Jabari Asim | Harold Washington Library Center | Literary Events | Chicago Reader

Jabari Asim Free Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Thu., Feb. 19, 6 p.m. 2009

Jabari Asim's description of Rufus Jones for President leaves no doubt that the 1933 short film is absolutely appalling. Props are given to stars Ethel Waters and seven-year-old Sammy Davis Jr. for the "outstanding" musical numbers, but really, is there anyone anymore (some of the behavior at Sarah Palin rallies notwithstanding) who doesn't see this shuck-and-jive "obsession with watermelon, chicken, and dice" for the nasty shit it is? Which is part of the point of What Obama Means . . . For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future (William Morrow). The subtitle makes it sound wide-ranging, but it's hardly the last word on our first black president--rather, it's a quick, knowledgeable attempt to explain his extraordinary success in the context of African-American history and pop culture. The Rufus Joneses gradually gave way to Sidney Poitier's work in the 1960s, and from there we got Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Denzel Washington, and Prince (and yes, parallels between Obamas bio and the plot of Purple Rain are noted). More meaningfully, Asim, author of 2007's The N Word and editor of the NAACP magazine the Crisis, puts Obama in a line of "race men," a roster of secular leaders that includes Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcom X, and U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan (so, OK, race persons) and posits that his tradition of African-American oratory sprang from "activist intellectuals who have mastered both emotional flights of rhetoric and reasoned argument, who have seldom confused volume with clarity or rhyming with logic." Much more will be written about Obama and his presidency, but much of it will be without the clarity and logic that Asim brings to What Obama Means. This event is cosponsored by the McCormick Freedom Museum; it's free but reservations are required. --Patrick Daily