The 'baller' president - Joel Hall

When I first came to know that Barack Obama was literally a "baller," I was a little annoyed. It reminded me of the challenge I faced living in Japan trying to prove to everyone around me that I was more than a two-dimensional, slam-dunking, ethnic stereotype.

In 2004, I moved to Japan to become a high school English teacher. In the rural, mountainous area of Japan where I was stationed, many of the townspeople had never seen a black man in real life, and many assumed that I was some kind of stray NBA (National Basketball Association) player.

Anybody who knows me, knows that the basketball court is not where my skills lie. However, the assumption that I was some kind of gifted hoopster haunted me for the first few months I lived in Japan.

When I first arrived at Takahata Senior High School, the staff and students were looking for a teacher to help instruct their basketball team. For the first few weeks, I politely accepted their invitation to join the students for basketball practice.

It was a plan that was doomed from the very beginning. As the weeks passed, the weakness of my ball-handling skills would become painfully obvious.

Where I lived, it was impossible to be an independent individual without a car, so I eventually had to buy one. Given my physical proportions, car shopping proved to be a difficult task.

Trying to fit inside some of the more popular makes, such as Diahatsu, Suzuki, and Subaru was like trying to fit into one of those 25-cent kiddy rides at the grocery store. I eventually settled on a 1996 Mazda Demio, a small, but roomy, five-door hatchback.

When I got to the car dealership, the salesman led me to the car like it was made for me. It was, in a way.

After buying the car, I learned that the car was made popular by Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen. A few years earlier, Pippen was featured in a Japanese commercial for the vehicle.

Like most Japanese commercials, it left me confused, but the message the commercial drove home was basically, that Pippen is big, tall, black, and he can fit in this car with all his big, tall, baller buddies.

It seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn't combat this pervasive stereotype that all black people were good at basketball. I believe the turning point was a few months into my assignment when some higher-ranking officials at my school learned that I had spent most of my childhood playing the violin and was pretty good at it.

Eventually, that turned into me giving a performance of Dvorak's Violin Sonatina in G major on stage in front of 1,000 townspeople. Afterward, I noticed that the townspeople began to see me as a more complex individual, who was capable of being good at many things other than sports.

That's why it worried me when I learned that the person who will be leading the country, who just happens to be black, is also very good at basketball. I worried about what kind of message that would send to people like my students in Takahata, whose stereotypes of African Americans I worked so hard to break.

However, I eventually got over it. Living overseas, I learned that people in other countries are fed a steady diet of negative black stereotypes. However, Obama will be the first internationally-visible black man in a long time who doesn't embody any of the worst stereotypes.

For the next four to eight years, the world will get to know a black man who doesn't rap, act, or "bust caps" in his spare time. To the benefit of all people of African descent, the international community will get to know a black man whose speeches inspire millions, who loves his wife, who takes care of his kids, and who just happens to be the leader of the free world.

I can certainly live with that.

Joel Hall covers govenrment and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at jhall@news-daily.com.