President Barack Obama is a genius in the way in which he adeptly uses the media to drum home his points to the broadest possible audience without resorting to hyperbole or inducing unproductive “guilt trips.” Ever mindful of any golden opportunity to foster a highly teachable moment, as a presidential candidate he seized such a watershed moment in Philadelphia with his historic “race speech,” daring to navigate the third rail in American politics – race relations in the United States.
With cameras rolling at the ancient Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the American president once again seized a teachable moment, embodying the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
“That looks like me!” the president quipped. “Look at those ears.” Cameras zoomed in to show a hieroglyphic head with prominent protruding ears similar to caricatures of Obama seen increasingly in publications and identified in pop culture with MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Newman. The seemingly light-hearted remark by the youthful president was chalked up by most mainstream reporters as presidential levity, tempered with a bit of earthy humility expressed through self-deprecating humor – personal qualities many voters find appealing and even admire in powerful leaders.
A picture being worth a thousand words, the image Obama pointed to in this instance turns out to be a representation of a god's face on the tomb of Kar, an Egyptian nobleman who served as a priest, scholar, and judge. The camera’s lighting aesthetic, even with a slight shadow, glaringly outlines the image’s prominent Negroid features; the full lips and broad noses phenotypical of Nubians during Egypt’s Dynastic eras. The Kar hieroglyphic bears strong resemblance to Nubian and Negroid phenotypes that populated the fertile Nile Valley in 2,500 BC and suggests the centrality of the African presence from antiquity and lineage to Egyptian modernity.
Mr. Obama only chose to highlight the more sanguine, apolitical physical similarity – the ears. President Obama knows all too well that television images in today's cyber age will have a viral impact via the Internet and an picture indeed is worth a thousand words. [See link to the video “Obama Visits Pyramid” at left.]
Just as race relations have historically been the Achilles heel among American politicians, requiring adroit maneuvering around potentially inflammatory issues, any flirtation with Western historical revisionism could be equally troublesome for America’s first African American president. Right-wing drones like Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and Hannity will no doubt misread Obama’s nuance. As a throwback to pre-inaugural conservative allegations of so called Obamian elitism, they may decipher Obama’s wit as an attempt to identify himself with Egyptian royalty and fail to see the larger picture. We now have a president who is not only capable of making history but whose execution and grasp of big ideas may even aid us by informing history, challenging revisionist fallacies that would deny, distort, and malign the monumental and lasting achievements of people of African descent.