The Problem With President Obama’s Cousin Pookie…

November 3, 2014  |  

If there is no such thing as “talking White,” then explain to me why President Barack Obama, in particular, goes to such lengths to talk Black with Black people?

What are you talking about, Charing Ball?

This (from USA Today):

When President Obama returned to the campaign trail Sunday, he re-introduced one of his favorite characters.

Yes, “Cousin Pookie” is back.

As he has in previous elections, Obama cast Cousin Pookie and other family members as the kinds of disinterested voters that Democrats need to get to the polls this election.

“It’s not enough just for you to vote,” Obama told backers Sunday in Maryland. “You’ve got to get your family to vote. You’ve got to get your friends to vote. You’ve got to get your co-workers to vote.”

And, then: “You’ve got to get that Cousin Pookie sitting at home on the couch — he’s watching football right now instead of being here at the rally — you’ve got to talk to him and let him know it is not that hard to exercise the franchise that previous generations fought so hard to obtain.”

As mentioned in the blurb, this it is not the first time the “Cousin Pookie” trope has shown up in speeches before largely Black audiences. As this archived article in the Houston Chronicle notes, “Cousin Pookie” first made an appearance during the 2008 presidential campaign when the then-Senator Obama told a predominately Black rally in Kingstree, S.C., “I need you to grab Cousin Pookie to vote; I need you to grab Ray Ray to vote.” Cousin Pookie’s lazy ass would resurface again during the 42nd anniversary of the historic voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama, where he told the predominately Black audience: “If Cousin Pookie would vote, if Uncle Jethro would get off the couch and stop watching SportsCenter and go register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics.

It should also be noted that President Obama has also been called out over the years for his “blaccent” and overall code switching between Black and more mainstream audiences, in particular using Black slang and euphemisms like “Nawh, we straight!” In fact President Obama’s double speak has become so legendary, it recently became the subject of a hilarious Keys and Peele’s comedy sketch in which the president switches between formal greetings for White constituents and more relaxed and basically “Black” greetings for the brothers and the sisters.

So what’s the problem here? Isn’t it a common experience for Black people to “put on” for predominately White audiences and relax a bit among our own? Sure, which is why I’m also perplexed by the confusion over “talking White.” And as this 2012 New York Times article pointed out, it is not just Blacks, who engage in this sort of linguistic pandering, in particular noting:

Our last three presidents have all been able to shift their speaking styles — an ability that is distinct from eloquence or empathy. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were known for speaking in a “folksy” manner: Mr. Clinton with black and Southern audiences, and Mr. Bush with Southern and Latino audiences (he would even switch into Spanish in his speeches). Before them, Lyndon B. Johnson was perhaps the president most notable for variation in speaking style. More recently, the blunt (and occasionally profane) style of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and the strategic sprinklings of Spanish by Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have contributed to their rising profiles in the Republican Party.”

In that respect, President Obama is no different than any other president or politician in general, who seeks to connect with his constituency. However, there are times when Obama’s code-switching when he does it to Black audiences, proves to be problematic. Take for instance Cousin Pookie.

The “Cousin Pookie” narrative is never mentioned to congratulate young Black men on graduating form college or for landing his first job. Instead this fictitious cousin of the Black voter has been painted mostly by the first Black president as lazy and shiftless. Basically, he is a man-child, who hangs out on couches all day and doesn’t vote. And just like Charles Barkley’s “unintelligent Blacks,” who keep the community from being successful, according to the POTUS, Cousin Pookie is  the reason why Black people are not being taken seriously in the political sphere. Despite the appearance of familiarity, Cousin Pookie isn’t really here to help President Obama connect with the community, but rather to help him serve the community a slice of the poundcake speech in disguise. Talk about a dog whistle…

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