Tags: president obama | african american | struggle | wealth | poverty

Obama's Celebrity Overshadowed Black America's Struggle

Obama's Celebrity Overshadowed Black America's Struggle

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama and talk show host Oprah Winfrey embrace at a campaign event December 8, 2007, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Friday, 06 January 2017 12:24 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Dating back to the early days of television, celebrities have played a major role in shaping our nation’s way of life. In no part of our society has our overindulgence in the glow of celebrity been more prevalent than in how we as a country view black America.

President Barack Obama’s meteoric rise is the truest reflection of this fact.

His ascension happened in the shadow of The Cosby Show, relied on the praise of Jay-Z, and quite literally started through the very arms of Oprah Winfrey. A nation that had been fans of Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, quickly became enamored with the man known as Barack Obama. The cult of celebrity was our lens for normalizing Obama’s differences, and ultimately the way we all made him just like us. His rise to president allowed our country to create a narrative that all was fair, despite the result of America’s racial past telling an entirely different story.

Also, it only helped that his beautiful family looked the part. An all too flattering ode to Heathcliff and Claire Huxtable, Barack and Michelle Obama allowed us all to feel better about our nation’s progress. But even the Cosbys were a projection of an African-American middle class that only existed in fantasy. According to Business Insider the Cosby home was a Brooklyn Heights brownstone that in 1984 would have sold for around $700,000. And it would be worth over 5 million dollars today. The Obamas were a furthering of this Cosbyesque fantasy, a truly decadent veil like we had never seen before. This veil extravagantly covered up a nation’s history of cotton fields, lynchings, burnt down churches, and wealth stolen from blacks for generations.

Our nation digested President Obama like a celebrity, and forgot to critique him like a politician. Viewing him through the lens of scandal free years, rather than evaluating his actual policy achievements to better the lives of Black and poor people.

But isn’t that the new role of celebrity, particularly black celebrity, to make us put it all off on hope? The creation of the brand of President Obama was just as problematic as the recent image of Lebron James carrying a duffle bag filled with a million dollars down the street to a working class black family to promote his new game show. When the fact is that in our society fantastical black men do not carry around millions of dollars in duffle bags, rather wealth of this type is inherited and gifted through white family’s bank accounts. But it is stories like the one above that allow us all to escape our racial reality’s consequence.The reality is that black wealth hardly exists, even when you include NBA, NFL, and rap stars.

Black celebrity in so many ways smothered us all with a visual of black wealth that is virtually nonexistent outside of entertainment. Lost in the fold is the true completeness of white America’s hold on our nation’s resources, and how nominal an amount of the overall wealth blacks control. We find solace through the creation of fictional economic narratives that are not grounded in truth about money and how it moves in our society. The image of President Obama only furthered this confusion. Playing on the tropes about black life President Obama reportedly told Israel’s Prime Minister “I’m the African-American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House.” What he failed to also tell the world leader is that he had inherited $500,000 in stock from his white grandmother due to what we often frame as white privilege, and that he likely received legacy admission access to Harvard because his father had received a master's degree in economics from the school in 1965.

It is quite a statement to look back and realize that it is during the tenure of our first black president that we experienced record expansion in the black and white wealth gap, and just as disastrous growth in black poverty. In America, there is one President Obama, and there are a few hundred-basketball players, but there are over 600,000 black men incarcerated, and in President Obama’s own home state of Illinois nearly half of all young black men in Chicago are out of work, or out of school.

During the Obama years the struggles of black families across whole cities like Ferguson were overshadowed by the ability to hang our conscious need for equality on the election of our nation’s first black President. Obama won on hope, but he also played on our greatest aspirations, and simplest desires to be entertained rather than governed. His two-step dance never quite measured up to the depth of the American racial struggle he so desperately tried to project that he understood. But as he leaves 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., you can be sure all we will hear about is how good he looked doing it.

Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the Emmy-nominated documentary "Freeway: Crack in the System." He has contributed pieces to the Grio, The Huffington Post, and Inequality.org on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics. Follow him on YouTube Channel Tonetalks. For more of his reports, Click Here Now.

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Our nation digested President Obama like a celebrity, and forgot to critique him like a politician.
president obama, african american, struggle, wealth, poverty
Friday, 06 January 2017 12:24 PM
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