Are Black Washingtonians Pimping Out Mr President

January 13, 2024
3 mins read


By Ference (co-host of’s The Jone Dome)

Monday, January 19, 2009.

There I was, on the Washington DC Metro train listening to T.I.’s new hit album Paperchaser, a lyric from the song Live Your Life (feat Rihanna), kept resounding in my head – “So live your life, instead of chasing the paper. . . .”

Boiled down for the hip-hop anemic, it means to enjoy the moment of the experience instead of relentlessly pursuing the all mighty dollar.   I can’t believe that I am saying this and I may need to wash my mouth out with soap, but Washingtonians need to heed T.I.’s advice – well at least insofar as it relates to the over-commercialization of the 2009 inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama.

I can do without the lame roller-skating dance-offs and being arrested for allegedly trying to buy machine guns.  Wait, I forgot that this is D.C. and the rest of the country has decided that we can’t regulate guns in our own city.  Well . . . still no roller-skating dance-offs.

The city I’ve known for 30 years has transformed from a black professional, political, academic, and bourgeoisie Mecca into a shady P.T. Barnum type Flea market, where my cousin Jamaal can sell me 10 shirts with the image of Obama wearing those whack Kanye-esque sunglasses at $5 dollars a piece.  Whether coming up the escalators at Metro Center or drinking at happy hour at Tabaq on U street, I know somewhere along the way I will be accosted by Mr. Wendel or a pimp named Slickback trying to sell me a new incarnation of Obama swag.

T-shirts, buttons, beer cozies, or a deck of playing cards with bastardized images of Obama, it seems like everyone is “chasing the paper”  at this inauguration.  In fact, if the Governor of Illinois really wanted to sell Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat, he should have set up a stand next to the hot dog vendors a couple of blocks from the White House.  He could have moved that Obama product in less than a week, legitimately.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Well, last month I went into Macy’s,  in  a downtown D.C. location to purchase holiday gift cards for my office.  There was an old man at the register with horn-rimmed glasses, graying hair and a toothpick resting in the corner of his mouth.  After ringing up my purchases, Huggy Bear grinned and gestured for me to lean in towards him.  He lowered his voice to a whisper and said: “My wife’s got Obama shirts, five for $10.  Let me write down her information for you.”

Hey, I am all for a good deal and figured I could use them to barter for a taxi cab ride entry into the club.  So, I took her information.  But, when I can’t even shop at Macy’s without the being sold on Obamadise (trademark the Jone Dome), we’ve got problems.

I can’t even escape it in the sanctity of my own home. Whether it is the barrage of daily emails from political circles asking me to purchase $400 tickets for their inaugural balls;  flipping open my recent Black Enterprise magazine to see how the owner of Barackawear has been named a top entrepreneur from last year, or the onslaught of Facebook friends indirectly vying for a spot on the hide-a-bed in my living room.

It seems like everyone has become a paperchaser selling experiences to the greatest show on earth!

Heck, even my sister, who had been out of the country for most of the past four years, flew back from Africa and put her apartment up on Craigslist at $1,000 per night!

By and large, the D.C. area is made up of a skewed demographic of over-achieving, over-educated, over-analytical, and self-important Americans, but quite frankly, ever since Obama won, many of us have lost our damn minds.  We have acted like more like Kid and Play in House Party, or Tom Cruise in Risky Business, determined to take full monetary advantage of the moment by any means necessary.  And what is more, we do it unabashedly, and hide our exploitative greed in the guise of pride that America is electing its first black president.

If anyone ever challenges our greed, then they are racist or somehow don’t understand the gravity of this historic moment.  However you decide to excuse your pimping out of Obama on this great day, the fact remains that with every Obama commerative coin, umbrella, or poncho, the experience is cheapened. 

This time we cannot blame big business or special interests; we have ushered in this flea market cartoon all on our own.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Obama fan, and unlike most people reading this, I actually traveled to several toss-up states and campaigned on his behalf.  I drank the Kool-Aid and it was delicious and nutritious.  But enough is enough.

I just hope when my children read about this inauguration in their history books that there is a picture of a huge sign that reads, “Barackawear: Three shirts for $20.00.”  That way we can make sure that we are keeping it real – real exploitative.

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