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?”
“Say what?” I gasped in further surprise.
“My dissertation concerns itself with utilizing Fanonian concepts of revolutionary self-actualization to deconstruct racially oppressive, infantilizing imagery of pre-adolescent, gender-ambivalent characterizations of Afro Americans in 1930s cinema,” Buckwheat went on. “From now on, I would prefer to be addressed as Dr. Wheat.”
Just then the Kingfish and Sapphire strolled over to our table. I couldn’t help noticing that she was wearing a sleeveless blouse that accentuated her surprisingly well-toned biceps.
“She’s been working out every day since Barack’s speech to the joint houses of Congress,” the Kingfish said proudly.
Then the notoriously dysfunctional married couple told me they were starting a marriage counseling service “to help promote the importance of stable and supportive family relationships, like Barack and Michelle’s,” said Sapphire.
“Oprah’s having us on next week to discuss it,” said the Kingfish. “It will be the first time I’ve been on television since the NAACP led a boycott of Amos ‘n’ Andy during the 1950s because it was racially demeaning.”
As I tried to wrap my mind around what I was hearing, Sapphire chimed in. “Don’t tell anyone, but we’ve already lined up our first clients,” she said, lowering her voice to a confiding whisper. “Rihanna and Chris Brown.”
I almost fell out of my chair.
Jack White is a regular contributor to The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.