I almost didn’t recognize Buckwheat when he walked into the breakfast room at the Home for Retired Racial Stereotypes. Instead of the customary tangle of pigtails and ill-fitting T-shirt, his hair had been neatly trimmed, and he was dressed in a dark-blue suit, crisp white shirt and red striped tie. An American flag pin adorned his lapel. He resembled a mini-Sidney Poitier.
I was even more surprised when he spoke. Instead of squeaking “Here I is,” he fixed me with a dazzling smile and intoned in a mellifluous baritone, “Good morning, White. I trust all is going well with you on this splendid day that the Lord has made.”
Before I could recover, the strains of Beyoncé’s version of “At Last” wafted into the room, and in walked the Kingfish and his wife Sapphire, arm-in-arm, beaming adoringly at each other.
“You want to tell me what’s going on?” I inquired of Buckwheat. “The last time I saw those two, she was calling him a lazy, bald-headed bum and threatening to bean him with a rolling pin. Now they’re all lovey-dovey.”
“It’s the Barack Obama effect,” he explained. “Since he took over, old racial stereotypes seem increasingly ridiculous. We no longer have to behave like illiterate pickaninnies or shiftless conmen to gain notice in society. Now, people acknowledge us as authentically black if we are, competent and articulate. Believe me, it’s a relief.”
“So that’s why you’re speaking the King’s English instead of the Kingfish’s English,” I replied.
“Precisely,” Buckwheat declared, softly slapping the table for emphasis. “No more malapropisms for us! We only spoke in that demeaning way because white producers controlled the movies and television shows in which we appeared.”
He broadened his smile and continued: “Did you know I have a doctorate in Afro-American studies from the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard?”