Amidst the delta variant and a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, The New York Times published an article by Maureen Dowd, which criticized former president President Obama for his sixtieth birthday bash in the Berkshires.
The article, while inappropriate, was not entirely unexpected.
The African-adjacent who possess an elevated understanding of racism understand that the Obama administration personified the epitome of white nationalism. Barack Obama, a “black” enforcer of an anti-black nation who presided over black men, women, and children systemically murdered to no legal consequence, conveyed a horrifying racial truth many pretended to only learn with George Floyd’s murder.
Racism, however, does not require its beneficiaries to understand to benefit; therefore, a plethora of African-adjacent folk perceive covert enforcement of white supremacist mythos as its deterioration. As a result, the cognitively confused work overtime to enforce a system that they believe must overtly relegate black people to the peripheries of society.
Dowd’s article and professional affiliation suggest the former, but the contents of her misguided article elucidate the latter. Namely, the piece features a tragic misreading of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, aligning Gatsby’s lavish affair with Barack Obama’s sixtieth birthday bash.
Gatsby, a fictional manifestation of western “new money,” was a bootlegger who masked his humble origins with polished speech and expensive clothing. Gatsby’s performative exterior mimics the ways of “old” money, or money acquired directly from the enslavement of African people.
While Obama and Gatsby may both symbolically represent nuanced proximity to the American dream, only one ever can actualize it, and it’s not Barack Obama. Gatsby, a fictional character, who changes his name and past upon altering his economic circumstance, does so without a formal education or anything to show for his money other than his parties. Gatsby may be a fictional character, but embodies those able to actualize upward mobility and an American identity because he is white. The “newness” of Gatsby’s money foments its transience and inhibits its ability to grow old.
The ability for “new” money to grow old is entirely different for the Obamas.
The Obama’s begin a familial genealogy of “new negroes” that will grow old in a hegemonic environment watered by their influence. The generations that follow will (literally and figuratively) stray further and further away from overt blackness. So much so that their pictures, like the stories that accompany them, will likely be heavily filtered in the homes of descendants who will inherit the fortune and legacy from black figures of American power, but not Michelle Obama’s complexion or her exploited black experience.
They will sit at the head of a table to descendants even more Americanized than they have become, who, like the white population in America, owe their status, livelihood, and relevance, to the black people who came before them.
I say this to say that amidst the poorly executed Gatsby example and engagement with the Obama party, is a racist utterly oblivious to how racism works. Specifically, Dowd places censure where she should place gratitude to the Obamas for their work to foment the social and systemic power of her and hers. To compare Barack Obama to a literary bootlegger murdered in the crossfire of trying to rewrite a past where he monetarily benefits from enslaved Africans exposes white nationalism as seeking vindication and validation from equivalences that if not false would dispel the very fiction of whiteness.
Despite the mask-less white Americans who publicly refused to don a mask pre-vaccination, the footage of thousands piling into huge venues close to one another without a mask in sight, and the thousands killed in Haiti, Dowd’s focus is a mask-less former president at a party she wasn’t invited too.
I reference the devastation in Haiti because those, like Dowd and her constituency, not-so-secretly upset over not attending Obama’s party, are not fretting over being in Haiti. This truth illustrates that many of the African-adjacent maintain feelings of entitlement to the spoils of America, simultaneously maintaining their distance from the casualties that correspond to the global exploitation of African people.
Dowd also illustrates this point with a snide reference to Beyonce. Dowd proclaims, “we all love Beyonce,” a fact that reeks of contempt for yet another black person who has seemingly acquired the spoils of an anti-black nation. The issue I have with this is the same issue I have with the article; that there is far too much emphasis on popular black folk rather than the forces that make them popular.
Then, of course, there is the irony, because what makes the Obamas and Beyonce “popular” is also what deems Dowd’s “opinion” worthy of print and compensation.
Beyonce, wealthy, influential, and beautiful, like the Obamas, complicates Dowd’s relationship with the white nationalist culture that informs America. Conspiciously, both Beyonce and the Obamas seem to have overcome anti-black oppression; therefore, Dowd cannot “love” Beyonce or Obama because this nation anchors white self-love in the overt hate and disfavor of black people.
Dowd attempts to resurrect these sentiments in an article title and historical reference that compares a white woman’s cavalier disregard to for quitodian life to a rich and famous black man celebrating his sixtieth birthday. Dowd, however, in prioritizing Obama’s party over the most pertinent examples of disregard for humanity illuminates Antoinette’s approach as far more synonomous with herself than Barack Obama.
Furthermore, Obama’s party is not a contemporized Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake,” as Dowd’s title suggests. Instead, the Obama’s illustrate that the “black” ally to anti-blackness is the cake to be eaten, and this article constitutes the crumbs left over.