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MUSINGS IN POST-RACIALISM

 

By Regina N. Barnett

 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

 

 

 After a nearly three year drought, Aaron McGruder blessed the masses with a fresh season of The Boondocks. While hilarity ensued – “Dick Riding Obama” is what’s hot in them streets! – one has to look past the comedy and question the severity of numerous issues McGruder raises about yet another postracial “moment” in American history – the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. “Ehh.”

The show opens with an introduction by German filmmaker Werner Herzog (who makes a cameo appearance). Herzog visits Woodcrest in hopes of documenting the campaign of Barack Obama. He gathers the “usual suspects” – Huey, Riley, Granddad, Tom and Sara DuBois, and Thugnificent – to discuss the impact of Obama’s presidential campaign on race relations and America. What is most peculiar about the framing of this episode is Herzog’s covering of an American historical moment.

 

While it is no question that Obama is a global icon, I find it fascinating that McGruder selected a controversial German filmmaker to help construct the episode’s intent. Herzog’s presence in the show embodies the underlying social-political charges against Obama to be a communist, an outsider, and a threat to American democracy and life. Even more intrusive in our attempts to deconstruct this opening installment is the idea of foreign spectatorship and its (often presumptuous) racial associations based upon social trends and media imagery. Herzog’s questioning speaks on two levels – the cynicism of a foreign spectator towards not only American racial politics but black American politics and the aloofness of the African American community in their associations with Obama strictly based on his skin color.

 

This is made (painfully) obvious with Thugnificent’s inability to name the three branches of government while being interviewed by Bill Maher. In similar fashion to his interview with Herzog, Thugnificent discusses his social awakening and fervent support of Obama because of his blackness. While Herzog subtly points to his aloofness, Maher blatantly speaks to his political detachment and, pulling from his own intellect and white privilege, snobbishly remarks “if you are what black leadership is, I’m glad I’m a white man.”


It’s Barry, Bitch: Respectability, Responsibility, and Manhood
President Obama’s electoral campaign and his struggle with black masculinity are well documented in both social and academic circles. What is intriguing and, to an extent, refreshing, is McGruder’s willingness to push the envelope about Obama’s reputation and representation in America. McGruder satirizes Obama to embody the numerous intersections of black manhood and Americanism – the buck, the uncle tom, the token politician for a major party, the problem solver, and the pop culture icon.

 

McGruder removes Obama from the bubble of respectability and fetishizing that he occupies within the black public spectrum. Sarah DuBois, the white wife of Tom DuBois, speaks about Obama from a strictly sexual lens, reducing him to a sexualized black body. Tom, who could be Obama’s foil, is threatened by Sarah’s attraction to Obama and desperately attempts to trump him to keep his wife in lust of his masculinity.


Granddad’s desire to affiliate himself with the first black president is almost solely lodged in the possibility of going to the inauguration ball featuring a performance by Beyonce. He receives a thank you letter from Obama (the politician), and tickets to see his beloved Beyonce. Unfortunately, Granddad gets stopped at a police blockade with other angry African American supporters trying to use their tickets from their “thank you letters.” What is most striking about this scene is the parallel between Granddad’s pleading with the white police blockade and similar scenes projected from the media during the Civil Rights Movement.

 

While demonstrators fought and were assaulted by white police officers because of their protests for rights, Granddad faces the blockade for his right to see Beyonce. While arguing with the blockade he is tasered while frantically shaking his ticket in the policeman’s face (there’s always something about minority papers in America). While shouting to Obama for help, Granddad’s pleas are responded to by Obama’s voice reciting his inauguration speech through a loud speaker to millions of attendees. His pleading is drowned out by chants of “Yes We Did!”


Perhaps the most subtle yet advertent critique of Obama’s election is protagonist Huey Freeman’s reaction to the events. Huey, the self-proclaimed black revolutionary often in search of pro-black rights, is unmoved and unstirred by Obama’s campaign and election. He embodies Black Nationalist Thought (duh, he’s named after Brother Huey Newton AKA “that dude”) and often threatens any attempt to look beyond race and blackness. Because of his “domestic terrorist” reputation (again, in similar fashion to Newton) Huey is attacked by Obama’s character because they are friends on MySpace. He disassociates himself with Huey through stating his blind acceptance of all friend requests on MySpace and Facebook. Later, when intensely questioned by an “Obama Supporter” selling “Obama Water (change the way you hydrate)” Huey flatly expresses “Ehh.”

 

An African American flash mob ensues, threatening Huey’s life because he is not following suite and supporting a brotha in the white house. Other violent acts, including a horrifying pseudo-lynching of a doll with Huey’s likeness, send the media into frenzy. Huey’s ostracization from the black community suggests the removal of essentialized blackness from this supposed postracial American society. In a very profound moment explaining his neutrality about Obama’s election, Huey heavily sighs “what is the point of talking if no one ever learns?”


Many one liners in this episode beg the question about McGruder’s own frustrations and, possibly, insecurities, about the aim and focus of his own work to present a socially conscious black satire. McGruder’s hiatus from both his phenomenal comic strip and this critically acclaimed series eerily echo similar sentiments that surrounded Dave Chappelle’s success.

 

In similar fashion to Chappelle, McGruder’s stakes are high in terms of content, relatability, and audience. The show’s comic relief is a given. The highly pivotal question, however, is if the social consciousness and sharp wit of McGruder’s intentions are overshadowed by the over exaggerated shenanigans often displayed in The Boondocks. This season has already been slated as the series finale. Perhaps McGruder is taking cue from Chappelle and getting out before signing on the dotted line with his own blood.

 

Regina N. Barnett is a doctoral student in African American Literature and Culture at Florida State University. She earned her MA in African American Studies from Indiana University Bloomington. Currently, her research interests include performance and gender identity, popular black culture, late 20th and 21st century black literature, and Hip Hop.

Ms Barnett blogs at Red Clay Scholar.

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