Obama Elementary School. Obama Boulevard. Girls named Baracka. Stop the branding madness, Mansfield Frazier pleads, before the new president loses his mystique.
Comedian Chris Rock used to do a routine that questioned why, in most cities with a substantial black population, the most crime-ridden street is always named after Martin Luther King Jr. The answer, of course, is that black folks, in our rush to honor our great civil-rights leader, usually picked the most high-profile, well-traversed thoroughfare in the urban community to rename … not pausing long enough to realize there could be a downside. Well, the Law of Unintended Consequences is about to rear its ugly head once again—this time in regard to President Barack Obama.
Black folks, please, let’s not do this. If we don’t get a grip early on, we’ll soon be seeing our kids walking to school in the morning, eating a bag of Obama Potato Chips.
A New York elementary school has already been renamed to honor Obama. There’s a Barack Obama Boulevard in St. Louis. A city in Spain's Valencia province is proposing to take a street named after one of Franco’s mentors and rename it Calle Barack Obama. And Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed is lobbying to name the soon-to-be-rebuilt Nathan Hale Elementary School (located on—you guessed it—Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) after the president. At least the MLK Drive in Reed’s ward is relatively crime-free.
When Obama asked us to get involved, I think he was asking us to do something more substantial, like going into the schools and helping by tutoring, not just taking the easy, cheap, and hollow shot of naming a school after him. I can see a future headline now: “Reading and Math Scores at Barack Obama Elementary Among Lowest in State.”
In my own Ward 7 here in Cleveland, there is a movement to name a community building after our deceased City Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, which I think is a great idea. However, there is now talk of naming it the “Lewis-Obama Center,” which I think is a horrible idea. (Fannie deserves—and probably would want—a center named just for herself.) Then, just the other day, I got an email inviting me to join some organization entitled “Kwanzaa-Obama,” whatever the hell that is.
I can guarantee you that in the school year 2013-14, the most popular name for black boys entering kindergarten at most urban schools around the country will be Barack. That isn’t really so bad. But what sends chills of trepidation down my spine is the thought of some poor girl showing up for her first day of kindergarten, forever saddled with the name Baracka, Barackonique, or Obamanesha. What about Obamanation?
Black folks, please, please, I’m begging on bent knee, let’s not do this. You know we African-Americans have a tendency to take the joke past Broadway, but if we don’t get a grip early on, and nip this madness in the bud, we’ll soon be seeing our kids walking to school in the morning, eating a bag of Obama Potato Chips, washing them down with a can of Barack Red Pop, while carrying—what else?—Sasha and Malia dolls.
If we really want to honor Obama, why don’t we figure out a way to help these kids’ caregivers emulate his wife Michelle by teaching them how to get up early enough to fix their wards a healthy, nutritious breakfast before ushering them out the door to school in the morning—hopefully on time. Children’s brains powered by junk food learn very little—and then we wonder why they fail, and why the cycle of poverty—which ends too often with young black females pregnant, and young black males incarcerated—remains unbroken.
Moreover, have any black folks stopped to realize how much we’re getting on white folks' nerves with all of this over-the-top Obamamania? We act as if we elected the man all by ourselves. We didn’t. There just aren’t that many of us in the country. White folks put him in office—with the help of people of color. Let’s just pray that whites don’t catch the Obama fever at the corporate level. Things could get real ugly then in the marketplace: Obama fries at Mickey D’s.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a “player hater” in regard to the brother. I admire our president as much as the next person—and perhaps a lot more than most. I was one of the true believers in the success of his candidacy very early on. But simply because we’ve had only a scant few true heroes to worship in the black community, we shouldn’t go overboard now with the leader of the free world.
The coolest dude I ever knew was a hustler in New York City that was known by the unusual sobriquet “Seldom Seen.” He was real tight with Miles Davis. Like all rock and movie stars, he knew that in all cultures and societies, too much access deflates value and diminishes cachet—so, quite naturally, he was “ seldom seen.” But he was always noticed whenever he did make an appearance at the Columbus Avenue after-hours club we frequented back in the day.
By making Obama something less than seldom seen, we’re at risk of destroying his cool mystique. We’re in danger of trivializing his brand by acting like a pack of mad paparazzi.
There is a real danger of “Obama fatigue” setting in if we’re not careful. Obama could become as omnipresent (and omniscient) as George Orwell’s “Big Brother,” and that could be a loss to both him and us. We could easily wind up overdosing on the man, and soon start wishing that he would just, please, ride off into the sunset already. Fame is indeed fickle, but the American people are far, far fickler.
I want a federal law that no one can use either of his names, Barack or Obama, in any iteration, until the man has at least finished his first term in office, and preferably his second. Not that blacks are alone in wallowing in this early hero enshrinement. Republicans rush to name airports after presidents as soon as they leave office, and I recall that some fools wanted to place Reagan’s visage on a new dollar bill, or some other denomination. Stop! Enough!
I could write more, but I have to run … it’s time for my twice-daily dusting of my complete set of Special Barack Obama Limited Edition, Hand Lettered, Monogrammed, Faux Gold-trimmed, Registered, Inaugural Dinner Plates.
Frazier writes a weekly column for CoolCleveland.com