When racism tries to pass as art - Joel Hall

Long before people believed it was possible for a black man to excel to the highest office in the land, there was the discussion that whomever was the first black president would be a likely target for assassination.

Chris Rock explored this idea in the 2003 film, "Head of State," in which Rock plays a Washington, D.C. alderman, who unexpectedly becomes the first black president. The threat of assassination (or rather, how his wife felt about it) is what reportedly motivated Colin Powell to drop his bid for the presidency in 1996.

The same idea is what made many blacks, raised during the Civil Rights era, reluctant to put their support behind Barack Obama. Hopeful youths, once politically silent, came out in number to support Obama, and now that he has secured the Democratic nomination, many in the older generation are finally putting their support behind him.

For many, Obama represents an exodus from eight years of policies which have propped up the wealthy and let loose the poor, hurt our international standing, and have placed many of our nation's most vulnerable people directly into the path of harm.

For black people, it represents much more. It represents a chance to reverse many age-old assumptions that people of color lack the ability to lead a country.

It represents a real chance for people of color to be viewed as equals, not just in America, but around the world. Many blacks living in France and Kenya feel the same pride as blacks in America at this time.

Emotionally, a lot is riding on this election for all Americans, but for African Americans especially. Even as a journalist, I am not immune to those emotions.

I cringed when television news networks began making comparisons between Michelle Obama and Jacqueline Kennedy. While news outlets compared the grace and style of the two, in the back of my mind, I knew that someone was trying to make comparisons between an assassinated man and a marked man.

Later, comparisons between John F. Kennedy and Obama were made less abashedly. To lose Obama in the same violent way that Kennedy was lost, however, would be a crushing blow to the international black psyche.

Earlier this month, the New York Times revealed that a New York artist had attempted to steal away the hope of many Americans in a Midtown Manhattan, double art exhibit entitled, "The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama."

On June 4, beside a busy New York street, a store window advertised the title of the exhibit, with the word "assassination" etched in bold, red letters. Sensing the exhibit would incite a riot, the title was quickly covered by New York City cops. While the exhibit wasn't shut down, the artist, Yazmany Arboleda, was arrested and questioned by both NYPD and Secret Service agents.

Two intricate web sites had been created to advertise the exhibit, one for Clinton and one for Obama. While both virtual exhibits took hurtful potshots at both candidates, they also shared highly racist overtones.

I say "virtual" because the New York Times later discovered that, while the Manhattan exhibit did indeed have seven works on display about the Democratic candidates, the web sites are, in fact, fabricated galleries used to display the artist's other works. While the names and addresses of the galleries are both fake, the images on the web site are disturbing and hurtful.

In the Clinton gallery, a fake campaign poster describes Clinton as "the antidote for niggeritis." The Obama gallery has a wall with a white background that says "just passing," and a wall with a black background that reads "passed."

Other features of the Obama gallery: Various hangman's nooses; a black man's male member which stretches around the room, with a sign that says "once you go Barack;" a doctored cover of Obama's autobiography with the title, "The Audacity of Black Hope;" and a picture of Obama with his two daughters that reads "Nappy Headed Hos."

Arboleda's explanation, said The New York Times, is that the exhibit is about how "Obama and Hillary have been treated in the media." He described it as "philosophical and metaphorical." The art, however, is at best, cavalier, and at worst, intentionally hurtful to anyone who believes in the idea that a black man can be president.

Words, images, and actions cannot be disconnected, and while Arboleda may view his work as 'art," many others see it for what it really is.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at: jhall@news-daily.com.