Add my name to the long list of people disappointed by President Obama’s performance in the first presidential debate. His answers to questions were too long and professorial. And the president’s defensive stance was too weak to stop Gov. Romney from owning the debate, despite Romney’s repeated misrepresentations of known Romney/Ryan campaign proposals. Obama knew this too— as exhibited by his downward glances, clenched jaw and tightly sealed lips—but had to keep it together so he wouldn’t come off as the “angry black man.”
I watched some debate clips again today just to reconfirm my opinion, and I talked to my mother, our family’s own civil rights activist and trailblazer, to make sure I wasn’t way off base. She was one of the first black head nurses at Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, IN, and has faced numerous racially-tinged challenges in her 50 year career as she’s maneuvered hospital hierarchies around the country, so Mom was the go-to resource.
We agreed the timing of the 2007 video re-release featuring a then-senator Obama speaking at Hampton University was a set up. Its purposeful media push, on the eve of the first debate, was intended to do two things: remind wavering white voters that President Obama is truly black and help Romney’s team broaden the debate parameters for their candidate.
No, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But, there is no quicker way to neuter a black person than to portray them as being too radical to lead a team at a company, hospital or a nation. And the Romney team knows it. They kept their hands clean by encouraging the Drudge Report to run with the so-called story and video, which was featured on Sean Hannity’s FOX show, covered by The Daily Caller and begrudgingly picked up by other media outlets.
The president said nothing offensive in the speech. But he did talk to the nearly all-black crowd in a dialect meant for them. As actor Will Smith once said, black people are bidialectal—meaning they speak two versions of English. Any educated black professional knows this reality. So does any other person of color who speaks another language. Adam Server, a reporter for Mother Jones, widened that net even further on Twitter with this remark: “Cute that the folks who pushed a rich kid born in Connecticut talking like a cowboy from Texas pretend they don’t know about code-switching.”
Racial stereotypes and insults have been bandied about this election season by the conservative set in their continuing effort to delegitimize President Obama. Today, Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu called him “lazy” and “disengaged.” Columnist George Will said the president is only being kept afloat because of “white guilt.” And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is responsible for the “food stamp president” smear.
If like me, you’ve ever been the “first” black person to integrate a neighborhood, school, company or any other exclusive enclave and have been unfairly denigrated or demonized; you know the insults will continue—especially as long as the presidential race remains close with Romney trying to catch up in the polls.