Post-Racial America & The Jersey Shore

Barack Obama, The Jersey Shore, And Post-Racial America

President Barack Obama is a liar.

The man entrusted with the ultimate privilege looked the nation in the eye and betrayed each and everyone one of us. In a White House Correspondents’ dinner speech this May, Obama quipped: “[The Jersey Shore-Up provision] reads, ‘The following individuals shall be excluded from the indoor tanning tax within this bill: Snooki, JWOWW, The Situation and House minority leader John Boehner.'”

But fast-forward to this July and the set of “The View”. The hard-hitting tribunal of Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, Elisabeth Hasselbeck & Co. grilled the President on his pop-culture wisdom:

At first, Snooki took the presidential diss in stride, asking “Obama? Is he an athlete?” But Snooki sprung into action after President Obama instituted a 10% tax on tanning beds. “I know he knows who I am,” Snooki told E! News on August 11. “Why did he have to lie and say he didn’t know me? He did say Snooki and JWoww about the tanning stuff and now he doesn’t know who I am? He has to stop lying.”
So there you have it. The President of the United States of America exposed by the … over-exposed DeepTan agent Snooki.

*******

Once upon a time in a land far, far away (January 2009, Washington D.C.), back when the Jersey Shore was just a rickety Boardwalk New Yorkers scoffed at, back when President Obama vowed to close GITMO in a year, Obama was heralded as our nation’s first post-racial president.

Someone asked Obama a month into his presidency if he thought a lot about the history involved in being the first African-American president. Obama responded, he did… For about a day. Ever since, pundits have criticized Professor-In-Chief Obama for not doing more to advance racial quality. For not having his “teachable moment” on race yet. They are wrong.

Obama Already Had It

Obama’s underdog presidential campaign was a veritable Rorschach test on race in early 21st Century American. The son of a Kenyan father he never knew, the grandson of a white grandmother with stereotypes of her own, Obama campaigned, “in no other country on Earth is my story even possible. But in no other country would Obama have to walk such a racial tight-rope.

Obama Asks Nation For Change The Onion

Some on the left openly questioned whether he was “black enough”. Some even claimed Hillary Clinton was “blacker” than he was. Meanwhile, others on the right alleged Obama even mentioning his black heritage was reverse racism. NYTimes’ columnist Charles M. Blow opined, to the right the very word “’racism’ has become a weapon … a shotgun blast sprayed wide and loose at all things anti-Obama.”

It was March 2008, and the Chosen One was losing some luster. Hillary Clinton was getting into a rhythm. Youtube clips of the Reverend Jeremiah “GOD DAMN AMERICA!” Wright were going viral. The Reverend, who presided over the Obamas’ wedding and baptized their daughters, now threatened to derail Barack’s entire presidential campaign.

With his back against the wall, the oratory master stepped up to the podium in Philadelphia and delivered the talk of his life. In a speech entitled A More Perfect Union, Obama finally spoke openly about race and what it meant to him. Rev. Wright wasn’t wrong for blasting race in America, Obama mused. Rev. Wright was wrong because he assumed race was static in America. To dismiss Rev. Wright, Obama argued, would convict us of the same crime, “to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.”

Instead, Obama offered a choice. We could continue to treat race “only as spectacle — as we did in the OJ trial — … or as fodder for the nightly news.” Or we could embrace our differences, like adults, end our “racial stalemate” and come together to solve health care, education, and the Iraq War.

Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech was hailed the world over as one of the most frank talks on race Americans had heard in decades. The 38 minute speech was watched 1.2 million times on Youtube within 24 hours, and the New Yorker maintains it ultimately catapulted him into the White House. Alas, another Reverend was not as appreciative.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson

What happened to you, Reverend?

You were one floor down when Martin Luther King Jr. was tragically assassinated in 1968. (Although a) you did later try and claim you were right there at the time of the shooting—contrary to eye-witnesses and photographs; and b) you wore the same blood-splattered turtleneck onto the Today show the following morning in a thinly-veiled publicity stunt.)

You were a legitimate candidate for the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1984 and 1988. The NYTimes even dubbed 1988 the “Year of Jackson”. But then skip to days after Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech two decades later:

The Reverend quickly apologized to Obama, who in the heat of the campaign trail didn’t have time but to graciously accept it. But surely the gaffe still registers with the cerebral Obama. The most troubling part isn’t what Rev. Jesse Jackson said. The most troubling part is if the ordained Baptist minister openly discusses castrating Obama deep in the lion’s den—a FOX News studio—what do you think he talks about back home on his couch?

Jesse Jackson’s heart is unconscionably in the right place, and his role as a Civil Rights pioneer shouldn’t be overlooked. The problem is he often seems to put his personal cause above the greater one. The problem is Jesse Jackson interjects himself into issues in a quest to stay more relevant than right. Like when he assailed Fox’s “Power Rangers” for featuring a White Ranger.

Or more recently, during the LeBron James Sweepstakes. When the Cleveland Cavaliers GM Dan Gilbert railed against LeBron James “taking [his] talents to South Beach”, the Reverend Jesse Jackson responded, “[Gilbert’s] feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.” No, your Reverend. LeBron James is not a runaway slave. Not when he’s leaving Cleveland for a $110.1 million/6 year contract. (He’s just another spoiled superstar who confessed he couldn’t a title with the hand he was dealt.)

Reverend, like it or not, you are the face of the modern day American black rights moment. How can President Obama take your counsel seriously when you rant like that? It’s not possible to lead a meaningful national dialogue on race relations when you just sound so crazy and out-of-touch.

Obama’s Been Kind Of Busy

Full Disclosure: It’s early, but I feel like I’ll be an Obama apologist for the rest of my life. I already think about Obama’s legacy. A lot. He is the first President us Millennials can call our own. Sure he doesn’t know who Snooki is and he just turned 49, but Obama will always be the cool professor who was in on the joke more than he wasn’t. My only hope is history properly appreciates President Obama for who he really is: Black Cinderella.

Obamarella

So it bothers me when critics write off Obama as another Jimmy Carter. President Obama’s achievements to date are the most sweeping since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society: $787 billion Stimulus package, tobacco regulation, improving America’s image abroad, credit card consumer rights, healthcare reform, tax cuts for the middle class, Wall Street regulation, etc. Not to mention Obama has “kept us safe”—the lone barometer of the George W. Bush Presidency and legacy. The problem, as Senator Christopher Dodd tells it, is “Democrats don’t know how to celebrate.”

That Obama has accomplished all this in spite of a Say No Republican Congress deserves FDR-ian praise. Since Republicans lost Congress during their 2006 midterm “thumpin’”, the party either threatened to use the filibuster or used it 70% of the time. (It was 8% in the LBJ’s day.) Their playbook has one play. Obama is too big to succeed. From the petty (cheering when Chicago didn’t get the Olympics) to the grand (blocking jobless benefits), many Republicans seem to root for President Obama to fail so they look better in November—country be damned in the mean time.

Racial equality isn’t the top priority on Americans’ minds in the wake of the Great Recession and two of the longest wars in our nation’s history. Yet give Obama credit. He selected Eric Holder as the first black Attorney General. He tapped Sonia Sotomayor to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

The White House Beer Summit

Major appointments aside, however, Obama rarely touches the race button. Sure, he toured a Ghana slave fortress with his daughter Sasha, but, by and large, the President just doesn’t do sweeping racial symbols. Instead, President Obama’s modus operandi on race is to just normalize it. Treat it as ho-hum business as usual. When a Harvard professor was arrested by a white cop for trying to break into his own home, Obama handled it like a neighborhood dust-up. He invited them over to the White House for a “Beer Summit”.

Obama knows his work isn’t finished. It’s barely even started. It’s not a post-racial America when the pay gap between white and black men has increased over the last three decades. It’s not an equal America when women are still paid 73 cents on the dollar. It’s not the United States of America when we have Arizona. And it’s not a free America when couples who deeply love each other—no matter their sexual orientation—can’t get married (for the most dubious of reasons).

*******

Which brings us back to Snooki. You see, like President Obama, the cast of the “Jersey Shore” has been discriminated against. Like Obama, they have been teased because of the color of their skin (day-glow orange). Like Obama, they have been regularly asked to provide identification. But like Obama, they are self-made celebrities who rose from humble means to national prominence through their unique oratorical gifts.

So, in the interest of race relations, President Obama should invite the cast of “Jersey Shore” to the White House for a Ron Ron Juice Summit (a concoction of watermelon, cherries, cranberry juice and vodka always served bare-chested). Both sides have had an ample experience over the past two years dealing with obstructionist haters. With their powers combined, who knows what they can accomplish? You know, besides gym, tan, and laundry…

*******

This is the second part of a two part series on the Jersey Shore. See the first article, Why The Jersey Shore Is The Smartest Show On TV.

[tags]jersey shore, post-racial america, mtv, race relations, president obama, lebron james, beer summit, republicans, democrats, politics, news, column, article, essay[/tags]

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