I'm hoping Barack Obama will begin his inaugural speech by telling black folk that there is nothing to be embarrassed about but embarrassment itself. Among the more endearing traits of my people is our willingness to go to the mat for our own -- even when we know they're dead wrong or when we're clearly over-reacting.
I had to remind myself of that when I got this email purporting to be from the National President of Delta Sigma Theta warning black people to act right and stop forwarding inside jokes about the incoming President-elect. (I got a voicemail when I called to verify that it was from her.) The key points:
We cannot allow our President-elect to be made a mockery of, especially by his own people. Not only does he represent everything that is great about our nation; Barack Obama literally personifies how awesome we are as a people.
His wisdom, his poise, his eloquence, his fortitude,
even his swagger...illustrate the greatness of a people who have been dismissed, discarded, discouraged, and disregarded by not only "the majority," but also by our own.
It is funny how we can't stand Rush Limbaugh, Sean
Hannity, or Bill O'Reilly for their condescending and surreptitious attacks on Obama; but we email and
text blast everyone from the 'hood about "free BBQ on the White House lawn" and messages of the like...
I understand her point but ultimately disagree with this. All presidents are subjected to humor and a good bit of it is distasteful. And truthfully, people have gotten it way worse than Obama has so far. Andrew Jackson's wife was ridiculed as a bigamist and Harry Truman's daughter was a target of jabs from his political rivals and the press. John McCain once joked that "the reason Chelsea Clinton is so ugly is Janet Reno is her father."
I haven't received any of the jokes personally but it's the kind of thing I'd probably find distasteful. But that's beside the point. At the end of the day this sounds like more of the old elite Negroes telling other black folk how they should be behaving. For instance:
We are in the midst of one of the most significant events in our nation's history and how WE carry
ourselves is more important than ever before.
Even if this isn't from the National President the line highlights one of the least endearing traits of my people: we often fear embarrassment more than racism. There's a thread of black thought that holds that the progress of the race has been the hostage not of narrow-minded among whites but by the absence of social ettiquette among black people.
Underlying this email is a basic fear of the fragility of this moment, of Barack Obama and, by extension, every one of our melinated kinfolk in this country. Anyone who has read the table of contents in From Slavery to Freedom understands where that fear comes from. But even then there's such a thing paranoia.
Obama survived a brutal 22 month campaign, attacks by every major media outlet over the Jeremiah Wright connection, a bruising schedule, questions about his patriotism and a relentless microscope of public life entails. And he came away with more than double the number of electoral votes that John McCain won while raising nearly $800 million.
A few silly jokes will not undermine his presidency. In short, President-elect Obama is not that delicate.
Neither are we.