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Social Studies

Obama On My Mind

Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 5/14/2008

I almost wrote a column about Willie Tyler and Lester. That's right, you almost got 800 words on the classic black ventriloquist act that regaled dozens of talk shows and sitcoms during the 1970s and early '80s. I almost wrote a whole column on the team because, like a great many of us, my entire life has been consumed by Barack Obama, and what I really want to do is write yet another column about the presumptive Democratic nominee. But I'm trying to pace myself with the Obama stuff for a few reasons.

First and foremost, the Obama field is a pretty crowded one nowadays. Every columnist and analyst in America has been writing about the senator every day for the last year or so, and, frankly, it's kind of hard to find new things to say. I mean, given everything that everyone has said, every nook and crevice that everyone has dug through and uncovered, what else can I offer?

Oh! Here's something that I don't think anyone has commented on. I swear, even five months ago, the spell-check in Microsoft Word used to snag on the words "Barack Obama." Now, assumedly through those updates that Microsoft sends, there are no squiggly red lines under the name. I think that's quite the bit of commentary on the popular, societal, and cultural journey of the junior senator from Illinois.

Secondly, the other reason I need to be a little easy with my Obama writing is because I'm a little close. Y'know, I work very hard fashioning my detached, sardonic persona. Even if I'm nowhere in their league, in my own head, I aim toward the tonal equilibrium of master essayists such as Mark Twain or James Baldwin. If I do what I'm supposed to do right, readers are supposed to think that I'm not really that emotionally invested in the stuff I write about. Honestly, when it comes to matters of race and politics and culture, I think that's the best way to get your message across. No one likes a Shouty Sally.

But this Obama thing has got me a little crazy. I looked up and I'm actually one of those people who obsess and hold grudges and stuff. I mean, I was up until 2 o'clock in the morning a few weeks ago, like a nut, waiting out the final numbers during the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. I look back at my old columns, every now and then, because Vanity, thy name is, uh, me, and I wrote about Obama for the first time a little over a year ago, specifically about his name (Social Studies, March 21, 2007). God, I was so innocent then. Seriously, go look; it's all light and breezy. Innocent days. Now, I feel like I'm in the Crusades or something. Like, I can't have a rational conversation about the man. Oh, I got stuff to say, but I don't know if I can rationally write about "bitterness" and "hard-working white Americans" and punditry and all of that while we're still in the heat of the primary season. Because, seriously? I get all heated up and sound like the Unabomber.

Third, I'm afraid to commit to anything, because this whole thing has been such a roller coaster that I don't want egg on my face if the situation changes between my deadline and when this is published. I'm writing this on Saturday, May 10, and, between now and Wednesday, May 14, there's a primary in West Virginia. This primary season has proven that anything can happen, and I'm not trying to get caught out if it does.

Finally, the whole phenomenon is so, just, big that I'm still trying to figure out the words to fully explicate how this is affecting my life. Listening to my father dreamily ruminating about how he didn't think he would ever live to see this day; watching my students, finally, finally, show some passion toward something that doesn't have to do with stealing music or that damn Facebook; going into the primary booth with my daughter and pushing the buttons together--we can crunch numbers and parse speeches and look at exit polls all we want, but how do you really capture the feelings that are in the air when it comes to Barack Obama? (See what I mean? See how squishy I got right there? That's what I'm dealing with!)

So, instead, I'm playing a game with myself and pretending that I'm really thinking about Willie friggin' Tyler and Lester. Yeah . . . what ever happened to them? Did you know that Willie Tyler's son Cory played Col. Taylor's son on Different World? Boy, isn't that interesting? Yep, you can't get enough commentary on black ventriloquists. That's the only thing on my mind. Yepper.

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