Go Ahead, Vote for Obama’s Body (Slightly NSFW)

by Racialicious Sexual Correspondent Andrea Plaid

As some of you Racialicious readers know, quite a few of us love some fine men around here, regardless of our genders and orientations. And what I mean by “fine” is how Lisa Jones, author of Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Race, Sex, and Hair, means it: “cute with a story.” So, I’m getting this out of the way right now.

I think Senator Barack Obama is a fine-looking man.

But what’s been said recently about this sexy man and his self-identified Black phallus is causing some consternation and situating his sexuality in a strange dichotomous discourse.

Former Playgirl editor-in-chief Nicole Caldwell wrote a feature in last week’s NY Press about how obsessed some people are about Obama’s looks, by how sexy he is, and how their ideas about his sexiness falls into racialized sexual fantasies, namely that his Black maleness makes him good in bed and how that stereotype may anchor some of the buzziness in folks’ erotic fantasies about him and may be the reasoning behind their voting for him. However, that stereotyped-based buzziness, Caldwell contends, may be the very thing could ruin his chance to become president.

This being a sex-centered issue of the NYP, Caldwell tried hard—maybe a little too hard—to bring the bawdy talk about Bama. In her lede she interviewed a 52-year-old white moderate Republican man who had sex with a white twenty-something Obama supporter. During the sexual encounter, the Democrat moaned a name: Obama’s name. In the piece itself, she describes how women have written to her about how Playgirl perpetuates racist stereotypes about Black men by featuring brothas with long penises, the post-Kennedy/Nixon debate mindset of the physical and the visual mean the political, and the US celebrity culture and race operating in our collective erotic imagination. Then she calls in the cultural and political analysts, including our own Carmen Van Kerckhove.

(Note: Caldwell called Racialicious “salacious.” Like I said, we can get down like that over here—and, yes, Carmen starts a lot of it with her Keanu Reeves posts–but La Playgirl EIC is seriously reaching, like all we do is write about the folks we want to sex up and how, served anti-racism style.)

“I’ve always been a little perplexed around the media’s obsession with Barack’s looks,” says Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder and president of racial consulting firm New Demographic and head of the popular and salacious blog, Racialicious. “He’s good looking for a politician, but he doesn’t have movie-star good looks.” Van Kerckhove calls this overemphasis on the candidate’s looks trite. “People think, ‘I can’t be racist, I think Obama is good looking.’ I’ve always interpreted people tripping over themselves to say how good-looking he is as revealing a level of [embedded] racism.”

But for George Farah, Obama’s looks and demeanor are the chief reason he’s made it this far. “Racist stereotypes can only be rebutted by a visual representation of Obama,” he says. Ticking off all of the ugliest racist stereotypes society has traditionally reserved for blacks—sloppy, inarticulate, lustful, sexual, untrustworthy—he explains how “these stereotypes can breed in a vacuum.”

But give the public YouTube, tabloids and talking heads on every media network, and Obama has the opportunity to disprove each assumption. “Only with cameras, and at the debates themselves, can Obama come out and say, ‘Hey, I am not the negative stereotype of this race.’ He is a post-Kennedy candidate. It’s impossible to imagine a world without TV making Obama this politically successful.”

Perceptions of Obama are complicated, however, and a number of the contradictory, racist and celebrity perceptions of the presidential hopeful reflect what Van Kerckhove describes as “a fine line between fetishization and finding something beautiful and unusual.”

“It goes to show,” Van Kerckhove says, “racism is well and alive in America. People like to pat themselves on the back and say we’ve moved beyond race—we’re really scared to go anywhere near it.”

“Although most believe that Obama is single-handedly at the forefront of changing perceptions of black men, sociological research does not support this claim,” adds Rashawn Ray. “While interactions with upwardly mobile Latinos and Asians changes the perception whites have of all Latinos and Asians,” he says, referring to extensive research he’s studied and performed, “social interactions between blacks and whites only change the perception whites have of that one black person. So in this regard, Obama is simply seen as an exception to the rule, and thus a token.”

Taken together, Ray says, abovementioned examples of pop-culture Obama obsession “go back to the stereotypes of black men as being overly aggressive, sexually promiscuous, physically superior, yet intellectually inferior.”

I agree with Carmen and Ray about people fetishizing and tokenizing Obama as the exceptional Black man who’s acceptably fuckable. But I don’t think we should, therefore, desexualize him to only look at his policies in some effort to forward an unracist stance. But this is exactly what Jezebel did in its critique of Caldwell’s story. This is the way that Megan starts the takedown:

Former Editor in Chief of Playgirl Nicole Caldwell, who notably steered the magazine through the end of its decline, takes on the heady issues of race and sex in play in this election season …at this point in my introduction, I would normally attempt to summarize it, but it’s so all over the place that I’m afraid it doesn’t exactly lend itself to summary. In short: women want to have sex with Barack Obama; Obama is hot; people think he has a large penis; thinking black men have large penises is racist; racists might not vote for Obama; so stop saying he’s hot.

Megan rightly points out that the things Caldwell writes to sex up the article makes the article ludicrous. However, Megan comes off like a trying-too-hard-to-be-unracist prude, saying self-righteously that “this is the first time I thought about Barack Obama’s penis,” correcting Caldwell’s assertion that this is “literally a dick-waving contest” when, as Megan points out, it can’t be literal when we’ve never seen either Obama’s or McCain’s penis. For all of what Megan says, the fact remains that Obama is a Black man who’s easy on the eyes…and folks are going to look at him—and yeah, vote for him–because he is handsome, whether we like it or not.

Now, if people are inscribing racist ideas around his Black male skin and body and assume, on the virtues of those alone makes a better sex partner, then, yes, we can call that kind thinking racist, be it through fetishization or by making him a token. But I don’t think, therefore, that should negate all discussion about his pulchritude and that some people are going to respond to him sexually because of it. I think there’s nothing wrong with that: we are, for the most part, sexual beings, and we do respond to each other sexually—without such feelings, human family wouldn’t survived this long. Shushing talk about Obama’s beauty isn’t going to make it—or the possible racism undergirding it—go away.

Not talking about Obama’s fineness desexualizes him, which is another (and opposing) stereotype of Black people (other images in that canon: the Magical Negro, Mammy, etc.). I think the good senator presents a healthy Black male sexuality, especially when he’s around Michelle. In fact, they both embody a healthy and adult eroticism that’s (almost) publicly sublimated. And I suspect that they sublimate it because they don’t want to excite all kinds of uproar around their sex lives in a country that pathologizes Black sexuality. Crazily enough, whatever our own fantasies about our POTUSs, we still want to hold the (opposing) vision that our leader are essentially sexless.

Obama’s run, whether he succeeds or not, has given us a perfect opportunity to develop a way to talk about race, physical beauty, and sexual attraction without the skittish or self-righteous silence because we’re so busy trying to appear unracist or the drooling fetishization because we’ve got these racialized sexual stereotypes in our heads that we’re dying to know if they’re true or not.

So, yeah, I’m voting for Senator Obama because, for the most part, I agree with his policies of ending the war in Iraq, improving the schools, and getting folks some healthcare—and I look forward to seeing his fine Harvard-educated Caesar-cut-and-suited self every day for, at least, the next four years.

[Image Credit: The Obama Dildo, courtesy of Head O State. (Via.)]