As the current President continues his assault on the definition of what it is to be an American, the man who held the same seat some nine days ago is nowhere to be found. Understandably so. For eight years, there was an endless campaign–lead by some the very people who sit in the White House today–to undermine and delegitimize the first African American President of the United States. Objectively, this is politics as usual. The losing side attempts to rebuild momentum and use it’s resources to try and push the narrative in their favor for the next time. This is, of course, is an often ugly endeavor, but a necessary evil.
Millions of words of editorial have been written about Barack Obama and his relationship to race over the duration of his presidency. And many more will be written in hindsight. He was by most measures, perfectly positioned and prepared to be our 44th. He was described as a calm, measured and considered professorial type. So much so as to render him boring at times. But what he had that all of the white men who proceeded him did not, was that he was very black. He was also half white, but he embraced that fact just the same. Though his adversaries either used that bit of his genetics against him, or chose to ignore it when convenient. It was however his first generation African blood that caused equal amounts pause, caution and fear, as jubilation, joy and hope. About Obama, the country was essentially split right down the middle.
He triumphed in 2008 and 2012 on the back of an ambitious economic recovery program, a progressive stance on human rights globally and at home, as well as a promise to tackle healthcare reform. Too, he inherited two wars that, despite his efforts (or lack of in many respects) still continue today. There was a lot to love about Obama, as well as much to criticize. Though for black Americans he will endure as the pinnacle of excellence by any measure, but of black excellence especially.
For many black folks in America, Obama was heaven on earth. We tend to hold all of our sons in that light. Even for the most cynical, he represented a realization of a concept that had for decades been a running joke. But here he was, like Jesus risen, in the flesh. Obama as a candidate and as a newly elected President, was a symbol for many, not just blacks, that the United States was living up to it’s own ideals for once. His mere presences was turning point in a four hundred year history. The importance of this cannot be understated. But as much as Obama was a symbol of life and light, he was a signal that an America that was predicated entirely on the pacification of white, male-driven supremacy, was entering it’s last days. The term post-racial was coined by self congratulatory white liberals, and adopted by so-called progressives of all stripes, to illustrate that by merely allowing a black man to take the highest office in the land was a nullification, or reparation enough for all past indiscretions. This of course was a farce of the highest order, but many people found it an adequate enough excuse to retreat into complacency. So-called forward thinking blacks included.
But for blacks in America, skepticism of The System is built into our DNA. While Barack Obama was a welcome visual change for most, the honeymoon did not last very long, as it became very apparent that Barack Obama, the first black President, was going to keep his promise of being the president of all people, and was not going prioritize the very pressing and dire issues that affect the black community disproportionately. He was not, in effect, going to be an activist president outright, though his critics were very swift to characterize him as one.
There were, of course, more pressing issues like the economy. But the economics of being black in America had remained stagnant if steadily declining for decades. Especially for poor blacks. But the president could not be bothered by this specific issue, as to not alienate the rest of America. This of course, was a very idealistic idea of what America actually was. The reality was that his very existence had alienated half of the country and Obama became a chess piece in an increasingly violent culture war around what it meant to be a Real American.
On the other side of the battlefield, there was a very motivated and well funded effort to re-instill traditional values and religious freedoms in an increasingly secular America going to hell. This was however just code speak for racism against people who aren’t white. America and her economy had in fact been built by slave labor, so for black people, this was quite obvious, if not simply understood protocol. Under Obama’s watch, police brutality against black people, and specifically, the murders or suspicious deaths of unarmed or detained black people seemed to be getting out of hand. This of course, was not a new thing for the people in those communities, but for a time it seemed to be getting the news coverage it deserved. Time and time again, however, the officers who were responsible for the deaths of dozens of unarmed black men, women and children, were hardly ever convicted of crimes that were often caught on video tape in full. Too, there was a particularly aggressive and racist and misogynistic movement on the internet, anonymously fanning the flames of this culturally divided America.
In the middle of all of this was Barack Hussein Obama. A man who was very happy to celebrate his racial makeup when it was in an effort to illustrate the power of racial harmony and universal togetherness. But when it came to political and criminal issues, he was remiss. Even when he would invoke himself as black, speaking only for himself, when these issues would boil over, it was interpreted as his taking a position on an issue for the blacks in America as a whole. This, on one hand, was what black people wanted and desperately need– an advocate in power. But for many whites and whites in power, this was tantamount to treason. Literally. This, too, cannot be understated.
Plainly: the divide along black and white lines is America. But America is also it’s pursuit to better itself. And for some, the way to go about that is subjective. It is also worth stating however, that though it may seem that the cultural lines are defined by race, religion or whatever, the real story always rests on the question who among us are the most at risk to lose these battles. Those in power are quick to use those who are the most economically disadvantaged as messengers because of one reason: numbers. The reality is that that the people in power, the true minority, have the most to lose.
Again, for blacks in America, this is a matter daily life. But for many, especially for those who benefit from this relationship, the sheer size and scope of this ugliness is too much to bare, and it breeds apathy. For those who are victims of this reality, apathy manifests itself in other, more destructive and self-destructive ways. Blackness in America, and the resulting culture was, born wholly out of this ugliness, and we are still trying to come out from under it. Being acutely aware of this, we saw Barack Obama, not so much as the answer, but a sign that change was truly coming. That fact, indeed, was a monumental understatement.
The ugliness that lied dormant in America found their champion in the 45th president. As if Barack Obama was an apparition of an American ideal. The current president and his administration have all but neutered the political process and diplomacy, and are systematically dismantling the delicate fabric of American culture. For no other reason than, it would seem, to exercise complete and total power over others with absolutely no regard for humans or humanity at large. This reality is unquestionably fueled by racism. It is this way of thinking that has given way to some of the most atrocious and horrific periods in human history. This fact is not only acutely present in the lives of people of color, but for blacks, and now immigrants especially. Emboldened policies that, for example, enable police to go uncharged after murdering a child, is a stark reminder of the true breadth of the America we live in.
For this particular school of thought subscribed to by our current administration, America was not built for immigrants, indigenous peoples and the children of freed slaves, it was built on top them and their ancestors. And now it’s time to close the door. For what? To preserve a false sense of superiority rooted in the fallacy of race?
I had always thought that no matter Barack Obama’s political accomplishments, his true legacy would be as the president who’s very existence was a mirror. He reflected back to some of us the best we could be. For black children in particular who, until two weeks ago, didn’t know a world without a black president. But for others, his existence meant certain death. And that, my friends, is real.
What’s also real, is that for black people, despite whatever comfort Barack Obama, the president of all people, may provide, history has taught us only one thing about our leaders.