Obama as Pop Culture: Teens Rocking With Omnipresent Baracking

What up, my Obama?

In the hallways of Albany High School, that is the new hello.

If you sneeze, your friends at Albany High might say “Barack you.”

Goofing off in the hallway? “Barack’s in the White House now” means cool it.

Presidents usually don’t earn a blip on the radar of teenage American hipness. But Barack Obama’s rise to the White House is changing the way some young people talk to one another.

Creatively riffing on the unusual name — Baracking — is a natural progression of Obama’s prominence in pop culture.

Along with simple phonetics, the phenomenon is symbolic of young people’s admiration, said Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

“It sounds like they are transferring their positive feelings about the person to new contexts,” she said.

Obama’s place in slang also is a sign that he and his ideas are becoming a part of the daily life of young Americans with a newly developed interest in politics, said Donald Hernandez, Sociology Department chairman at the State University of New York at Albany.

Ocasio Willson, an Albany senior, said Obama has made it cool among young people to be smart again.

He paused to sing a line from Young Jeezy’s My President Is Black and then said it’s not surprising that young people use the president’s name in entirely new contexts.

“It’s a way to express their excitement and their happiness that an African-American is in office,” he said.

Isaiah Williams was in the school’s college center recently when he heard one student trying to persuade another to get something out of his locker. The line of argument to motivate his friend to make the extra effort for class was easy to get: “Barack did it.”

Williams said his senior classmates are drawn to Obama’s triumph over the odds. A group of his friends started dressing differently on Election Day, he said, because of the president.

They switched from baggy clothes to button-down shirts and dress shoes.

“Because he made it as president,” Williams said, “it’s almost as if anything can happen.”

By Scott Waldman
Albany Times Union

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