How Obama Became An Identity We Dare Anyone To Pry From Our Hands
Obama’s presidency was like a long summer road trip in a throwback drop top, packed with a gang of only your most progressive and thoughtful friends.
July 10, 2020 at 2:27 pm
We all thought that it would last forever. Not the Obama administration, per se, but at least the feeling that our country had successfully reached the tipping point towards a new dawn, towards social justice, and with a strong hope that real justice would soon follow.
For the entirety of the Obama administration, I had been in serious denial. You see, the former POTUS and I shared a ton of similar qualities: both are Leos, started community organizing in our 20s, grew up without our fathers, have embarrassingly goofy humor and wrestled with that shared belief that even though this so-called America has never and, for the foreseeable future, will never accept us, that yes — we can change it. We can change the hearts and minds of a people who protect their privilege through our genocide. And suddenly, that big-eared kid from KenyaWaiiCago began to seem a lot like me.
I have spent the previous eight years both hating and avoiding the significance that his existence held for me — he, together with his gold-drenched and fairy-dusted wife and their two daughters, who have too much Black girl magic, swag and side-eye for the average person. The Obamas were much more than America deserved, exactly what the negro lost in America needed and completely unreal altogether.
Secretly, I hoped that Obama would be a tear in time, a rupture in the space-time continuum that could transfer Blacks and all those oppressed from this failed dimension to another. Not as a savior, but as a catalyst that would culminate in reparations in the form of jobs, urban development, educational justice, criminal justice, economic justice, social justice, legal justice and, at long last, equality. We hedged our bets on him and clung to his lapels, watching with a critical eye, baited breath, and an amen resting in our throats should he need to be affirmed during any of his tense, poignant speeches. We were anxious to see if our nation’s first Black president could carry the weight of all of us and deliver us to the future, hoping that he could do for us in one job and eight years what the previous 400 had denied us.
Could he make us us again?
For many of us Black-minded and magical, Obama’s presidency was like a long summer road trip in a throwback drop top, packed with a gang of only your most progressive and thoughtful friends — friends who you could get ratchet with when the beat dropped, and throw the best shade and side-eye about the events in each other’s lives. Heads of spiraled curls and wooly locks bob to a playlist curated by the friend who secretly wants to be a DJ — it has more Beyoncé than not. And along the journey, the deepest laughs are lifted from your bellies and into the air, secrets are shared that bring you closer to your fellow sojourners and pacts are made over gas station burritos. We refueled together when we were empty, and never ejected anyone, even though it was uncomfortable when elbows and knees pressed up against backs, when the cramped space made it too difficult to get rest, or when conversation was brought to a halt when we could not agree. We knew that the car could carry us all to our destination, and that we would stretch out there when we were free.
I felt like he was just getting started, just catching his stride, even despite the deep furrows that now crack Obama’s Black and the white sprouts from his scalp that seem premature. And too soon before we were able to memorialize him, we were jarred out of one reality into a more daunting, but all too familiar one.
As a people, we lost more than the election: we lost hope. But the hope that feels lost is one that Black folks never had the privilege to enjoy prior to Barack, and that is unlikely to reappear in presidential form in the foreseeable future.
And we lost sight of the fight, squabbling over loose lips, lax morality and minutia. We excused behavior from our side because the other was much worse. We measured ourselves against evil, and by that metric, everything we did could be justified; so we evaded accountability. We spoke too loudly over truth, and by accident, we silenced it. We didn’t think we could triumph with good so we sidestepped faith for expediency. We demanded the win without making the sacrifice to evolve.
Whites thought they were in the clear and no longer accountable for past oppressions; liberal whites wanted to speed up post-racialism to the point where they could forget race without bothering to learn what it means, while simultaneously trying to Columbus the movement for justice.
Too afraid to lose our footing, and too unbelieving in our progress, we collectively nestled our faith in the status quo. And we lost.
The duel for the White House became a race towards homeostasis: which side could rustle as few white feathers as possible and procure their votes with a promise of the impossible in order to maintain control of the status quo. A fight that, no matter the outcome, would continue to protect white supremacy over Obama’s legacy without any substantial affect beyond achieving a first woman president. No one to the Left could replace this generation’s most effective president, and the Right had no viable option either; so we, the people, went rogue.
Whether drunk on a fear that drove us to be with her, or dedicated to a bigotry so vile that would cast our ballot for us, or apathetic towards a system that no longer convinced us of a better future for the nearly 100 million of us who abandoned the box, we went rogue. On November 8, 2016, the realization that we are not who we thought ourselves to be underneath the nation’s creed and between the empty spaces in the constitution pushed us over the edge.
Fear brought us here — was the god to whom we sacrificed hope in exchange for the illusion of certainty and safety. Everyone voted against his or her own self-interest because it became about winning and losing, whose cause was more important and dodging the simple apolitical question, Do Black lives matter? We deluded ourselves and waited for the pantsuit and the comb-over to agree with us long enough to earn our ballots, to siphon our voices. If we told the truth, few of us were truly inspired; rather the people were galvanized by our year-long affair with fear and compelled towards one way or the other. This subsequent slow release of our capacity to hope will help The Donald dismantle and attempt to erase Obama’s legacy.
Rightly, we have returned to each other asking how did we get here. Nobody was supposed to be here. It’s like Hansel and Gretel left giant bits of racism and bigotry trailing back to 1619, and Trump supporters found this trail and followed it back to that time.
But bigotry is neither a tear in time that could transport us backwards.
The critical question that we must ask is, where do we go from fear when it has been our eternal here?
- We know who we are now, and what we are together — for worse or worst.
- We recognize that power outside of our collective body is not power at all.
If we are wise, we would see that we, the people, are the rupture in the continuum — the tear in time.
Obama was the mirror, not of our current selves, but of our higher possible identity. He was not able to rupture the continuum — that was not his role. Instead, he represented the future along the same timeline. A prophecy for when America has fully reckoned with her demons.
Barack Obama was never here, but there, and the distance to that future is ours to decide.
And yet, he was ours. He became We — an idea of a people that we now grip so tightly, almost daring anyone to pry that identity from our hands.
We understand that we can become the future and pull those who insist on living the past with us. We can relinquish fear and regain faith through action. We, the people, can use our collective hands to grab time and space firmly, and rip it; and through that portal of justice and liberation, may we lead each other to a new dimension of hope, love and truth.