The Death of My Teenage Naïveté

I like President Obama. I really do. I think Michelle is the best First Lady I will ever see in my lifetime and that Sasha and Malia are so blessed to have two great parents in their lives. They are truly the best first family I’ve seen in my life. Nonetheless, my relationship with President Obama is complicated. I remember when I heard about him back in 2006 or so that he was a contender for the most powerful office in the country. I remember following his campaign as he gained more momentum and inspired millions with his slogan “Yes We Can.” I remember the fear that he wouldn’t make it too far because you know…racism. I remember looking at Hillary Clinton and believing how unstoppable she seemed and that white people would never vote for a black man especially one with a middle name Hussein. I remember when he started winning and and how the idea of a black president became more of a reality. I remember when he won and how happy I felt. I felt as if there was nothing that could stop us now with a black president and that things would get better for people like me. Blame my teenage ignorance of the world or politics but I truly believed Obama would bring radical changes to America.

Once Barack Obama became President of the United States I began to understand how our world truly worked. The scales fell from my eyes as I saw the relentless racism directed towards the President from politicians and regular folk. Like many black people I cried foul and acquiesced that he wouldn’t be able to do anything about racial issues under this climate until his second term when he had nothing else to worry about. Little did I know that this mindset would be expected of me always and that I should be grateful to even have a black president. I accepted the blanket policies such as the Affordable Care Act and President Obama’s attempt to dig the country out of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. I just knew that once President Obama was reelected things would change. After all 2012 would be my first time voting in in General Election so things had to change.

It is hard to speak of the Obama years without noting the tragic irony of black people being killed indiscriminately by police officers and vigilantes. Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 is but one example. At the time that these deaths occurred, I was an undergrad and I was busy learning more about institutional racism and imperialism. It was at this point that I realized how the United States is a product of imperialism. I also realized that that meant President Obama was the head of said empire. Let me be clear, I am not like conservatives who call President Obama an emperor as a way to challenge common sense policy changes like gun or healthcare reform, instead I am simply stating that being the President of a country like the US (a country founded on genocide and slavery and maintained through racial subjugation and imperial exploits) President Obama has followed the path laid out for him. By the time I came to this realization I had seen numerous examples of how President Obama interacted with the black community. He fluctuated between being a member of the black community with his statements  following the murder of Trayvon Martin or his eulogy where he started singing “Amazing Grace” at Mother Emmanuel following the Charleston Massacre to moments where he embodies the American state and chastises us like in his Morehouse Graduation speech where he told black people to basically stop blaming the man or his press conference following the protests in Baltimore last year where he called teenagers “thugs.”

Coming of age socially and politically during the Obama era showed me the realities of America. Last year I was furious with President Obama’s handling of the emerging Black Lives Matter movement during his State of The Union Address. Last night as he spoke of America’s imperial might to destroy all who oppose the nation I realized I had come to accept President Obama’s race neutrality. I understood that the imperial rhetoric was just a part of America’s brand and as the figurehead of America President Obama had to embody that power no matter how controversial and ugly it is. I realized that though I agree with President Obama on many of his policies, his silence on racial justice will constantly be a thorn in my side. After last year I realized that there would never be a time when President Obama would forsake respectability and do something to help more our conversation about racial issues along.

Throughout his second term I have complained about his silence and now after his SOTU last night I realize why. Many of his comments didn’t surprise me such as his commitment to help those affected by the heroin epidemic which is largely confined to white suburbs while black inner cities are still pulling themselves up by the bootstraps following the crack epidemic. For these past seven years there was a part of that 16 year old kid who believed that Obama would bring radical change to America that still existed. A part of that naive kid still hoped that President Obama would be bold in the same way he was when he announced normalizing relations with Cuba and finally tackle the institutional racism that makes America function. I have come to realize that Obama will never do this at least never to my liking. Despite the falling unemployment, black unemployment is still high and despite conservatives racist claims that it is because of the welfare state, the truth is there are multiple reasons such as transportation, education, and availability that make it much harder for a black person looking for a job than a white person. I have accepted that I will always like President Obama as a person and respect him for the things he has done and despite my critiques I will miss him as President, yet I have also accepted that he allowed himself to be constrained by his office and therefore only employed race when it was politically acceptable. The truth is it didn’t matter if he talked about race or not, the racist still felt the same way about him.

 

Nevertheless, shout out to Michelle Obama for collecting all the yellow light from ten thousand suns and being the beacon of light in that room!

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