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Obama Comes to Harlem

Late last week I caught a little flack for hatin’ on Obama’s incredibly brief rendition of the Rev. Al Green’s classic, “Let’s Stay Together.” I’m sure you’ve seen the clip. If not, here:

I hear he gave a speech after hitting the falsetto. Of course, that’s not the impression one would get. Those 55 seconds have gone viral in a way that leaves one thinking that BHO was performing at amateur night and not asking folks for money. And those 55 seconds really help sum up what irritates me about BHO.

I was exiled, yet again, to Haterville for saying that both BHO and his admirers are so predictable for this stunt and everything hereafter. This is such a classic, textbook move on Obama’s part: while on the campaign trail, he drapes himself in symbols of blackness, hypnotizes his black supporters, they get starry-eyed, then he bounces. And any of us who call out these shananigans gets deemed a hater.

But what, exactly, am I hating on? If folks are amused by BHO brushing his shoulder or giving the First Lady dap, or singing the only lines he knows (seriously, I’m convinced he doesn’t know the whole song) of some Al Green, ok. I get it. That stuff is amusing. But it’s also distracting–and amnesia-inducing. These empty, yet humorous gestures allow for (momentary) memory lapses for the policies (not) enacted during this brief era of Hope and Change. What substantive act on BHO’s watch have seemingly warranted the kind of carte blanche granted to BHO to deploy ostensibly black cultural capital as his campaign fundraising deems appropriate? Race to the Top? The silence surrounding the Troy Davis killing? The “put on your boots and march” response to agitation from black groups? (Even though folks did put on their boots and march and sing and protest for Troy Davis.) The whole trickle-down, helping everybody else inevitably helps you response to concerns about black unemployment? That one’s citizenship is now in incredible jeopardy should the right person suspect that one is cavorting with alleged terrorists? I suppose that last point shouldn’t concern me much, though. Blacks’ relationship to citizenship has always been tenuous, anyway.

My issues have nothing to do with me holding BHO “responsible” for sins of presidents past. Rather, I am annoyed by his rather cavalier approach to it all. His whole, I will sing you a song, and you will forget that Wall Street has never been told to march approach. As the title of this post implies, this is a different version of black exploitation. It’s political pandering. A cousin, if not a sibling to Herman Cain’s lyrical stylings.

But again, I get it. BHO and his family are symbol. But more importantly, he is the president. And although many may find the most perfect image of black respectability in Obama and his family, the actions of the president do not remain in the region of the symbolic. Perhaps the resounding chorus for voters should be to find symbols elsewhere, like 80′s sitcoms. Or Hollywood. After all, that’s what Will and Jada are for.