The Incredible Singing, Dancing Obamas

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Barack Obama PresidencyIn the previous life before my previous life, I used to be a break dancer.   I was damn good too.  I could pop, lock, twist, twirl, and spin my body in ways that made me the coolest thing since Beta Max VCRs.   I was, quite frankly, “da bomb.”

One day during class, as I was openly reminiscing on my extraordinary accomplishments as a break dancer, I decided to give my students just a taste of what they missed by being born 20 years too late.  So I did a dance called “the wave” right in front of them, taking the imaginary pulse into my left hand, toward my torso, down to my feet, back up to a quick heart beat and out the right side of my body.  It was simply amazing, if I do say so myself.

Suddenly, my sleepy 8 a.m. class was bright-eyed and excited.   They were surely digging my moves.  They loved me in spite of the fact that I’d just hammered them with the most difficult exam of the semester.   I felt the power of being popular, and I’d suddenly become the coolest Black man they’d ever seen.

A few weeks later, a student asked me to dance again.  They wanted to see more of my fancy moves, but who could blame them?  In spite of the temptation to bust a move, though, I politely declined, telling my students that I was there to teach Finance, not to do a remake of the film “Electric Boogaloo.”

I’ve thought about this incident as I’ve watched Michelle and Barack Obama go around the country singing and dancing more than any two politicians in the history of the presidency.   Every other week, there is video of Michelle getting down on stage, on TV, or someplace else.

And President Obama hasn’t been sitting on the sidelines.

He’s been singing so much, as of late, that someone has surely made an album out of it.  It’s made me wonder if President Obama is auditioning for a record deal after his presidency is over and if Michelle was hoping to be one of his dancers.

It’s also made me wonder if it is more than coincidental that the first Black president and First Lady are singing and dancing more than any major political figures in the United States.  Is it also a coincidence that the leading Black Republican, Herman Cain, also got his audience excited by singing for them as he ran for the presidency?

We must ask ourselves if all of this entertainment is being provided by leading Black politicians, in part, because Black folks have been making White folks comfortable with song and dance for the last 400 years.

I am not one to say that President Obama doesn’t have the right to sing when he wants to.  I just encourage him to consider what I told my class full of white students when they asked me to break dance for them a second time:  I simply told them that “I am here to be a Finance Professor, not a professional dancer.”

I imagine that dancing for my students would have made me more popular.   They would have given me higher teaching ratings.  They might have gotten over their discomfort with learning from the first Black professor they’d ever seen in their lives, but ultimately, every time I chose to dance in front of those kids instead of educate them, I was becoming less of a scholar and more of a minstrel show.  That’s why I chose to stop dancing.

The Obamas have proven that they are quite talented.  Perhaps after the presidency is over, they can conduct a world tour, but they are not here to entertain us, they are here to lead.  So, at some point, the dancing and singing probably needs to stop.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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