There are Barack Obama jokes all over the internet. Some are rather amusing. Some are hilarious. Some are extremely weak. Others are of a timely nature. And some are offensive on one level or another. But a joke is a joke, right?
Q: What is black and blue and dead all over?
A: Anyone stupid enough to tell an Obama joke.
Obama jokes are a continuation in a long line of lampooning, satirizing, and ridiculing a politician/president. Many wondered before the election that, if Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama, would the nature of jokes being constructed about him have to be altered to be more race sensitive. Although there is definitely room for consideration there, if one takes out the nature of race (and one should), or the fact that the current sitting president is a self-described “mutt” (multi-racial), then any and all Obama jokes should be no different, no better or no worse, than the standard jokes offered up for any other president.
But racism has a way of creeping into everything in America, and jokes are not an exception. It is not too difficult to find an Obama joke that in some way denigrates or derides the fact that his most superficial characteristic is a genetic inheritance from his African ancestors. In other words, he’s dark-skinned. Black, by most standards. And as President Obama has said many times, he has lived his life as a black man, not because that is necessarily the way he saw himself (his mother was white), but because it is the way that he was allowed to fit most comfortably within American society.
Barack Obama was dark-skinned; therefore, he was treated like a black man.
As the first African-American president, Barack Obama has not only become the target of political cartoonists and pundits, but the butt of many political, social, and personal jokes. And some of them have been of a racial nature. The latest that has caught the national interest is that of the “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” photo that Los Alamitos Mayor Dean Grose sent to a local businesswoman. The photo depicts a watermelon patch superimposed in front of the White House.
The receiver of the watermelon e-mail, Keyanus Price, said she was offended. But it was a joke, right? What’s to be offended over?
Watermelon, besides being a traditional July 4th menu item, has been a racially derogatory element when associated with African-Americans for years. Anyone over the age of ten (approximately) that lives in the United States that does not exist in a state of denial and/or the City of Los Alamitos knows this or has heard of the racially derogating reference.
But it’s a joke, right?
A joke is only as good as the context within which it is couched. It remains a joke, but one that relies on the superficialities of social inequities, such as the implied lowering of the status of a certain group or groups. It becomes less of an amusement than a criticism or an attack. Mayor Dean Grose’s “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” watermelon e-mail stopped being amusing as soon as it was created because of its ridiculous stereotyping of blacks (in this case, the First Family) as insatiable watermelon eaters. Instead of being funny, it became an exaggerated cruelty relying on a traditional form of racial bigotry.
So why can’t anyone tell an Obama joke?
They can and they do. Every day and every night, pundits and talk show hosts, writers and comedians and common American citizens tell, read, forward, and write Obama jokes that are witty, current, draw on tradition, are political or not, exaggerate and understate, and place the president in an amusing frame of reference. Some even use race as a contributing element.
But a watermelon patch in front of the White House?
Mayor Dean Grose announced through a statement to the Orange County Register that he would resign over the controversy caused by his watermelon e-mail. And he should. He has insinuated a discriminatory mindset in a position of public trust. His decisions will be suspect from now on. In fact, his political decisions prior to the sending of the watermelon e-mail are now suspect as well.
But it was a joke, right?
A joke is a joke is a joke. One person’s vehicle for amusement or political point is another’s conveyance of criticism. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing, reading, or telling a joke. A bad joke is still a joke. Just because someone believes that a joke is not a particularly good one does not take away from the fact that it is a joke. And this goes for jokes that use President Obama as their target or focus as well as any others.
But telling an Obama joke is only a good joke as long as it isn’t an attack on the person or, by extension, his family, ethnicity, or culture. Mayor Dean Grose’s “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” watermelon e-mail is a derogatory attack that implies all of these and is therefore offensive.
But it’s a joke, right?
To some, it is just a joke. A poor one, but a joke just the same. But if one is in a position of public trust, such as in the case of Mayor Dean Grose, the joke becomes reflective of the teller. Unfortunately for Dean Grose, his choice of joke material reflected rather poorly on his judgment and his character.
But there are thousands of Obama jokes that do not denigrate or derogate on grounds of ethnicity, race, or culture. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Craig Ferguson prove it can be done every night. The “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” watermelon e-mail is just poor material unadjusted for ignorance.
Joke: Now that Barack Obama is the president you can still get ahead if you get up early in the morning, work late every day, and hit the lottery.
Now, that’s a joke.
Orange County Register