Barack Obama a great orator, which he is, but other than that he sounds just like most of us blacks. I simply wish I knew what magic Black America needs to work in order to demonstrate that most of us actually speak just as poor English as the rest of the country, the stammering white folks in the hinterlands of Maine and in the Deep South included.
The sad fact is that I know exactly what Toby Keith thinks he is saying, he just has no idea what he’s talking about. The reality is that most black people, and most white people, for that matter, are perfectly aware that Barack Obama does not exemplify the stereotypical black man. That is what such gross stereotypes are for – taking tidbits of cultural traits and blowing them up until they are larger than life and there is no room in “blackness” for anything to the contrary. The weed-smoking, jive-talking, four babys-momma-having nigger is real, but he is the exception and not the rule. If Barack Obama was one of them there is no way he’d be on the verge of the presidency, and for that matter neither would Chet and Rod from the trailer park or Toby Keith himself. We should all just admit that and move on. Where Toby Keith shows his true colors, and I suppose these are those of the red, white, and blue variety, is in assuming that most black people are of the nigger variety and therefore see Barack Obama as an anomaly. In a sense, Toby Keith is absolutely correct, just for the wrong reasons and with bad information: Obama has attracted the attention of the world because of his demeanor, but surprise surprise, black folks look at him and we see ourselves and each other, not some stupid stereotype.
I would love to hear your comments.