Hakeem Jeffries Image Credit: ShutterStock

Politics Over Poetry

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Hakeem Jeffries, leader of the House Democratic Caucus, gave a rousing minute and some change speech on Saturday as Rep. Kevin McCarthy took his oath as speaker of the house. His speech which went viral on Twitter, would make any kindergarten teacher burst with pride. Jeffries gave a motivating monologue of alliterative awesomeness in the place of a succinct speech. 

Starting from A and ending with Z, his speech was a simple comparison of two things with the same letter that had the House on its toes, garnering mixed but visceral reviews. Several Representatives, I’m assuming Democrats, roared with delight when he got to the M’s, stating, “Maturity over Mar-a-lago”. The further down in the alphabet, the more the crowd erupted, both with negative and positive responses.

However, I hated it. 

Now admittedly, I’m extremely biased, and I know a thing or two about poetry. In fact, that is where I make the bulk of my income; my work has even upset Laura Ingraham from Fox News, so there’s that.

So, as somewhat of an expert, I am personally extremely unimpressed. I may not have ever been a politician, but I would gather that finding words to compare, and contrast is hardly where a good politician’s resumé shines.

The wildest thing is how people think this is the greatest orator they’ve heard since Obama, now, personally, I’m much more neutral about Obama than most Black people, but Obama, Thee Obama. Barack Hussein Obama. That Obama, is the comparison that people are using for Jeffries?

You cannot be serious, but people are. @Death_bow tweets, “Mark my words: everyone who saw Barack Obama give the DNC keynote in 2004 knew at that moment he’d be [sic] President one day.  Tonight’s “alphabet speech” was Hakeem Jeffries’ 2004 Obama DNC moment.”

In that particular speech which they are referencing, Obama said, “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?…It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.  The audacity of hope!” I think to compare that to “Maturity over Mar-a-Lago,” is a bit of a reach, even if it did make Republicans groan. Rob Reiner, yes, that Rob Reiner, tweeted, “Hakeem Jeffries: A Star is born.” I mean, Rob would know, but I am not sure Barbara Streisand would appreciate that tweet. 

Additionally, every educated light skin Black man from a huge metropolitan city in the north who still manages to have just enough southern bass in his voice isn’t Obama, and it’s a bit too on-brand for white liberals to jump at the opportunity to call him so. In response to many of the comparisons and trust, there are a lot, @Ms_MMMJ tweets, “Hakeem Jeffries is not Obama 2.0.  Hakeem Jeffries is Hakeem Jeffries.  If you never heard of him before that speech just say so instead of trying to remake him into the only other Black politician you know. You’re so annoying.” 

Most of the comments upset at the comparison were from women of color, the usual voice of reason. Look, I’m not here to sh-t on anyone’s shine, but there are only three light-skinned Black male politicians that are somewhat well known, and Corey Booker, whom President Biden even accidentally mistook for Obama, rounds out the triad.

It seems disingenuous at best to take a speech that could have been crafted by a ninth grader (sorry, but I’m not) as a sign of the second coming of the almighty Obama. It feels very much like conflating Black excellence with exceptionalism, an upgraded version of telling a Black person they look like another Black person they look nothing like.

Hakeem and Barack and their regal-sounding Black ass names are not interchangeable.

Stop doing that. 

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