Meanwhile, recent rumblings around Washington, D.C. seem to indicate that reporters and pundits believe that President Barack Obama is resonating differently with his white and African American constituents. In the article “Blacks, whites Hear Obama Differently” the author opines that President Obama’s occasional slang, his loping gait and some of his mannerisms signal to the black community that he is “down” in a way that is largely “missed” by the white community. Recently, the President responded to a cashier “nah, we straight” when asked if he needed change, and on the campaign trail, Obama reminded voters not to be “bamboozled” by negative politics. These terms, "nah, we straight" and "bamboozled" say something very specific to those in the black community while the terms “sail over the head” of most whites.
As Michael Steele plans his wooing of the hip hop community, one thing that must be recognized, is that for the hip hop generation, authenticity and “being real” is sacrosanct. And Michael Steele and Barack Obama provide incredibly divergent examples of authenticity, at least to the hip hop nation.At a recent symposium at the West Virginia University College of Law, Talib Kweli called President Obama not just our first black president but our first hip hop president. I think there is much more to this than the mere fact that Jay-Z appears on the President’s iPod. President Obama authentically connects with not just black folks, but with the hip hop generation in a staggering way. Obama was endorsed by hip hop superstars, up and down the coasts. Obama’s troops, those that ushered him into the White House, were on the ground in EVERY state, and were overwhelmingly young, overwhelmingly diverse and ultra devoted. As Cornel West mentioned at the same symposium at WVU Law, when West was campaigning in the early days for Obama in Iowa, when the foot soldiers broke up from campaigning at night, the volunteers were not just listening to, but were feeling hip hop. And according to West, at that time, they were young and were mostly white.
Obama’s verbiage, gait and style, to resonate with the hip hop nation, HAS to be authentic. If hip hop is about anything, it is about "being real" and this is where Michael Steele fails. Steele’s dated references to “bling bling” and “off the hook” p.r. plans redound as inauthentic and very much, not “real.” It is difficult to imagine a single member of the hip hop generation being attracted by Steele's attempt to use hip hop lingo or language to attract a new breed of GOP voter. The words are inauthentic; the mission is inauthentic; and the outreach seems doomed to inauthenticity. Michael Steele needs to be real, to garner the attention of hip hop aficionados.
President Obama on the other hand has an easy manner and the "hip hop" in him is subtle. He knew that he needed to “deracialize” his campaign in order to win. Yet, he gives cues and clues to black america that “winks” at the community and the hip hop generation as if to see “i am down, and you know that i am down, I just can’t say it right now.” He has won an election and now has an enormously wide berth with the hip hop generation and the black community in general to do what he has promised to do. Of course, authenticity mandates that he carry through with his promises, of which portions of the stimulus package and new legislation seems to try to do.
I am not sure that the author of “Blacks, whites hear Obama Differently” got it exactly right. It is not just blacks that “hear” Obama. And not ALL whites hear Obama differently. It is the hip hop generation that hears Obama, together with the black community, including the civil rights generation (per Obama’s references to Langston Hughes, MLK and Malcolm X). The hip hop generation, includes whites, latinos, American Indians, Asian Americans, and so on – those folks that are profoundly influenced by the lyrics and culture of hip hop. President Obama has tapped into a very powerful force of support and loyalty. Michael Steele simply cannot. The authenticity is missing.