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Barack Obama: Ride Or Die Black Nerd


Since Barack Obama launched himself onto the national stage after the 2004 Democratic Convention I never cease to be amazed by people who see him as this bastion of cool. Interesting? Yes. Smart? Extremely so. Charming? Sure. But “cool”? Half the time I expect him to admit that he enjoys D&D and Magic: The Gathering.

I realize that some people think nerds only exist within the white and/or Asian American sphere, but I’m a black nerd. I have dated fellow black nerds. I was in advanced placement classes with other black nerds. We are real. We exist and the only reason why I think anyone ever assumed we were cool was because:

A) that person assuming our coolness wasn’t black OR B) Were older people who thought our brains, perkiness and occasional brown-nosing was charming.

That’s not to say a nerd can’t do things that are cool. I’m an artist and a singer on the side. That’s cool. Creating Apple, Google and Facebook, also cool. Many think, including myself, that superstar producer Pharrell Williams, Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder and comedian Dave Chappelle are cool. But these individuals, white and black, are also all nerds.

Star Wars-loving, skateboarding, geeky masters of their known and unknown universes nerds.

I hate to say this, but I think a lot white people, especially those in the media, are assigning Barack with some non-existent cool points because they don’t know enough black people to know that not all of us are cool. Barack, often times, can be wonkish, wordy even, when trying to answer a question. He’s full of stutter stops. He fidgets and fiddles. He gesticulates with his hands. Nothing is wrong with this, per say, but none of those things are “cool.” I just know that when Al Gore and John Kerry did similar things before him (and even Bill Clinton, to a lesser extent, as he was often long-winded) these men were not considered cool. They were laughed at. They were lame.

TV pundits seem to hear Sam and Dave crooning “Soul Man” when he speaks. To all us Negroes he sounds like the Darius Rucker of politics, only Barack is getting a pass on playing in a genre loved by the Birkenstocks crowd.

Poor Darius put out a decent R&B album in 2002 that no black person I know bought.

Reporters and hosts on CNN and Chris Matthews on MSNBC fumble desperately to capture what is that enumerable quality Barack possesses which delights the intellectual and youthful to no end, yet fails to covert with the working class, a.k.a. “the vast white middle,” b.k.a. those much-fabled “Reagan Democrats.”

I scream at the TV, “He’s a wonk! He went to Harvard Law! He’s educated and brainy and in our anti-intellectual society the only people who talk like him are considered to be effete Liberal elitists and the vast white middle has been reared to fear those people who speak thusly lest they turn all their progeny gay and all their women into ball-crushing harridans.”

That is the problem of every intellectual who runs for office. Book smarts mean the regular man “can’t relate.” People like 10 cent words out of their lawyers and they love it when the IT guy works his magic on their downed servers, but intelligent people are seen as interchangeable cogs, only useful in relation to their utilities and devices. Sure, Jefferson, Adams and Washington sounded like good presidents back when the only people who could vote were wealthy white male landowners. But George W. was the president you could have a beer with! That’s what the people want nowadays!

A nerdy politician can augment the standard of cool if they are a gifted speaker with a charming regional accent. I don’t think Barack is any bigger a nerd than Bill or Hillary Clinton, only Hillary is screwed because no matter how well-written her speech is she still has to give it in that annoying, nasal, Midwestern patois.

Now former Texas Gov. Ann Richards? That woman was smart, but she had the good sense to be born and raised in Texas so despite all her book learnin’ she could still talk all grits n’ puddin’ n’ pie folksy!

Barack also had the good sense to learn how to give a good speech. His nerd brain helped him learn from other eloquent speakers, years of study and knowledge and research made him better at communicating his ideas through his speeches, but once he’s back in a one-on-one environment he returns to lengthy rhetoric that sometimes wanders all around the bend and back but never gets where it’s supposed to go.

This doesn’t mean he’d be a bad president. Speaking style is a pretty superficial thing to base a person’s worth. Suffice to say some of our past great presidents, born before the advent of television, wouldn’t have past the “Bill Clinton playing a sax on Arsenio Hall test.” They didn’t teach a course in that at William and Mary. I assure you, FDR would have found that gambit a bit ridiculous and hard to surmount considering he was trying to hide the fact he’d been crippled by polio.

But these individuals weren’t cool. Our best presidents were far more often ambitious, supercharged egomaniacs living within the bodies and failings of nerds who learned how to turn a pretty phrase. So why I understand the Obama-mania to a certain extent, you can’t convince me that Barack is cool in the sense of that ethereal hipness only exuded by movie stars and surly teenagers. I saw the man dance on “Ellen.” And no matter how press spins it, his moves expired somewhere around 1995. And the whole bowling thing? I can’t even believe he tried it, other than he did the typical nerd underestimation of feats beloved by townies.

“How hard could it be?” said the nerd. “You just throw a ball at some pins!”

Like Barack because he’s smart. Like Barack because you think he’s the best candidate for president. But if you’re liking him based on coolness factor alone you should instead write in Balenciaga or the game Guitar Hero in as your candidate this fall.

Or if you really do think he is cool you should also take in consideration how old you are. I knew a lot of 50 year olds who told me I was cool when I was 14. After all, they said I always did what I was told unlike their lousy kids.

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14 thoughts on “Barack Obama: Ride Or Die Black Nerd

  1. If you are a black nerd of a certain age you are still probably cooler than 85% of all white people.Barack Obama, intellectual quirks notwithstanding, is cooler AND smarter than 99.7% of the people who talk about him.Most Black Nerds grow up and refine their social skills as young adults. Because they have to. It is a vital part of our cultural identity to be cool. The only Urkels i ever saw were on TV.

  2. the ink: It is true. The arbiter of coolness bar is a lot lower for white culture. And I, Barack and other black nerds learned coolness as a skill since being brainy isn’t always the best attribute when you’re a teenager in our anti-intellectual culture.As for Urkel, just wanted to contrast the most outrageous image of black nerdom with an actual, more mature portrait of black intellectualism.God, I hated “Family Matters.” Yet we watched because we were still in our “watch every black sitcom” phase. Since the “Cosby” comeback vehicle on CBS back in 90s, I’ve been less inclined to watch everything black people produce.

  3. I’m a nerd too. Not a Star Wars, pocket protector- science obsessed mind you. I call my self a word nerd. I’m obsessed w/all things literary. It also seems like I’m on a quest to accumlate random information, sort of like Google… I also can’t dance and have no athletic ability whatsoever. Although I loved Michelle off the bat, reading Dreams from My Father helped sell me on Barack. I can’t deny part of my attraction to him is that he appeals to my intellect. As do Hill Harper and TJ.

  4. Another Black Nerd checking in. Both Barack and Michelle Obama are Black Nerds…and there’s nothing wrong with that. There was a post on DailyKos awhile ago asking if Barack Obama was ‘ Revenge of the Black Nerd’. I thought it was hilarious and on spot. But, he’s good looking, has a great build, is in shape, so he gets way more cool points than maybe he should. But, make no mistake – he AND Michelle are Black Nerds..And that’s quite ok.

  5. dewfish says:

    yeah, Barack is definitely a nerd. By the way, I hate bowling, it’s just a dumb sport overall. Soccer or baseball are way better.

  6. hmmmmm…I always preferred to be identified as “dork” over the “term” nerd. But, all I know is that out of the 2002 class of black males that graduated from Chicago Public Schools, I was part of the 2% that graduated from college–and if that means I’m a dork, nerd, or watever, hell…I know I got a degree.

  7. The Uppity Negro: I got slapped with the nerd label in elementary school, but by high school I think I was just this tightly wound up weirdo.And the number one cosign that you are, in fact, a black nerd is the education angle. If you’re not up on your book learnin’ you can’t be a black nerd.

  8. sandra says:

    Another “weirdo”(that’s what it was called in the 60’s in my neck of the woods) checking in. Folks at work are so mired in stereotypes,they think something is wrong if I’m not back slapping, grinning all the time and giving high fives. I love stereotype busters. Is America ready for it?

  9. dewfish says:

    actually social outcasts come in roughly three categories: dorks, nerds, and geeks. There are a lot of overlaps between these categories, but they are not the same thing. A nerd is basically more about education, and doesn’t necessarily have to be uncool (e.g. Micheal Jordan, Pharrel, Lupe Fiasco, kanye West) but they likely are. A geek is outcast due mainly to their intersts, be it music or hobbies (e.g. the people who play dungeons and dragons, magic the gathering). A dork, also referred to as a dweeb or a square, is known basically for their social ineptitude even if they share very mainstream point of views.

  10. dewfish says:

    I think i’ll expand on that a little bit. For example, most popular musicians (Kanye, Lupe, Pharrell, many rock stars, the list goes on and on) are more likely to be geeks rather than nerds or squares. And when i refer to a dork or square, what I mean by social ineptitude are things such as not being good at sports or having “game”.

  11. hollinsprincess says:

    I went to law school — which means that upon admission you are automatically labeled a nerd. And even more so — I went to William and Mary for law school šŸ˜› Black Snob — you are quite correct that that isn’t something in the WM Ivory Tower curriculum!

  12. hollinsprincess: Yeah, I’m pretty sure our founding fathers would have been very “What the Yankee Doodle Dandy is this shyte?”Although I think the Aresino Hall class is being taught by Ben Franklin at the Learning Annex in Los Angeles.

  13. I stumbled across this while looking for a “Black Geeks For Obama” bumper sticker. I’m a Gen X “Star Wars” and comics-loving geek from way back. But because I’m also black and female, it seems to surprise people when I say I can’t meet them for lunch on Wednesday, because that’s comic book day.

  14. In Canada we have french immersion elementary schools. These schools are more popular with the blackness than with, per say, Asians and because we have a considerable minority population north of Toronto where I’m from there’s I had the unique opportunity of being a cultural minority in a conservative town, mostly white.In the nineties when the tide of hip hop culture was rising I failed to fit in at school. I was amiable, my parents aren’t very smart at all, but I was nerdy alright. To this day I struggle knowing that politics across racial lines requires my white self to meet a higher standard of social grace than than some cultures find requisite. What is the natural outcome of smart + cool? Be sacrosanct, don’t let yourself be called nerd it’s rhetorically loaded. Intellectuals need to be more attuned to questions of style. The multimedia age is challenging, its normative values are consumer. Hopefully the additional strain on white nerds to be cool, as is necessary for members of some less auspicious races, will not be so hard that those with smarts will again turn to manipulative smooth talkers like George Bush to secure conservative advantage against the interests of the anti-elitist working class cultures. The stress of nerdhood often results in an aristocratic and (may I dare) anti-American mentality. Smart people when they are also social dynamos are usually a powerful good in the world… ironic that the combination is very hard to secure when multimedia culture orients us towards selfish goals.My personal Virgil through this all is Sean Carter. The complications of business ethics have never sounded better.

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