I'll say this up front, just to be clear:
I did not consider the "rodeo clown" incident racist in nature.
That opinion, shared here and elsewhere, generated an interesting range of responses. They ranged from the all-too-typical "you just don't get it" to the patronizing "I've tried to educate you" and a few rather...interesting comments (not on this site) about how my white privilege has obscured my senses, including accusations that I "refuse to see it," but none of them really acknowledged my perspective in any way.
Here's the thing, though: I also know that quite a few of my progressive friends of all races share my perspective, primarily because they were raised in the same environment as was I. So, I think it's important to get this "out there" for discussion.
Rather than keep tossing comments into diaries that have already faded from public view, I've decided to throw this out for general comment. Follow me beyond the Orange Colophon...
I once hit Ronald Reagan with a cream pie.
It was a hot summer night, and I got him good. I'm talking TOTAL facial coverage here, and that special splorp sound that only a direct hit with a pie can make.
Of course, it wasn't the real Ronald Reagan - it was a guy wearing a mask. In this case, it happened to be a booth at my local county fair in rural Kentucky. The guys running the booth had a pretty broad selection of masks in rotation, and several of them were Presidents.
Some years later, I put Bill Clinton into a dunking booth - or, at least, a poorly-masked doppelganger of then-President Clinton went into the tank.
Those weren't my first exposures to Presidential masks. As my late father was completing his military career with tours of duty in Vietnam, we watched the television news almost every night; I had seen folks wearing Nixon masks on a regular basis as we watched reports of various antiwar protests, including a few in the city where I was living at the time. Suffice it to say that the folks wearing the Nixon masks were not exactly, um, receiving the adulation of the people around them.
We've been mocking Presidents in this fashion for a very long time. When it comes to guys wearing Presidential masks and/or costumes:
Does anyone remember the mocking caricature of Ronald Reagan in the Land of Confusion video by Genesis?
- I've seen them in pie-throwing booths.
- I've seen them in dunking booths.
- I've seen them at political protests.
- I've seen them in theatrical productions.
- I've seen them in films. (Where the Buffalo Roam, anyone?)
- I've seen them at baseball games (hey, Washington Nationals!)
Of course, various folks on the right have already pointed out the Bush 41 dummy used in--you guessed it--a rodeo.
We absolutely love to have fun with Presidential masks. Party City sells zombie masks of Bush 41, Clinton and Obama. Halloween Express sells masks of Nixon, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama. Costume Craze has masks of 5-6 different Presidents. Heck, a Nixon mask is still in Amazon's Top 100 Costume Masks, and he's been out of office for 39 years! Do we somehow assume that most folks who purchase these masks are doing so out of respect for the Presidency? I think not.
So, my reaction to the Missouri rodeo clown was "ok, they made fun of the President - duh."
In other words, they treated President Obama in the exact same fashion as folks have treated every past President of my memory. Is it juvenile? Yep. Is it disrespectful? Absolutely. Is it part and parcel of being a President? Sure looks that way.
(A side note: Now, the one thing I saw in the video of the Missouri episode that struck me as potentially racist was the other rodeo clown who seemed to be playing with the "Obama" clown's lips - but NO ONE is going after THAT guy.)
So, here are the honest questions: If I've been laughing at mockery of Presidents ever since Dan Aykroyd did Nixon and Chevy Chase did his first fumbling impersonation of Gerald Ford on NBC's Saturday Night, and if I've seen Presidents mocked in this fashion throughout my life, why should I react differently to similar mocking of President Obama? Where's the dividing line between "it comes with the territory" and accusations of racism?