By now, most of us are too jaded or frustrated to love Barack Obama the way we might have in 2008. Maybe it was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the continuous concessions in congress, or American involvement in what led to the clusterfuck that is the crisis in Syria. I could name all of these among other things. I could talk to you about my anger with America’s continued neoliberal economic and foreign policies under Obama, American neglect of crises in the Global South and the inadequate efforts the United States has put forward regarding climate change and the environment.
Eight years under Obama was not eight years of realized lefty dreams, handholding, or even a slightly improved outlook on the dire state of the world. I was disappointed. I rolled my eyes and scoffed at my television, computer, or phone. Come on Barack, I thought. Not good enough, I thought. I still think that. I’m older now, and I know I hoped for too much, especially from the presidential office of a country as practiced and entrenched in neoliberalism as the United States.
But to say Obama’s presidency did not profoundly affect me as an American, a black child, a black teenager and now a black woman would be entirely false. Wholeheartedly, and on a good day with a little pride, Obama was my president. Say what you want about the menace that is identity politics and its contribution to the demise of the left (I’m sure you can find nine Atlantic articles from this week that will agree with you): having a president who looked even a little bit like me blew my mind. Knowing so many Americans hated him for what he represented while he survived those eight years made me feel like I could take on the world.
I felt empowered to have a woman like Michelle Obama live in the most significant home on American soil, even though so many people refused to recognize her accomplishments and called her (and still call her) an ape – something I have been called before. My hair stood on end knowing that two young black girls were running around a house that once belonged to people who would have owned them like cattle. I don’t care if you think that matters or not. I’m telling you that it does.
Barack Obama understood the urgency and significance of an album like To Pimp a Butterfly. Barack Obama went to go see Do the Right Thing with his future wife on the Southside of Chicago for their first date. Barack Obama let a little black boy feel his head when the child timidly asked if his president’s hair felt like his own. And I will always remember, during a time when I cried violently for a boy my age I had never met, Barack Obama said his son would have looked like Trayvon Martin.
I shed tears on November 4 in 2008. I shed tears again the morning of November 9 of this past year for a different reason. I will probably shed some more tomorrow.
For eight years, my president was black. For a minute every once in awhile, that means the world.