“Why is America so racist? We have had a black president after all.”
Many Americans saw the election and presidency of Barack Obama as a genuine indicator that the American nation had finally shed its history of brutal racism through the rise of one black man to the highest office in the country.
The presidency did signal a cultural shift that Americans of all colors felt.
Whether or not they accepted it, white Americans had a black man as the supreme governmental authority in a nation that has done everything to hold black Americans back.
For Obama, this position of power would necessarily require some compromise in his demeanor and policies.
Obama distinguished himself from other prominent black politicians at the time by presenting himself in a more confident and self-assured way than the typical “noble negroes” (Allen West, Clarence Thomas, etc.) found in the predominantly white space of Washington D.C.
Just from watching him speak, you could tell that Obama was a brilliant man, an excellent speaker and he exuded this aura of a strong and commanding presence.
As the most powerful person in the country and one of the most famous people in the world, it can be said that the Obamas played a crucial role in the formation of the concept of “black excellence.”
This fact did not mean Barrack didn’t have to be careful. Quite the contrary, in fact, as many of the criticisms he faced were thinly veiled racial agitations, which, most of the time, had very little to do with his actual policy.
He may have been the president, but Obama was still a black man and carried those cultural signifiers. Even his name doesn’t sound remotely American.
Many of his political opponents were quite critical of him, even when it was absurd.
Two notably amplified scandals were the “Tan Suit” fiasco and the Birther conspiracy, which claimed that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore unable to be president.
The Birther Conspiracy is also interesting as it is Donald Trump’s public introduction to politics in this generation.
External pressures forced Obama to walk a bit of a tightrope when it came to the level of black identity he revealed to the public and many of his policies.
As a black person in the public eye, Obama lives with the unfortunate responsibility of being somewhat of a representative for black people to white audiences. Thus, they must not do too much to disrupt the status quo.
People could see this strict emphasis on conventionality seen in almost every facet of Obama’s presidency.
Black audiences had their hopes and desires for the Obama presidency. WAs stated before when it came to brass tacks, Obama was very open about his middle-of-the-road policy positions.
In the 2008 presidential debate, he made it clear that he has no issue utilizing our military capabilities to kill Bin Laden.
Despite this, many maintained the bold and progressive characterization of Barack Obama throughout his campaign.
While some of it was his own doing (his campaign did pay lip service to vague platitudes like “Hope” and “Change”), a whole lot of it was projection.
There was an understanding amongst black Americans that there would be some “playing by the rules,” maybe regarding specific economic and foreign policies (which never seem to change).
Still, there was a sense that a black man who fought to break down every obstacle and do what many thought to be impossible would do something to confront this nation’s brutal racism.
Obama has made statements regarding his similarities to the late Trayvon Martin. However, there was no agenda or plan to do something about it outside of this tragedy.
Black Americans’ frustration with Obama’s failures in a racial justice plan is exceedingly valid, especially when considering the 2020 George Floyd protests, which showed the world that Amerikkka has a lot of work to do.
Obama left the presidency on a relatively high note, with a 58% approval rating. Many have viewed his legacy as a president in a much more mixed light over the past few years.
While there is a general idea of the man “not doing enough” in most regards, there is still much to consider when thinking about how much of the moderate nature of his administration was his shortcomings.
For many Black Americans, the post-Obama years have been a real wake-up call and harsh reminder that the status and privilege of Obama’s White House residency did not trickle down to the rest of us.
The discourse continues as to what he and his presidency mean to our community.