"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

“I Am A Black Man!” Said The President Whose Racial Wannabe Became Real

Reality and fantasy were fungible as far as the President was concerned, and in his ninth decade he began to lose the distinction between the two.  The more his mind became disoriented, the more his aspirations became challenges, then appeared as real opportunities.  For decades he had been an advocate for racial equality and justice for the black man, but now found himself as far from the real thing as ever before. 

The black ‘thing’ was always on his mind.  For most of his political career he had supported liberal causes and civil rights was one of them; but unlike Clinton, he could never think black, nor even imagine any part of the black experience.  Despite his liberal political agenda and his longstanding progressive commitment to the black cause, he always felt removed – not exactly a poseur or dilettante, but far from the action.

He wanted to walk, talk, and act as black as the men whom he secretly admired.  He was no Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas fan.  They had been laundered, bleached, and whitened beyond recognition.  If you shut your eyes when they spoke, you would swear that they were white.  No, he wanted the true black experience, but didn’t know how to get it.  

He wanted to be ghetto, down with the street, a pimp-walking, pimped out, gold-grilled stone cool black dude, but that hope seemed vain and impossible.  He was doomed to be the white man that everyone hated, locked into a plaster-of-Paris cast, stiff, without joy or rhythm and fated to forever to have dry, soulless sex. 

Oh, to be black, he dreamed.   He wanted to sit, drink malt liquor, and smoke Kools with his bro's in West Baltimore, talk black talk, street talk, real talk; but he never could manage, and his barmy, goofy hitched smile never worked there.  He would always be whitey in a serge suit, coming downtown for votes.

Black West Baltimore Is Still Waiting for Equity

Of course, growing up in Delaware, he had no chance to associate with black people let alone become like them.   The 40s and 50s in Wilmington were still socially segregated; so he played ball with white classmates in white neighborhoods, went to a white church and white schools, and  never saw a black person except through the windows of the crosstown bus. 

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Yet, now 80, he knew that he would always be just a black wannabe.  No hot, black women in his bed, no malt liquor on the stoop on hot summer nights, no spinners, pimped out rides, and fur coats.  It was a sorry consignment.  Worse, the whole White House thing looked like a charade.  He had plugged racial types into his Cabinet like pegs, entertained young black Congressional radicals with a smile, talked up Black Lives Matter, condemned systemic racism and championed Critical Race Theory; but felt he was a stick figure propped up in the middle of a bad soap opera.

Sensing the President’s new, increased sensitivity to the black experience, his aides suggested that he go deep into the heart of the DC inner city to the ghetto of all ghettoes, the only completely black place in the capital where the expression of blackness was at its most visible, salient, and real.

As his limousine wound its way through Anacostia, past shambled row houses, trash, and burned out, abandoned vehicles, he said to his wife, “I didn’t know it would be like this”.  Nothing in his sheltered, insular, white life had prepared him for such a sight.  Ordinarily, he would have stepped out in a crowd to get votes, but this was different.  Even with the extra security added to be on the safe side, he would never leave the car.

So he contented himself with addressing black congregations, meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, having tea with flower-hatted elderly black matrons, and inviting sports champions (usually all black) to the White House.  “Still not black enough”, he said to himself, looking for a way to appeal, to belong.

Yet when he gave it a try and attempted to adjust his longstanding, instinctive white prose and make it at least poetic and symbolic, he failed miserably.  He stumbled, smiled in the wrong places, misread the teleprompter, and sounded like a fool. He was no better at the Divine Light of the Cross storefront church in Brentwood.  The singing, chanting, dancing, and speaking in tongues were simply not for him, too foreign, too removed from the simple Catholic parish of his childhood.

“It’s going slowly”, he said to Jill. “Too many bumps in the road”.

Yet the President was no different from millions of Americans who were convinced that identity was no harder than changing hats or hairdos – a matter of choice and preference. Saying “I identify as a black man” was easy enough.  Bill Clinton had done it and was the first black president.  Obama, the real thing, was a letdown.  He was as white as the driven snow, never knew fatback and corn pone, tarpaper shacks, tenant farming, and picking cotton.  

He was whiter than white.  His own Vice President was no different, a half-breed identifying as black but more white than black or Indian, and the black part not even real black but Caribbean black, foreign to the American inner city, privileged and above it all just like Obama.

Identifying as a black man was not enough, he had to be one, heart and soul; but of course, locked into that old white man’s body with nothing but pretty white girls in his past, he could not.  His dreams were of Anacostia, sitting on the stoop with a tall one, shooting the shit with his bro’s, watching and whistling, smoking a fat boy, dreaming of sex and Africa, only to be recalibrated and reset before the butler knocked with bed tea.

Black West Baltimore Is Still Waiting for Equity

Sex change would be a lot simpler, the President considered.  Gender was a fluid thing, not like blackness or whiteness, markers for life, live, cultural memes.  One day you’re Lance Studley, Mr. Machismo, Casanova, and the Lothario of Washington; the next you are frilly, girly-girl Bettina Blossom, belle of the ball, sweet and tarted up, all Scarlett O’Hara and Mata Hari.  And everything in between.  At that particular thought the President smiled and imagined the sexual smorgasbord in front of him.  Trans this, cis that, do whatever with whomever then trade in your old self for a shiny new one.

This was why the President was becoming so distracted on the podium, forced into little White House boxes, obliged to speak of Crimea, Pyongyang, and Qom not knowing what they were let alone where, forced to make step-by-step sense when his mind was in another orbit.  

Far closer to the end of his life than the beginning, he focused on existential questions; and given the state of his current confusion, rather than reflect on his immortal soul or the coming journey beyond the grave, he still saw himself in Compton, West Baltimore, or Detroit as a black woman.  The fantasy had become complete, race and gender were now as inextricably wound together as strands of DNA.  In his mind at least he was both at once and forever.

All of which led to his withdrawal from the Presidential race of 2024, whisked into the political shadows by Kamala Harris and the radical young things in Congress.  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” he remembered Sidney Carton saying, unsure why or what it meant, but there was a certain resonance in the words.  Off to some place good at least, the President mused.

Sydney Carton, From A Tale Of Two Cities By Charles Dickens Painting by  Ralph Bruce - Fine Art America

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