Monday, July 5, 2010

Obama Eating Crackers

My friend has a line that she uses when she finds someone attractive. She says, "I wouldn't kick them out of bed for eating crackers." Humorous, no? She was recently watching some video on the internet that showed President Obama doing something and she was struck by how good looking he is. She said, "I wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers." And her wife began guffawing.

This story was repeated at a Fourth of July Pie Party (bring your favorite pie, savory or sweet), and the room erupted into laughter. It took some folks longer than others to get the joke, but in the end, no one was in doubt about the joke. My friend smiled as she admitted her obtuseness about seeing the joke when talking about Obama. It was only when her wife started laughing that she realized it was a joke.

I find this interesting because it means that in our social group (myself included), which is vast majority (presumed) white, the topic of President Obama provides an instant racialization of any topic. "Eating crackers" always meant eating a specific crunchy food that left crumbs in the bed and never going down on a white person as long as the "default" person involved was the "default" race--white. But as soon as Obama comes up, the default settings go off and racial innuendos become active.

I wonder if this Instant Racialization effect is true (for my social group) of any person of color, or if it is specific to Obama. Thinking back over other people of color in our social group who come up in conversation, I have not noticed any overtly racialized tone become active in conjunction with them. Then again, I am white, and I wonder what the POCs themselves would say. I will say, though, that the POCs in our social group are a) likely to "pass" as white (though this is not true of all of them) and b) well known as individuals. Since we are such a diverse community in terms of religious practice, gross income, and sexual and gender orientations, knowing each other as individuals instead of labels is crucial to our ability to function as a community, so I will argue that once someone is introduced around, they become a person much more strongly than they are their labels in the group the mind.

Obama, on the other hand, is not known as an individual; he is a symbolic public figure. As such, he represents many things, including various race issues. Because he is more removed from our social group than a direct member, it makes more sense that he would be held up as a symbol rather than considered more transcendent of his "identities."

That said, I am still uncomfortable with the joke. I admit that in the moment, I was one of the first to get it and one of the first to laugh. It was only after the party that I began to wonder why it was so funny, and why a slightly humorous comment suddenly became a hilarious joke due to its inappropriate racial subtext.

Post-racial society, my ass.

***I would like to add that I love using the full name and title "President Obama" since I proudly helped (a little) to elect him, but there is also something iconic about just "Obama" that I am also drawn to. I apologize and own my inconsistency in this post, but I mean affection and respect, not disrespect, in my use of each of the forms.

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