Do you remember November 4, 2008? Of course you do... Its one of those days - at least for people like me - that is etched in stone like September 11th, like the day Bin Laden was killed, like when Michael Jackson and (now) Prince died. And, for the older generation, like Pearl Harbor, like when Kennedy was assassinated, like when Martin and Malcolm were taken from us. You remember exactly what you were doing the moment you found out the impossible actually happened. You may even remember the exact outfit you had on, what you had for dinner that night, but most importantly, you remember your reaction when you found out Barack Obama - a Black Man - would be our next President of these United States of America.
Me? I was fresh out of undergrad in Southeast Texas, living in a city that was - and still is - ripe with racial turmoil, political corruption, and a crumbling economy. For me, a Black President was far more than a symbolic gesture - a sign of the changing times, as people would so conveniently and prematurely point out. The idea of an African American occupying the house that slaves built - that had previously housed slave owners, segregationists, and tyrannical overlords - in something far more than a subordinates role joyed me. But mostly, I saw November 4, 2008 as the day a significant policy shift would take place. For once, a Black Man would be calling the shots, and for once, things would be different.
I remember joining friends in celebration, playing every "black anthem" that I could think of, and coming up with all of the hypothetical change that would come about. Marijuana legalization... check. Barbecues on the lawn with Aretha Franklin playing in the background... check. We even got the occasional song and dance from POTUS. His family is the epitome of what the "Black Family" could and should be, and his marriage gives life goals for every breathing human being. But still, for some reason, 8 years later, I'm still longing for more. I'm still waiting on a Black President.
I understand that as President of the United States, Obama has to be everyone's president. I completely realize that this president in particular has faced a level of adversity that is unlike any other president in our nation's history. I am fully aware that opposition politics have been in play since his landmark victory. This is no superhero movie - sometimes the villains win. Nevertheless, as the first Black President, I walked into this agreement with an expectation that when WE needed him, in times of turmoil, he would be there for US. We thought we elected a savior, a super hero, an activist, and someone who would be different than the 43 white males that came before him. Instead, more often than not, we have been left waiting like a fatherless child on Christmas Day.
He tried once.
Remember the speech he gave regarding Trayvon Martin? "If I had a son, it would look like Trayvon"? He caught hell for that speech, and since then he has been more consumed with fears that he would be accused of "playing the race card" than actually speaking publicly in support of anything "Black". He doesn't hold back when he is amongst US, however. He goes to HBCU's all the time and puts on his Negro Hat, riles up a crowd of US. In mixed company, however, he comes off more as self-muzzled and complicit. He has had many opportunities to step in and advocate for the cause of Black justice. When an overwhelming majority of US were being trampled and gassed by a police force that HE militarized in Ferguson, he stood silent - as he did in the case of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and countless others. He, instead, chose to admonish US, wag his finger, and diffuse our rightfully earned anger. He tells us to trust in "the system", a system that has wronged us long before he became the primary decision maker in the nation and will continue to due so. He has worked harder to buffer progress than to advocate for it. Now, while indigenous people protest to protect their sacred lands, while they are being fired on by water cannons similar to Selma, he - once again - remains silent.
His failings reach far beyond his words. His most detrimental failing may be in his inactivity on key issues that threaten the electoral viability of the very people that delivered him victory in 2008. Since the Shelby County decision in 2013, President Obama has sat idly by, all while states across the nation enacted suppressive voting legislation that threatened the legitimacy of American democracy and likely gave us a Trump Presidency. Not once did he use his bully pulpit to denounce the enactment of such laws, to express the dangers of mass disenfranchisement to the American public and the ramifications of such laws on the 2016 election, nor did he forward a plan for the reworking of the Voting Rights Act that was gutted. He just took it, as if the voting rights of millions meant nothing to him. Substantive change could have come in the Courts... but it didn't. Despite an effort to diversify the federal court system, not once in his three opportunities did he nominate an African American to the Supreme Court - we are still stuck with Clarence Thomas (who hates his gums because they are black) as the lone representative of Black America on the highest court in the land. In virtually every pivotal instance that he could have insert his blackness, he instead elected to eurostep the opportunity and take the layup.
Don't get me wrong, for the past eight years felt refreshing to see someone who looked like me, sounded like me, and gave millions of people like me hope for the future occupying the highest office in the land. And his perseverance should be commended. The problem is, at what point do we come to grips with the reality that we may end up further from the progress that we hoped for under an Obama presidency than we were on November 7, 2008? We needed something more than a caricature of blackness. We wanted more than a cool walk, the occasional shuck and jive, a voice with a soulfully southern twang (I still haven't figured out how a child in Hawaii can develop such a thing), and a Cosby Show-esque picture perfect family. We didn't need someone who simply looked like us. We needed someone who would fight for us, an advocate, and an ally. Unfortunately, I'm still not sold on the idea that we found one in Barack Obama. I remember exactly where I was on November 8, 2008, and boy was I off the mark.