ABC’s The View titled the clip of this exchange during the SOTU as “O, No He Didn’t” to which many others gleefully responded, “O, Yes, he did! “ We are glad the C.I.C took them on. It was but a few seconds but it spoke volumes.
President Obama: “I have no more campaigns to run; my only agenda . . .” [Interrupting applause and snickering noises from GOP aisle]. With a calm facial expression, a nod, and a smile, President Obama comes back with, “I know ‘cause I won both of them…..” [Another smile, a nod, and a wink!!] Much more applause from [all over]
Of course, this clip went viral and almost eclipsed other points from the SOTU. Pundits diced and sliced and translated it. The translations ran the gamut of “Because I am the President” to criticisms of him being snarling and over-confident. Jen Kirkman –The View’s guest host on the day after [1-21-15] reported that some people have interpreted Obama as “fresh, so snarky, so cocky”. She genuinely disagreed, stating that “He was perfectly friendly about it, just a little nod. I feel …because he’s a black guy… they have to say he was a little cocky”. If I ever heard an honest admission, that was one. I pick it up from there.
Why are these remarks about his swag, mirth, poise, and confidence being misinterpreted? Why won’t the proverbial “they” give him credit that is due him?
Indeed, President Obama finally got his swag back! Who wouldn’t? After inheriting the biggest mess of an economy, after having endured a highly-rated ineffective Congress in the history of these United States, after having to face unyielding opposition, insults, and partisanship, he stood his ground on policies that have now come to bear some extremely good results. The SOTU was an opportunity to celebrate the initially slow but sustained recovery and hard-won battles. Need to see the list of accomplishments again? No need reiterating them here because if you do, then you still don’t get it!
I would have, but someone more intelligent beat us to it –a former critic of the president, Economist Paul Krugman’s Rolling Stone article, “In Defense of Obama” covers it all. A pretty comprehensive analysis, it nevertheless hardly got sufficient attention, even from supporters who should have pounced on it for points before the mid-term—something Democrats certainly regret in hindsight. To reiterate, the economy has not only been turned around, it’s recovered and growing. Millions of jobs that were lost have not only been replaced, but new ones are still being created. Remember the fights before and during 2008 and then again in 2012 about who could improve the economy? Oh, we have such poor memories! Remember those who claimed Pres. Obama’s health care plan would spell doom, create death panels, and destroy small businesses? Generally, it was predicted that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also ObamaCare) would usher in the collapse of these United States. Simply an Armageddon. No kidding. such words were used. And what about 40 plus votes to repeal the ACA and still counting? Against all these odds, the ACA has been nothing less than an increasingly phenomenal success. Even Pres. Obama is quick to be self-deprecating, calling its rocky start the inspiration for Disney’s animated movie, Frozen! If you missed the President on Stephen Colbert’s show, please do yourself a favor and go watch it! Pure humor and wit. Of course, not all would agree. For those who find it an anathema to give credit, any credit to the President, let’s examine what that is all about. This camp — the irritable, old, young, white, black men and women – has little idea why. Unbeknownst to them, they continue to think they have to give Pres. Obama permission to be, to laugh, and to succeed. Here’s to you: this write-up is for you. The people who truly begrudge the President these successes while being so willing to hate and blame, this is for you. Many of these people do not realize why they feel this way, so let’s help dissect the phenomenon.
So what’s really going on here? It’s what I’ve termed “The Hierarchy of Affirmation”
A black, non-white competent man/woman has to work much harder to get the accolades so easily handed down to equally qualified whites. For Africans, who find themselves at the bottom of this hierarchy, a participant in my study of African-born women professors stated that we have to work “two to three times harder than a typical African American, male or female, five times more than a typical White female and ten times more than a typical White male “(Helen, participant in African-born women faculty, p. 184). I couldn’t exhaust that theme there, but it shows up in cases like Obama’s because again as these participants stated, “a White person doing the same amount of work would have been put on a pedestal and showered with praise” (p. 184). Reverse racism? No this is reverse praise and affirmation! It’s about time we talk about this because it might just explain a whole lot of other things going on with race relations in the United States. The reality or experience of worthiness has been noted in other literature. W. E. B. DuBois and many other scholars have noted the struggle of legitimacy confronting Black people when everything non-white is considered primarily inferior to anything white, no matter the quality of the white. Should I repeat that? Everything to anything. Check that juxtaposition. So regardless of how good and efficient one is in black skin, the less efficient white is already considered and assumed to be better than the non-white. Is this a form of white privilege? Of course.
To help us see this, let’s travel to the white world and see how blondes and brunettes are rated in terms of beauty, class, etc. Aha! If one can recognize it there, then Bill O’Reilly shouldn’t have too much of a problem recognizing white privilege. Similarly, in Europe, gingers (women with red hair) are vilified and undermined. We use different terms to undermine those we consider less worthy of credit. So in a sense, every time a black man has been described as arrogant, it’s just a code word for confident.
Here’s another analogy to consider in understanding the phenomenon of Hierarchy of Worth: We see the same hierarchies play out on Gender Avenue. Consequently a woman who leads assertively is labeled bossy, driven and other names not to be printed here, while the man with the same skills set is lauded as self-assured and confident. Again, it’s the same skills set that is exhibited by both genders and it’s not a matter of mere semantics that the one -the male- is approved, lauded and rewarded, but the woman is denigrated, questioned, and undermined. Why? She’s not supposed to break the norm of femininity.
The unspoken norm at work here is that of superiority. As earlier stated, white is superior by default; non-white is inferior. Any non-white who breaks that norm is going to either shock and surprise or/and get undermined, with the name calling that goes with it. Thankfully, the President has not sat back waiting for anyone’s permission to be. President Obama has every right and every reason to be confident, assured, and accomplished in what he has achieved over the last six years. Who now wants him to come cowering in the name of diplomacy? The same people who accused him of cowering to foreign leaders even in the name of diplomacy? So why can’t he be “diplomatic” with the party that won big in the last round? Simple answer: He’s learned it doesn’t matter because an African proverb states “If nobody else will praise you for doing well, guess what? You’ll just have to do it yourself.” That’s his African heritage on display.
President Obama’s sworn opposition does not get to define him. That’s what Pres. Obama basically conveyed at the SOTU. If truth be told and we want to be all the way honest and transparent, anybody who watched the SOTU address and still thinks Pres. Obama does not deserve to revel in the successes for the nation and her people these past 6 years has got to check their own bearing. What universe are they living on? And on who’s side are they anyway?
Mr. President’s swagger is rightly placed and exercised. More so, it’s about time we recognize worth as quickly, as readily, and as honestly as we can for everybody, regardless of skin color, background, religion, etc. Amen.