Flotus, Michelle Obama, 2016
2016 was a bad year, for many reasons. Most of us are happy it’s coming to an end, and while the new year signals a fresh start, I can’t help feel dread. Aleppo is still a big failure on the conscience of humanity. The Dakota Access Pipeline and the Flint Water Crisis are wounds with the potential to flare up again,because they haven’t properly healed. And then there’s the election of Donald Trump, a visible showcase of the ways in which white supremacy defends itself. Whiteness is now a self-sustaining beast–not unlike the Krellian Beast–and is defended not just by the whites it benefits, but by nonwhites who seek favors from it.
In the wake of America, its media, and the world’s normalization of Trump, dismissal of his racism, misogyny and lies, and the media wrestling with “false news,” as well as journalists seeking relevance in an era of information clutter, I want to look at Barack Obama’s presidency.
As President Obama’s hopes and dreams fade into the obscure, giving away to an apocalyptic nightmare, I write this last article–a bittersweet goodbye to the Obamas, and what I have called, the end of class and decency.
So, what does Barack Obama’s presidency mean in the larger context of white supremacy? Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article in The Atlantic–My President Was Black–shows in careful details, the frustration of trying to appeal to the goodness of white people. Obama’s presidency was a break in a consecutive line of 43 white male presidents. It was also not the true face of America. Instead, it was the ghost of America’s future, visiting a miserly nation steeped in racism and bitterness, and showing them an ideal–hope–a vision of America’s better future, of what it could be.
The Obamas circa 2008
This vision was so terrifying to white America, which saw, not a multicultural utopia filled with true equality, but the end of white supremacy, and that was enough for them to elect Trump–a know-nothing, arrogant, misogynistic and racist narcissist. A character who promised to put racial and religious minorities back in their place, and who promised to reaffirm white supremacy in its stronghold–the White House and international politics.
The Obamas were held to the standard of “respectability politics.” Their opinion muted by the office they held (not expected for whites political types), they are soon free to speak their minds. And Lady O has begun to do exactly that. In her recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, Michelle commented, quite pointedly, on the slap in the face of Trump’s election, calling it the end of hope.
“And Barack didn’t talk about hope because he thought it was a nice slogan to get votes. He and I and so many believe ‘what else do you have if you don’t have hope? What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?’”
That President Obama–a man raised by whites–felt he understood the souls of whites is one of the sad conundrums of his existence. He’s propped up by whites, but also despised and rejected by whites. He represented the ideal black, but perhaps also, the end of whiteness as the default of normalcy.
Coates writes that “In short, he [Obama] became a symbol of black people’s everyday, extraordinary Americanness.”
Obama was free of the political and personal scandals of his predecessors–the way whites preferred it; after all, it was Senate minority leader, Harry Reid who noted Obama’s absence of “black traits.” Only a handful of times had Obama showed his “political blackness”– he commented that the late Trayvon Martin could’ve been his son, and commented on Henry Louis Gates’s squabble with a police officer who arrested him in his home. Both times, his critics slammed him as ‘race-baiting” and all over the web there are forums wherein whites post that Obama is a racist or race-baiting president.
For Obama, and Michelle for that matter, they could not afford to show anything other than superficial affinity for “blacks,” lest they be accused of siding with blacks or being racist. The Obamas’ relationship with blacks was reduced to a superficial affinity to the Hip-Hop community and basketball players. Employment and other social issues, even when attempted, were simply too much for many of his critics who decried them. The hatred of Obamacare, being an example.
Obama in recent weeks have given interviews. To NPR:
Racism. We are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.
His critics–who didn’t vote for him–likes to remind the masses that America is post-racial in the aftermath of Obama’s election, and in the face of evidence to the contrary. They fail to point out the rise of hate groups and hate crimes. It was as if Obama’s presidency gave whites permission to be openly racist. They responded against the accusation of racism by pointing out that whites voted for him twice.
The Obamas were holding back, however, as was expected–they couldn’t be honest about racism, as they existed at the behest of whites, who controlled their political future. Now that his presidency is ending, what remains of hope is the shadow of it, a mirage built on the back of white supremacy. A lie that racism in America is dead–that America is post-racial. That equality is in embedded in the system, which has purged itself of racism, when it helped to elect Barack Obama to the presidency.