"Santa Claus was good to everybody this year. He gave the black folks Obama and he gave the white folks O.J."
Sometimes it takes a comedian to tell us what's really going on. Right now, if you watch the news, it seems like we live in two Americas. Half of the country is afraid to even imagine what calamity could befall us next. They are petrified about the economy, hysterical about the Middle East conflict, and terrified of the unknown number of terrorists who are hard at work somewhere, plotting to attack the country.
The other half - well, okay, lets call it a third - this third is euphoric right now. It is as if they are wearing blinders that allow them to look past the economy, the fighting in the Middle East, and the terrorist threats to see the end of a bona fide rainbow. The light shining from the inauguration proceedings for Barack Obama has overcome the darkness of these perilous times for these people.
I am one of them.
And within this third of the country that is ready to celebrate the installation of our newest president next week, there is a sizable brown skinned contingent whose chests are swollen with pride. Whose minds are so focused on Obama's date with destiny next Tuesday in front of the U.S. Capitol building that they could care less about O.J., or Michael Jackson, or R. Kelly.
I am one of them.
Even though I laughed when I read it the first time, the thing Paul Mooney's joke gets at is the notion that white America needed to rebalance the traditional racial equation that the Obama campaign had thrown out of whack. That they intended to get this "bad negro" off the streets for life because he was found "not guilty" in the Nicole Simpson murder trial.
It wasn't so long ago, though, that O.J. was one of the most famous and beloved black people in the country.
His legendary commercial for Hertz Rent-A-Car, that showcased his record setting NFL legs in motion as he hurdled luggage strewn across an airport corridor in a suit with a briefcase, was so ubiquitous I still feel like running through the airport like he did whenever I am late for a plane.
"The Juice" had his own action figure. I got one for Christmas one year, complete with removable cleats and a washable Buffalo Bills jersey. It made me forget all about my G.I. Joe with the kung fu grip.
O.J. has seen hard times since those days. The "Trial of the Century" was so big that it spawned a legion of legal analysts. Almost all of the analysts who filled the airwaves this year with their analysis of potential legal dilemmas for the Obama campaign got their start fifteen years ago covering the O.J. trial.
Now we've got this new brother, Barack Obama, who has got us all - black white, latino - mesmerized. He is the toast of the town today. But there are going to be times, in the not too distant future, when he is going to make some decisions that will have comedians like Paul Mooney calling him "O'Tomma" instead of "Obama".
Don't get me wrong - I thought the joke was hilarious. I will be telling it for the rest of the week. But it was the picture above, with the black soldiers and the children of black soldiers standing in for the Obama family, that really underlined for me how easily many Americans could substitute in their minds one favorite black person for another - especially when the favorite black person began to rub them the wrong way.
I hope Barack Obama doesn't become the punchline of this same joke by next Christmas.