(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—For those who haven’t been watching the news lately, Tareq and Michaele Salahi have become the newest group of people to get famous for being famous. The couple, who are wannabe socialites in the D.C. area and erstwhile philanthropists, managed to sneak into the first official state dinner of the Obama White House. They shook hands with the president and first lady in the greeting line, took pictures with Joe Biden and hobnobbed the evening away without any proper identification or tickets to get into the event.
While there were questions at the time as to how they got in, no one went so far as to make them show identification and they got off scott free. In fact, the Secret Service admitted during a congressional hearing that the only way they were sure the two had been at the event was by investigating Michaele Salahi’s Facebook page. Great job by the secret service—so long as Al Qaeda plans to tweet about all of their attacks in advance you’ll definitely keep the president safe.
To make matters worse it appears that the Salahis didn’t make their first attempt at party crashing at the White House State dinner. They started off small, with another group of important Black folk, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Awards dinner several months ago. At the event the Salahis apparently snuck into the event through the busboy entrance then sat down at the $20,000 table after taking pictures with a few notable figures. But their goldilocks adventure ended pretty quickly when the three attendees who actually bought the seats returned and asked that the Salahis be removed. They didn’t deny that they’d snuck in and they sheepishly left without incident.
It’s not surprising that they’ve been involved in various frauds and lawsuits in the past, or that the Salahis are making a push to be on the upcoming “Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.” on Bravo next year. But the problem goes even deeper than that. This is about White privilege and the general lack of respect that all too many Americans have for the presidency. Similar to the “You Lie” comment during Obama’s health care speech and the annoyingly placating “Beer Summit,” these two further demonstrate a general lack of respect for the office of the presidency now that it is inhabited by an African-American man.
Think about this for a second. There’s a reason they tried to sneak into the Congressional Black Caucus event. They figured they’d be one of the few non-Black couples there, and therefore people would just assume they belonged. The truth of the matter is that they assumed a Black event would be easier to crash, and thank god they were proven wrong. The same applies to their crashing of the White House state dinner. They knew the risk of entering a federal event and still in their arrogance figured that they could talk their way out of trouble if they were caught. Or better yet that their sob stories on the talk shows would make it a public relations nightmare for the white house to prosecute them. The Salahis have been on the fringes of Washington power for years and I’m willing to bet that they never dared try a stunt like this during the Bush administration. Tareq and his wife would’ve been smashing rocks in Guantanamo faster than you can say “Patriot Act.”
The most disturbing thing about this whole event though is the soft touch that the administration is taking with the couple and security in general. During the campaign Obama spoke frequently about how many older African-Americans were afraid to vote for him because they feared for his security. This is a situation where a man named Salahi and his White wife managed to sneak into not one, but two events where the president was readily accessible. You don’t have to be engaging in racial profiling to expect that the name Salahi should’ve incurred increased scrutiny, let alone showing up with a tall blonde White woman. The fact that the Congressional Black Caucus managed to sniff these two out and remove them, but the White House Secret Service couldn’t is a disturbing sign. These two need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, not just for their own wrongdoing but to send a message. Obama needs to show that he takes his security as seriously as many of his supporters do, if not the consequences might be a little more dire than just not passing health care.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)