As I listened to the new radio ad asking African Americans to show up to the polls for President Barack Obama, I couldn’t help but laugh all night in my sleep. The ad was clearly designed by someone who wanted very badly to find ways to convince non-thinking African Americans to support the president just because he’s cool, Black, and that he’s “got your back.”
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As I explained my concerns on my Facebook page, I had some who thought that I was being “bougie” for expressing indignation that there are some in the White House who think that a Black man is only able to communicate through Ebonics. There were also some who called me a “hater” for not going along with the program. I then had to admit that if encouraging people to think critically about their political leaders makes me “bougie,” then I am guilty as charged. I fully expect that Malcolm X would also be called “bougie” for not aligning himself with one-dimensional thinking, so perhaps I am in good company.
Listen to the ad here:
I was admittedly disappointed with the ad, in large part because I would bet on the last batch of watermelon and chitlins that there will not be similar ads distributed to any other constituency. I secretly wonder if the next campaign ad is going to say “Go tell yo mama to vote for Obama.”
I am not sure if President Obama heard the ad before it was released, and it’s possible that Michelle Obama is the only person in the White House who would understand why educated Black people may be annoyed by its contents (apparently, going to college makes you “bougie” these days). I sincerely doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s Black friends from Harvard and Yale would find the ad compelling or acceptable.
The crux of the ad’s message, which is sang to a nice urban melody best fit for a McDonald’s commercial, is to tell the president that “we’ve got your back!” This is an obvious play on the oft-used term “I got yo back, dawg.” I’ve probably used the term myself at some point, so maybe I’m being hypocritical here. But when one digs into the question of whether Black voters should have the president’s back, I think that a more relevant question should be “has President Obama had our back?”
The perception of whether or not President Obama has had our collective back is a personal one, kind of like your personal relationship with Jesus: Some think that Obama has been with us through thick and thin, fighting for our rights non-stop and showing the kind of love that we expected in 2008. Others feel that Obama has abandoned them like a broke baby daddy on payday who is three year’s behind in child support, but still shows up when it’s time to have more sex.
Whether you believe that Obama has “had your back” or not, the key is to ensure that you analyze his performance in a manner that is more thoughtful than this advertisement would like for you to be. This ad was not made for critically thinking, analytical participants in the political process.
This ad is for unconditional Obama cheerleaders — easily influenced by peer pressure — who give it up faster than Kim Kardashian on a third date with a famous rap star. Whether you’re talking about your body or your vote, “giving it up” too easily is an easy path to complete disrespect.
Someone asked me today if it would be acceptable for Mitt Romney to produce this same ad for the Black community. My response was simple: If Romney produced this ad, he’d be getting marched on by the NAACP, the Urban League, the National Action Network, the New Black Panthers, Jack & Jill, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Rosco’s Chicken and Waffles, and the Hip Hop Justice League.” There are interesting times when our double standards are highlighted for all the world to see (as in the Gwyneth Paltrow, n*gga controversy), and this might be one of those times. It’s not a matter of someone trying to win our vote, but winning our vote with coonery doesn’t help us to advance as a people.
So putting the buffoonish nature of the ad to the side, the question is not whether or not African Americans have the president’s back, the question is whether the White House has had our back.
The answer is in the eye of the beholder.
What do you think?
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.