Updated: Aug 11, 2020
In 7th grade, I posed for a picture with a bunch of my middle school peers holding up a sign that read "VOTE OBAMA! We can change the world!" We all wore blue and hailed from multiple ethnic backgrounds. We stood awkwardly and some of our eyes weren't totally open, but we all had big bright smiles on our faces because even though none of us were politically inclined at the time, we had the sense that your winning that 2008 election meant that our world was changing. For me it meant that my young brown face would begin to be counted differently. The picture was taken outside of our little liberal school in Jersey City by my mother who was ecstatic that we finally had a real possibility of seeing a Black man in office. But it was more than that for her: she would be able to experience one term of a president who looked like her two sons, her absent father, her husband, and all of the other Black men in her life whom she loved unconditionally. You had already joined those ranks, although she would never be able to meet you. My mother refused to listen to any criticism we'd gently swing your way, rejecting it as blasphemy. She'd sprint to take a picture of the television if you were on it and then hold her phone screen affectionately to her chest. She'd stop at every card board cut out of you and hug it like it were a real person. Shielding you from conservative falsehoods and liberal disappointment, she tirelessly defended your honor on Facebook. So many could not hold you accountable for your missteps over these past 8 years because you weren't just the first Black president of the United States, but a sort of demigod to a community that has yet to feel relief from oppression. In some way, you provided relief. I won't take this time to criticize you because I know my mom would be heated if she were to see it, but instead I'll say something that I think she may say to conclude this letter. You are still an inspiration to all and haters need bite their tongues because you shine even when you're dull. Even though you led it in moderation, I'll miss having a Black man as the leader of the free world.
To Obama With Love
Thank you for being the best leader we could've had
You weren't perfect like a savior but supportive like a dad
Like when you told us we could marry anyone we choose
Like welcome immigrants who had everything to lose
Like second chances from a prison system built to enslave
Like second chances from illness - thank God for Medicaid
Like don't ask don't tell to
Here comes the bride
Like healthier children
Eyes bright, books open wide
Like a chance for education
Access to a grant
Like equal pay for women
Who don’t believe “you can’t”
Like Negroes in the White House
Hear the ancestors rejoice
Like little brown boys in the oval office
Like Howard has a voice
Like when they go low, and they did go
We have to rise above
And though this isn’t goodbye,
It's to Barack, with love
Dear President Obama,
As I regrettably watched the transition of power in our highest executive office this past Friday and as your DM continues to fill with condemnations of your terrifying successor, I thought to thank you for the time you shared with me as my Black president.
In your farewell address, you emphasized the need for an intersectional fight against oppression: “For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – not only the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy, who from the outside may seem like he’s got advantages but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change. We have to pay attention and listen.” I can’t get behind being sensitive to the “middle-aged white guy” whose intolerance of other cultures does not call for my sympathy in his upending world, but the recognition of the importance of understanding other marginalized groups was necessary for a system in change. Your presidency was drizzled with anti-racist and liberal activism, but I had yet to be wooed by your attack of traditionalist (racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.) ideology that is the main culprit of division in the United States. Still this was your most impressive and genuine showing yet. I felt that I was finally meeting some of the real Barack who has had to hold his tongue from uttering, "Black Lives Matter," as he watched young Black men and women die at the hands of the bureaucracy he leads. The Black politician’s volition is limited and as the President of all people, you made many ethical sacrifices, but I can still be proud that you succeeded in attaining the highest honor bestowed on an American.
Becoming the president of this country was all you had to accomplish to dent the disillusionment that faces so many Black people in a society that has never failed to embrace its white supremacy. Your overwhelming intelligence and grace (2 times the grace and intelligence of your predecessors and exponentially more than your successor) in office and a family that was able to support and bear the burden of being the first First Family subjected to the racism and intolerance of a stagnant America has reverberated throughout your community and has inspired us to claim our justice by any means again. Your symbol alone has taught me that Black is not a sentence, but a beautiful and unique journey of challenge and perseverance, a journey that doesn’t end once you’ve attained power and status, but one that becomes a constant struggle to retain it. Who would’ve thought that a president of the United States, the most well-known face and position in the US, could be racially profiled in this country? I didn’t expect it, but then you had to display your birth certificate to racists who saw a picture of you in the motherland and who unfoundedly and ignorantly accused you of being a fraud (because if you're not white in the land that belongs to brown people, you're not American). The "whitelash" to your existence in high office is proof that we have much more work ahead of us, but in your absence you leave hope. I trust that you will not disappear and that your voice will continue to symbolize this story. Thank you for being you and delivering the silent call for Black activists everywhere.
It was dope,
Dear Mr. Obama,
I remember first seeing you I was 11 years old watching you on TV with my mother. I was too young to understand your policies, the big words you used, or how monumental this moment was. What I did understand was that you had a wife that was brown like me. I understood that you had a daughter the same height as me, and I understood that you meant something to the adults around me. I remember my school had a mock election to help us learn about presidential elections and I remember being very proud to cast my vote for you. I even filmed it on my video camera. I remember when you won and all the adults around me cried. I remember just feeling proud and excited to see a brown body in the White House. I remember standing in the cold in January at your second inauguration with tears in my eyes because I finally understood. I felt the joy my mother felt watching you the first time when I got to see you swear in live. I'll remember this presidency well and now I'm old enough to read what you've accomplished in the paper. I'm able to form my own opinions and understand those big words you used all those years ago. I don't like to remember that you allowed mass deportations, called for constant drone strikes displacing families and hurting the innocent, and permitted big oil companies to drill where they please. But I also remember pictures of little black boys staring at you in awe and of you hugging little black girls. I will still hold you accountable as an adult, but I will never not look at you with the awe I had as child.
A Thank You Letter to My President:
You were elected when I was attending a predominantly white, private Catholic school in California. I remember that day at school we had a mock election between John McCain and you, and by a landslide John McCain crushed you. In the eyes of those privileged students, who had only their parents for political insight, you were going to destroy our nation. They called you every name in the book at my school, from nigger to slave to never-will-have-a-chance. They couldn’t say it to you, so they said it to me because I was the only Black person they knew, an Ambassador of Blackness. I asked one classmate one day ,”Why are you so racist?” and his only reply before getting picked up by his mother was a laugh and ,”If you think I’m racist you should meet my father.” Despite the verbal abuse and passive aggressive exclusion, I never stopped believing in you. Imagine a meek 6th grader with no political knowledge, watching your debates, googling your background, and finding every way I could to stand up for you in front of my white and condescending peers. And I wish it were just my peers...my teachers, my coaches, and even the priest; everyone around me seemed to have a personal vendetta against you, Mr. Obama, as if you stole something from them, by simply being you. And even though I couldn’t articulate myself as I do now, I knew it was because you are Black. Not only Black, you were so unafraid, and so sure of your strength...our strength. As if your Blackness, was so unforgivable they couldn’t believe you would ever even stand in front of a podium, ever be on TV, ever try to call yourself the President of the United States. They shouted into the void within themselves,” Who gave this guy a mic?!” and then mildly say in front of others ,”You know, he’s unqualified. America isn’t ready for a Black President. He won’t be ready to be our President. They should wait a couple more years and then try again with another candidate.” But I never stop believing in you. And it wasn’t just that my parents supported you. My mother was a Hillary Clinton supporter and told me ,” I just feel like it’s time. Don’t you want a woman president?”. Of course now I could drone on and on about the politics between womanhood and race, but I was only in 6th grade then. After short consideration I could only reply “No, I want Barack Obama.” My father a proud Independent and slight Conservative, constantly debated your ideas from the couch. He cut you no slack, and I very rarely remember him ever praising you in front of me. Of course when I was older I discovered that for your election he changed his party to vote for you, and even donated to your campaign. And politics were discussed frequently in my home because when you are Black, everything about your life is political, but I was still raised in a Catholic/Baptist home of a very strict Chief of Police. I didn’t understand when you were talking about welfare, and talking about Iraq, or the 2008 Financial Crisis, but I will tell you this, my President: I understood “Yes We Can.” I understood that there was a chance that everything that “just is” could be changed and changed for the better. And I didn’t understand the magnitude of everything that you were facing, that we were facing as a country, but to me you were the man for the job. I understood that if you became president, anything was possible.
Regardless of everything that was going on that night in my life, I will remember being downstairs with my mother in 2008 that night as you and your family walked out on stage accepting your victory in all your black glory. To say I was just happy would be an understatement. There was so much empowerment in me from just seeing you smile so unapologetic about who you were to your walk, to your mannerisms, to your wife and kids, I couldn’t take it. I told my mom I have to go outside. I ran out the front door, in my pajamas and slippers and shouted every type of Hallelujah imaginable. Imagine that, a little black girl running outside just to shout and run around in her little neighborhood, with no fear or care that anyone was watching. How could I be afraid? There was a man in office that loved his blackness and loved mine too.
I remembered your love of self when graduating from that private school from hell and when I begged my parents to let me go to public high-school and when Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin were murdered and when I became President of my African American Student Union and when I organized my first protest and when I graduated and left California to attend Howard University. In everything that I did, it seemed like you were there fighting along with me. I remembered you throughout these 8 years and I cherish everything that you were to me. And although I didn’t agree with all your decisions, you inspired me to be a part of the solution to our nation. I study Political Science, and though I do not want to be president, I know it’s possible for someone like me to make a difference. Thank you my President. Take it Easy.
Taylor Rainey, 19