Barack Hussein Obama. Yes, that was the name of the 44th president. I will never have the adequate words to describe how it felt as a young child to see Obama, a man whose skin was as brown as mine, accept the role of president. Twice! As I watched this man, a public intellectual, a lawyer, a father and a devoted husband, give his closing remarks after eight years of leadership, I could not help but feel the dissonant emotions of both immense gratitude and righteous anger.
Barack Obama, once accused by racist conservatives as being born outside this country, struggled throughout his two-term presidency against the competing influences of justice and assimilation. Under his presidency, the police have become more militarized, the military more excessively funded and so-called race relations arguably at their worst since the 1960s. In an effort to pacify white liberals, conservatives and others determined to ignore the realities of our long history of gentrification, Native genocide, slavery, conversion therapy and forced sterilizations, Obama at times became a black-faced defender of white supremacy.
And still, as Obama gave his final address to the American people in Chicago, I found myself weeping. I wept because I fear I will not again see another face twice-kissed by the sun in the office of presidency within my lifetime. As I ponder the significance of his presidency, I must acknowledge the strides he made. When repeatedly throughout his eight years Obama mentioned the Stonewall Uprising, a days long rebellion against police antagonization led by black and brown trans women, I knew that I and my beautiful partner were included in his flawed, yet bold, vision of America. When Obama sang Amazing Grace at the funerals of the victims of the Emmanuel AME Church, I knew he stood with those of us mourning the deaths of yet more unarmed, innocent Black people. When Obama repeatedly defended the necessity of affordable healthcare, pardoned drug offenders locked in the cycle of mass incarceration and criminalization of black and brown bodies and signed DACA and DAPA into law, I believed we were headed towards a more inclusive, equitable America.
Despite all of his attempts to honor America’s rich diversity and reverse centuries of colonization, I cannot neglect Obama’s complicity in global oppression. I must reckon with his active participation in the Palestinian genocide and the killing of brown people in Syria. I cannot forget how at times he victim-blamed those murdered by the police and did not take substantive action against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I refuse to look at the first black president through rose-colored glasses that depict what I wish would have happened during his presidency. Just like any elected official, we must hold him accountable for his trespasses.
As we enter a new time of justified uncertainty, distrust and resistance, I am thankful for the strides Obama made in the last eight years to make America better. The impact of seeing such a beautiful, strong black family in the highest office of our country cannot be understated. The Obamas have provided an example of excellence, not just for future first families, but also for the American people. Obama’s privilege as a light skinned, highly educated, and well-experienced senator lifted him into the presidency, and still, we must celebrate his accomplishments and denounce the racist accusations he faced throughout his eight years.
Obama may now be a former president, but my critiques of him and my love for him will endure.