Fear and Envy of Black Masculinity: How Politico's Jonathan Martin Mugged President Obama and Got Away With It

Almost all black men recognize the contemptuous look Jonathan Martin gave Obama on Thursday.
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If you saw Politico's Jonathan Martin's metaphorical mugging of President Obama
on Thursday and then read his and Carrie Budoff Brown's hit piece on him, perhaps you're as offended as I am. Watch Martin's body language and face from about 2 min 50 seconds into the above clip. After the President is finally able to move past him, Martin repeatedly looks Obama up and down. What I see on his face is the look of contempt especially given the disrespect he had just shown the new President on his second day on the job.

In fact, a cameraman had to verbally intervene to remind Martin of whom he was trying to mug: "I'd like to say it one more time: 'Mr. President.'" Hopefully the MSNBC clip of this scene will soon appear. It shows much more clearly than the above clip or CNN's just how physically confrontational Martin was. You can see him essentially blocking the President from getting past. This still picture at least captures the block.


Almost all Black men recognize Martin's contemptuous look and confrontational pose -- it's the one that White cops give us after pulling us over for Driving While Black or even Standing While Black, and then start to interrogate us like we just committed a crime. In fact, about a minute into this live video clip a White cop, who looks similar to Martin, confronts a Black man in a manner that makes me wonder if Martin studied this video to pick up some pointers.

Significantly, although other members of the press corp tacitly consented to the social nature of President Obama's visit, instead of acting like a respectable reporter, Martin acted more like a racist cop and treated President Obama like he just committed a crime. There is nothing wrong with asking tough questions at the right time and place and manner. But Martin's subsequent article unmasked a much uglier side to his method and apparent motivation. He made a specific point of saying that Obama put his hands on him, like he had just committed assault and battery, even though it was Martin who had aggressively confronted the President and physically blocked his path.

Martin then accused the President of committing another cardinal offense for a Black man: staring him in the eye, like this was back during Segregation times when Black folks weren't allowed to look White folks in the eye and had to get out of their way if they were walking on the sidewalk. As you can see in the video, President Obama put his hands on many people's shoulders and looked many people in the eye. Martin and Brown then accused President Obama of "dodging," "flashing," and being "irritated" and "agitated."

The latter two words are commonly used in Court proceedings by Prosecutors when making a case that a Defendant is unstable, dangerous and prone to violence, particularly if they are Black men. "Irritated," "excited," "agitated" are also terms commonly used by police to describe people whom they used violence on when they subsequently justify their use of force.

On Friday morning, during an interview with MSNBC, Martin excused his behavior by equating the situation of President Obama coming down just to shake hands and greet the press corp with Obama the candidate on the campaign trail who should be used to having reporters ask him tough questions. He again seemed unwilling to acknowledge that Obama is now the President, essentially portraying him as no different from any another "politician" and therefore deserving of the same exact treatment. Wake up Mr. Martin. He's President Obama now and deserves that respect. He's not Rod Blagojevich or Bernie Madoff. Even the cameraman seemed compelled to have to remind you of that fact given your behavior simultaneously dishonoring Obama the man and disrespecting the Office of President.

Sadly, too many others in the media seem to think your treatment of Obama is warranted and/or OK, when they never physically confronted President Bush, Cheney, or Rove like that. Empirical studies repeatedly find that a widespread unconscious bias exists among the population that it is more acceptable to treat Black males in an aggressive, punitive, disrespectful, and/or abusive manner than White males or females and/or that Blacks are more adapted to such treatment. Other findings show widespread inability to either recognize the disparately negative treatment of Blacks and/or emotionally respond when it actually happens. And then there is the well documented history of fear, jealously, and/or contempt of "black masculinity" especially among segments of the White male population.

Just check out the paranoia of Lou Dobbs, Hannity, Limbaugh, Malkin and others who've been accusing Obama and economic adviser Robert Reich of discriminating against "white male workers" in the stimulus plan. The blogosphere is now replete with "White men need not apply" headlines. Here's what Reich had to say about it.

Oh, and they're doing the email campaign again like they did against Obama during the campaign. Only now they're raising paranoid fears about the economic stimulus plan being a conspiracy to take jobs away from White males and give them to Blacks and Browns, specifically illegal aliens in order to increase the Democratic Party base.

How poignant that two of the top candidates to become chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) were Katon "Whites Only Membership" Dawson and Chip "Barack the Magic Negro" Saltsman had to run against their own "magic negroes," Michael "Drill baby drill" Steele and Ken "the Ohio Katherine Harris" Blackwell. Now that Steele won, and Limbaugh anointed Sarah Palin as the real leader of the Republican Party, the RNC has the "plausibility deniabiliity" it needs to play the intersectional "race and gender" card. Here's what Steele told CNN:

I'm proud to say I'm a conservative, have been, always will be," Steele told CNN earlier this month. "So this notion that I'm a moderate is slightly overblown, and quite frankly a lie.

Look out!

And do we need to be reminded of Ashley Todd's self-mutilation she blamed on a "big Black man" who supposedly carved a B for Barack on her face? She knew that her story would resonate with substantial segments of the population. All I can say is thank God she pulled her stunt in Pittsburgh where there a lot of Black cops and not in the parts of Pennsylvania Palin called the "Real America."

It is often such blindness, negative emotions, and stereotypes that result in disrespectful, punitive, or contemptuous behavior towards African Americans and failure to do or say anything about it when it happens even though the same folks may actually love Obama, Oprah, and Will Smith. Then there are those folks like the cameraman who spoke up and said the right thing at the right time. None of this means that people are consciously racist.

It does mean that there are many implicit biases, associations, and stereotypes about Black folks, especially males, that many people are unaware of and/or tolerate because this society has conditioned all of us, to one degree or another, to accept them as normal. It's the product of the nearly 400 years of race related history on this Continent as well as the inability of the dominant ideology " to describe adequately the collective dimensions of our experiences."

I believe that all of these things played a role in Martin's behavior, subsequent article and the failure and/or unwillingness of the media to recognize and acknowledge it. It is why more strong African American voices, like those of Roland Martin at CNN and Bob Herbert of the New York Times are needed to join the ranks of those few Black men with enough seniority and national recognition that they don't have to fear being fired or sanctioned by their White bosses if they dare to air out this dirty American laundry. Sadly, most times such analysis never sees the light of day.

Mr. Martin, please listen to the President's inaugural speech, particularly his quote from scripture about ending our childish ways and his appeal that we end recriminations. From my perspective, and other Black men with whom I've spoken, you acted like a schoolyard bully who seemed unable to get over the fact that this Black man is now the President of the United States and so you had to try and "put him in his place." And then when he failed to answer your question on your terms, you threw a fit and depicted him according to the stereotype of Black men being hostile and aggressive because stereotyped people are easier to control and President Obama hasn't conformed to the ones you're apparently used to and comfortable with.

True, you did get Fox to back up your biased account with their own stereotypical headline, "Irritated Obama 'Stares Down' Reporter During Press Corps Visit" and depiction:

Pressed further by the Politico reporter about his Pentagon nominee, Obama turned more serious, putting his hand on the reporter's shoulder and staring him in the eye.

And sadly, most of the media has so far went along with the false light in which you portrayed the President. They're also spreading stereotypical memes like "agitated," "irritated," "volatile," "meltdown" etc. to describe Obama's behavior (Anderson Cooper called it "testy"), whereas you have gotten notoriety and a free pass, once again proving that the 4th Estate is bending over backwards to show the most conservative and biased parts of our society that it's "fair and balanced" and "just like them." Perhaps they're jealous of ABC/Disney 's Rush Limbaugh getting 20 million loyal listeners per week and grateful for any time he cites them favorably. Even though Limbaugh told his listeners that he wants Obama to fail as President and made the following racial appeal:

We are being told we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to grab our ankles...because his father was black, because he's the first black president, we've got to accept this.

Mr. Martin, I do believe your "reporting" of this incident seemed more in common with racial profiling and thuggery than journalism and it needs to change. But you've also implicated most of the 4th Estate, which has blindly followed suit by spreading your account without rejoinder. In other words, you've offered at least some proof to the world that the Press is NOT giving Obama a free ride because of his race, which is the common conservative and Karl Rove party line. You also helped demonstrate what fear, envy, and/or contempt for Black masculinity and Black men can look like in your world. If this is not so, then why didn't you and others get up in the face of Bush, Cheney and Rove like that?

You've also given us a peak at how you and/or others may try and physically confront, provoke, and challenge the manhood of the President in the future. You know his hands are tied, and if he doesn't smile and shine and do as you say, you'll just paint him as another "angry Black man." You've already shown us how racially coded "emotion words" will be used to try and undermine his effectiveness. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh will show you some love with some of his loot booty and not just hold you up as a hero.

I just ask that when you get to the part in Obama's speech where he talks about those who helped bring the country to its current crisis, please realize that he was also talking about you Limbaugh, and the mainstream media, even as you present yourselves as being "colorblind" or "post-racial" but are anything but. So please, sir, grow up, ante up, kick the Karl Rove-limbaugh habit and help us get through this collective crisis. It's time to put country first and stop trying to be the news.

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