Black President, Y'all

Illustration for article titled Black President, Y'all

It would have been too risky for the first black president to completely flip the script on inaugural protocol the first time out. Wouldn't it have been nice to see Barack Obama stride to the podium in a stately East African tunic, complete with headgear and wooden staff?  But my Zamunda-styled fantasy inauguration, complete with hula dancers, mariachis, Buju Banton, King Sunny Adé, and the full original lineup of Cameo will have to wait. Maybe if he gets re-elected.


For his second inaugural, Obama might want to seriously consider a more tropical locale for the festivities: perhaps a Super Bowl-style, regional inaugural hosting schedule rotating between New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles, and Honolulu, with San Juan, Atlanta, Houston and Las Vegas as alternates. Short of that, we need to start thinking about holding this bad boy on Juneteenth, because Washington, D.C. in January is just too damn cold.

Now that the moment has arrived, let's take stock of a few items from the historic occasion:

Barack Hussein Obama

It wasn’t a huge news item at the time, with Christmas, the flailing economy and Gov. Sarah “look at me” Palin sucking up news cycles over the last month, but yes, he will be taking the oath of office using his full name, including “Hussein,” the moniker that has people from Cairo to Dar es Salaam saying, “What’s the big deal?—that’s the name of half the people on my block.”

Although “Barack Hussein Obama” (with vitriolic oomph on “Hussein”) was a cowardly smear, poorly executed by more than one of Obama’s detractors during the ’08 campaign, there are two salient concepts everyone in this nation of immigrants should bear in mind on Inauguration Day.

First, we need a great president right now, and, for some reason, presidential greatness seems to come with three initials, so I’m confident that FDR and JFK would have been happy to welcome “BHO” to the club. Second, Barack Hussein Obama has, frankly, an obligation to acknowledge a precious gift that few African Americans can claim: his own African name, given to him at birth—not one he adopted as an adult after gaining cultural consciousness, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Muhammad Ali, and not the placeholder name that most African Americans have, like Malcolm Little or LeRoi Jones, an unfortunate byproduct of slavery.

The Purpose Driven Inauguration

The hubbub surrounding Obama’s selection of the Rev. Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation has died down, but the bad vibes linger, particularly within the LGBT community. It’s “above my pay grade,” but I think Obama should have skipped on Warren. It would have been easier to not go there, and then have some maneuvering room to move more substantive issues like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Instead, Obama’s bought himself the anger of an impatient and vocal segment of his base. But at least, the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery of “good crazy” fame will give the benediction.


On The Pulse of Poetry

And finallly, everyone is a little bit curious, but not altogether fired up about inaugural poet and friend of Barack, Elizabeth Alexander. She’s an excellent poet, author, professor and surely an inspired humanitarian. She might even blow us all away with her words come Inauguration Day. But I have to wonder: Obama is the first hip-hop president; with the sly husband/wife dap on the night of his Democratic primary victory speech and his enviable three-point stroke, Obama has brought youth culture to the White House on a level few could have imagined a short time ago. In keeping with that spirit, it would have been smooth if he had chosen a rapper as his inaugural bard.


Kanye West is too meteoric, Twista is a little too much at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, but there’s a third Chicagoan with lyrical chops; he's commercial, but not too commercial, Purple Label with a little Argyle Culture thrown in. He’s Will Smith clean without being Will Smith corny, and we last saw him repping for HIV awareness on MTV. That sounds about right, right?—Common, a man of the people, reciting a poem for the people.

Either way, today it’s jumping off in D.C. like it never has before. My father-in-law got tickets to the swearing-in ceremony from his congressman, and he generously gave them up so that my mother could attend in person. Up to this point, I’ve been largely unemotional about the cosmic significance of the first black president. But when mom said “I missed the March on Washington, and I’m not going to miss this,” it got to me. That brought it all home.


Black president, y’all. Enjoy.

David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter