Acting Presidential: Catch 22

Posted by Katherine | July 28, 2008 – 10:42 am
Obama’s audience in Berlin
Watching Obama in Berlin [stevegarfield / Flickr]

Sam Han is a sociology PhD student at CUNY. He didn’t want to wade into campaign hoopla but couldn’t help himself last week when people started saying, during Obama’s trip abroad, that Barack “‘needs to be careful’ about not appearing like he’s already won the office of the President.” To Sam, this smacked of racism (thanks, Misa Dayson):

Now, this would be a fair warning to Obama if it weren’t for one thing that nags me. Would they be saying this if it were McCain who were over there? […]

[T]he conditions for “humility” are set up for Obama to be damned if he doesn’t act presidential and damned if he does. People want to see him deferential enough but then also not weak. […] [F]or the majority of history of media representations of black men in America, the dominant typology was clear. A black man can be on TV only, as Jesse Jackson alluded to, sans balls. Why? “Well, he’ll rape white women otherwise!” It is one of the reasons why black men in America for a very long time were referred to as “boys.” That is, not yet man (and thus sexual). […]

Small things like “he’s acting too COCKy” (see…I’m not making this stuff up) actualize the histories that are only buried in the top soil of the history of race in the US. So as John Riddley at Huffington Post writes, when someone like Karl Rove calls Obama “arrogant,” he means uppity, that is, out of place, out of line. In other words, not like his given role in the landscape of race and power.

By all appearances, Obama’s audience in Berlin wasn’t concerned about his demeanor.


  1. One Response to “Acting Presidential: Catch 22”

  2. That photo is a screenshot from here:

    Obama in Berlin July 24, 2008 - Panorama by Michael Stoß

    By Steve Garfield on Jul 29, 2008

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