When Barack Obama was elected as President, I thought he was the second coming of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Obama was inaugurated, I remember my aunts and uncles acting as if America surrendered itself to a black revolutionary.
I saw the best of blackness in him — a superhero who was empathetic and grounded enough to organize but was cool enough to have cookouts on The White House lawn with Frankie Beverly and Maze playing in the background.
I thought he would be a brother in the White House, but when he got into office, he seemed less like family. Though he promised to have an Open Door policy, after he got into the White House he made sure to lock the door behind him.
At first, I thought he was just waiting for the right moment to institute “change,” but slowly the genuine hope I had for a radical Obama translated into the hope that you have when you want to believe someone missed your calls instead of just being “busy.”
The wake up call was when he told Black Enterprise Magazine: “I am not president of black America. I am president of all of America,” which sounded like a shorthand way of saying: “I will not address racism.”
Though this was disappointing, I understood he was doing his job. The problem arose for me when he wanted to criticize black people, while distancing himself from the black community.
“For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up in respect,” Obama said when speaking to a group of students at Chicago’s Hyde Park Academy in February 2013. “And so that means that this is not just a gun issue; it’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building. When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.”
To tell or even insist that the black community needs to improve their lifestyle in order to defeat gun violence while ignoring the material conditions that feed chronic drug use, gun violence and fatherlessness in poor communities is unproductive. While, he’s right that gun violence isn’t just a gun issue, the fact that he blames black men’s lack of decency and responsibility as a way to curb gun violence strikes me as victim-blaming.
In a way, Obama’s bamboozling of more optimistic black people, including myself, was our own fault. The reveal of Obama as less than radical shouldn’t have been a surprise. To believe being black gave him the superpower to redeem America of 400 years of history was naive.
I’m not bitter about Obama’s presidency per se, but it has left me wondering what it will take to garner enthusiasm to fight and solve racial inequality if not even a black president will empathize with Black America’s plight.