Former President Barack Obama had some stern words for Cousin Pookie ‘nem (starting at 1:48:58):
“If you are really confident about your financial situation, you probably are not gonna be wearing an eight-pound chain around your neck, because you know, ‘Oh, I got bank. I don’t have to show you how much I got. I feel good,'” he said at the MBK Rising! event in Oakland recently. It was the Obama Foundation’s first national My Brother’s Keeper Alliance conference.
“If you are very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking,” he added. “I mean, why are you, why are you all like…you seem stressed that you gotta be acting that way. Because I’ve got one woman who I’m very happy with. Right? And she’s a strong woman.”
His comments were in reference to “social pressures felt by young people based on the ways hip-hop artists portray success.
“We live in a culture where our worth is measured by how much money we have and how famous we are,” he told the audience, according to Newsweek. “I will tell you, at the end of the day, the thing that will give you confidence is not that. I know a lot of rich people that are all messed up.”
In all honesty, I get President Obama’s larger point about confidence and I agree that young men need to learn how to be a man outside of stereotypical forms of masculinity. I also love and appreciate his shout-out to strong Black women, like his wife Michelle.
I just wish he could have made those points without making a mockery out of our folks.
He has a history of using stereotypical tropes of mostly poor and Black people to relate to predominately Black audiences. In campaign stops along his historic first run for president, Obama repeatedly admonished Black voters for allowing Cousin Pookie to sit home on the couch watching football instead of voting.
During that same time in 2008, he would call out Black people again, this time for leading the nation in single-parent households, feeding their children Popeye’s chicken for breakfast, and as The New York Times summarized it, for “praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments” like graduating eighth grade.
The tropes are bothersome as they are meant to describe a specific bunch of people. All Black. All are downtrodden and lazy. All are never to be admired, just shamed and ridiculed.
Reminiscent of Bill Cosby’s controversial Pound Cake speech, Obama’s usage of these tropes is rooted in anti-poor people beliefs that only seek to blame the problems facing the community on inner-city Black and brown people, rather than seeing them as victims of institutionalized racism and capitalism.
Never does he use Pookie and his eight-pound chain as an example of pride or success. Instead, Obama romanticizes middle-class mannerisms, dress and even eating habits, ignoring all of the ways that particular socioeconomic class also falls prey to some pretty toxic behavior.
Yes, it is true hip-hop music has long, and rightly so, been associated with some of the most hypermasculine and materialistic aspects of our culture. But for all of its appreciation of twerking women and eight-pound chains, hip-hop is not the only, or even the most egregious way that men have shown a lack of confidence in themselves.
Hypermasculinity is also our current president, Donald Trump, who has a wife, two baby mothers and a penchant for claiming he grabs women by the pu–y.
It is also Vice President Mike Pence and the dozens of other men in Congress, who all wear suits and don’t entertain twerkers (as far as we know), and yet, feel justified in regulating what a woman can and can not do with her body.
Hypermasculinity is also American men like George Zimmerman, a self-proclaimed neighborhood watch volunteer who stalked, harassed and eventually killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin for no other reason than a belief that his budding manhood was less desirable than his own.
Need I say more?
Again, I respect what Obama was trying to encourage in the young men. However, I wish he could have also told these young men that those who do like eight-pound chains and twerking women aren’t the only men who have confidence issues. That all men, regardless of dress, career choice or socioeconomic status, have a lot to learn about respect for themselves, for the opposite gender and for the world at large.