My uncle Steve hates Barack Obama. There, I’ve said it: I’ve relayed in public the secret that we hush at family gatherings, the reason our family cannot openly celebrate and discuss the Obamas at Christmastime the way other black families do. Let me be explicit about what I am saying. When I use the word “hate,” I mean that my uncle — an African American man in his 50s who grew up in the segregated South, in Arkansas, a hundred miles from the National Guard’s 1957 standoff with nine black students outside an all-white school — this man, who ate at segregated diners, played in all-black athletic leagues, and went to all-black schools — despises the first black president of the United States. The reasons are varied: Sometimes he seems simply jealous, envious that a brother has come around in his lifetime who is — how can I put it? — superbadder than he will ever be. But my uncle, who works in Springfield, Ill., believes that Obama is just another politician with questionable ethics. He claims if the walls could talk about the real goings-on behind closed doors, Barack Obama would be in jail, and not in the White House. I must admit that I see most of the mysterious alliances or inconsistencies that pundits, scholars and my uncle cite as Obama’s failures as signs that Obama decided to go to Washington to get things done. I have no delusions about American politics. I need Obama to be a complex freedom fighter, not a saint.
That said, black folks everywhere are still figuring out what to make of this new era. In the midst of all this, I set out to compile a musical State of the Union address for the 2010 Believer music issue that embodies the spirit of these times we’re living in. We’re huddled around the TV, watching “The Boondocks” and wondering what to make of a song (from Season 3) called “Dick Riding Obama.” Some of us certainly laugh, and afterward we talk. Some of us really do feel that gross sections of the black community, and black artists in particular, are ill-informed and exploiting Obama’s platform — they are, in essence, dick-riding Obama — while others in the community are pissed-off, wondering what white folks think, and imagine they're happily whistling that little ditty. Perhaps, most important, some of us find it totally irresponsible for a black artist to make art that insinuates anything bad, dark or untoward about Obama and his legacy, while others feel it’s the black artist’s role to share his true feelings, to tell the truth to the world — right now! — precisely as he sees it, politics and niceties be damned.