Thursday, July 14, 2011

Introducing President Barack Obama, "Space Coon"



As a ghetto nerd, I love some good science fiction. As a ghetto nerd military history buff grognard I am a sucker for a good counter-factual or "what if?" scenario. Much of the latter is pure pablum--although I have to admit that I have a soft-spot for Harry Turtledove's  epic Civil War/World War 1/World War 2  alternate universe series. Nevertheless, various examples of the sci-fi "what if?" genre often hit a a sweet spot when one is looking for some late night at the bar drinking some Stella reading.

I recently stumbled upon the book Weapons of Choice which takes 21st century military technology, adds some The Final Countdown elements, and puts the U.S. Navy of the year 2021 in the middle of the Battle of Midway (I won't give away any more details). Weapons of Choice is also great fun because the author doesn't shy away from exploring how the social norms of the 21st century, especially those surrounding race and gender, would befuddle many Jim Crow era white Americans.

Weapons of Choice features a great moment where one of the white bigots in the World War 2 era U.S. Navy is shocked by the people of color he encounters and how they have mastered the stuff of Amazing Stories and Flash Gordon. In an inferiority laced moment of frustration said character utters a priceless phrase, "space coons," to describe these near-alien Americans from the future.

As a ghetto nerd, and connoisseur of racial slurs, "space coons" leaped off of the page and instantly into my mental Rolodex. Space coons also triggered a series of connected thoughts on the whiteness of science fiction.

Historically, classic sci-fi was embraced as a site of imagination that freed readers and authors to envision a world that was radically humanistic and progressive. While wonderfully imaginative and inclusive (in their best instances), in its worst iterations the genre was quite literally a "white" space where robots and aliens stood in for people of color and the Other.

In classic science fiction the protagonist was often a white man encountering an untamed world that represented the various colonial and imperial projects of the West. Alternatively, he was a time traveler who arrived in a world where a peaceful White civilization was under siege and its members were quite literally consumed by savages coded as non-white. At its heart, so much of golden age science fiction was satisfying to the the White gaze precisely because black and brown folks were not present. The race problem was solved, and thus a Utopia created, by removing what was understood to be the root of the trouble.

Never to be rendered silent or excluded, there is a rich tradition of African American speculative fiction--the Delanys, Mosleys, Schuylers, Butlers, Ellisons, and Morrisons of the world--that stand as rebuttals against the whiteness of science fiction. In parallel, there is also a growing critical literature on the role of race in the sci-fi genre.

For example, Isiah Lavender makes a great point in his book Race in American Science Fiction where he smartly suggests that Barack Obama is quintessentially the stuff of science fiction because for most of this country's history the bounded nature of racialized citizenship deemed an African American President an impossibility.

When considered from this critical framework (with policy preferences and partisanship placed aside) President Obama is a figure of The Fantastic.

Some have been suggested that President Obama is a bound man because of his role as a racial triangulator. Echoing Isiah, I would double down and add some additional nuance to his sharp observation: the figure of President Obama was/is the stuff of fantasy and wish fulfillment. He should not exist. Yet, he does.

As a fantastical figure his very personhood frightens so many because given the weight of history a black man could not (and should not) be President of the United States. As a figure that is the stuff of speculative fiction and sci-fi (or perhaps more rightly Afrofuturism and Black Science Fiction), Obama is also a vessel for the hopes and dreams of many Americans. Thus, the tears when he was elected...and an impossible standard which he cannot hope to reach as the first black President of The United States of America.

Thus, my suggestion that President Obama is a space coon. He isn't alone. For any negro or negress who turns up where you least expect them and in defiance of Whiteness and the White Imagination is one too.

That isn't a bad thing per se. His status as a space coon goes a long way towards explaining the virulent and hateful antipathy faced by President Obama from embittered Right-wing, White racial reactionary populists. President Obama's identity as a space coon also explains the frustration felt by many who seek a savior amd hero in the form of a black man who happens to be President. In total, confronting the unbelievable and heretofore unimaginable can generate no small amount of either cognitive upset and/or wild eyed dreaming.

Ultimately, space coons are people too. They both inspire and amaze. And they cannot help but to disappoint.

22 comments:

Oh Crap said...

Lol I hope you put this on Alternet.

chaunceydevega said...

I don't know if the readers there are ready for a dose of ghetto nerdness. We shall see though.

Big Mark 243 said...

I enjoyed this piece... my main blog is a nod to Delaney...

Thrasher said...

My daughter was mentored in law school by Professor Derrick Bell who authored the 'Space Invaders' a short story about aliens who bargained with white folks to rid the world of Black folks in exchange for minerals etc..

HBO made a short film called Cosmic Slop music by George Clinton..

chaunceydevega said...

@Big Mark. Will check it out. How did you come about your discovery of him? Which is your favorite work?

@Thrasher. You should put up a social network list. I wonder who else we are a few degrees separated from. Cosmic slop is great. It is still not available on dvd, one has to settle for watching it on youtube and then downloading it in parts.

Thrasher said...

Professor Bell is a great man and a living icon and nice and warm!!! Plus he was in my kid's life

Tom said...

Excellent point. We don't live on the moon, we don't have flying cars or food pills, but we do have a Black president.

chaunceydevega said...

@Tom. I like that comment. If I repost this, that will be a great title.

thanks for checking in.

Tom said...

chaunceydevega :) I'd be flattered!

Cleary said...

I love scifi. As a "white" guy, I've noticed all too much of the way so-called liberal Hollywood rarely, if ever, gives a lead role to anyone other than "whites." I say this as a "rabid" conservative. I do not like our President. I think he is an unamerican boomfrog. But he also is the stuff that would have been scifi a few years ago. Indeed Morgan Freeman EXCELLENTLY played an American president in Deep Impact. And from what I've read of Mr. Freeman's biography, he would make a very good president indeed (unlike the current occupant).

The sad thing is that this is still an issue in the 21st century. We should be beyond race; we should be beyond ethnicity. We should be at a point where all that matters is what's in our minds, our hearts, and our aspirations. I suspect I'll never see that day in my lifetime. But I'll tell you something - THAT would make a great science fiction story if it was done well.

blavag said...

I think it was Stokely who said that the man doesn't care what color you bleed as long as you bleed for him. We have to consider the possibility that "space coon" or not, Obama was a PR victory for the same old same old.

Oh Crap said...

@Cleary

I think he is an unamerican boomfrog. But he also is the stuff that would have been scifi a few years ago.

I heard he is an alien and a foreigner who wasn't born here. Maybe birthers really do think he is from outer space, since they cannot hammer and saw him into one of their pre-fab stereotypes from the 19th century.

BTW, wtf is a boomfrog? Is that the latest rabid-con speak for n----?

escoles said...

Chauncy -- fascinating post, but: a lot of your links are missing the colon in the protocol string ("http//" instead of "http://") -- so they're not working. FYI...

nomad said...

Heres a ghetto nerd sci fi scenario for you. COINTELPRO during the sixties inaugurates a top secret plan to infiltrate subversive civil rights movements. They call on the secret service community to volunteer daughters to be impregnated by black men and raise and train these young neogroes to take leadership roles in the black community. Though the need for infiltration of civil rights orgs diminish as these neogoes mature. They nevertheless prove useful. One of them becomes so successful he, with the help of the CIA, is able to become president of the US. Posing as a Democrat, he is able to do, through subterfuge, what Republicans had tried and were not able to do. Dismantle the social safety net and neutralize liberal resistance to the proliferation of empire and the police state. Now that's the substance of ghetto nerd science fiction right there

chaunceydevega said...

@Cleary. Wide eyed dreaming--the best of what sci fi can be.

@Blavag. Damn you your hard nosed realism.

@OhCrap. I hope that is a new slur. I will use it along with moon cricket.

@escoles. Fixed it. Thanks, that was a weird error.

@nomad. You need to stop being the spook who sat by the door and dreaming this stuff up.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic piece. Food for thought and full I am! GNCDV you da main!

OC

nomad said...

@CD
Yeah. Nobody'd believe such a story. It'd make a good movie though.

blavag said...

Nomad,

I take it you were referring to something like this?
http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-in-History/JFK-and-the-African-Student-Airlift.aspx

nomad said...

Thanks for the link, blavag. The scenario I outlined may be "fictional", but for all practical purposes it is an accurate metaphor. Barack Obama is an image created by the corporate oligarchs. The sooner we recognize this the better. I submit to you that America has yet to have a black president.

Thrasher said...

Nomad,

Interesting spin..Wow!

nomad said...

Thanks Thrasher.
I think. The election of Barack Obama is an extraordinary event. But when you look at how totally opposite President Obama's policies are from what candidate Obama promised. Cui bono? Wall Street. The corporations. The military. The CIA. Something about this picture is not right. Who, I wonder, could mount a psyop this big? They do it to the politics in other nations. Install who they want. Would they do it to their on nation?

Cleary said...

@oh crap -

Thank you for making this so easy. No - it's not the latest racist word for anything. It's a totally fabricated word that I made up on the spot to spout off my anger toward The Messiah. So apparently YOU are a wifflebroomp who can't tell the difference between a boomfrog and a marshafragment. Get with the scifi program and leave your latent racism at the door please. This is the 21st century and there is no place in a civilized society for political correctness - like what you are trying to cram down my throat.