BARACK and MICHELLE,
OH, HOW I MISS YOU…
Inspiration! Who can sing thy force/Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Transitions are inevitable occurrences. They take place on large, and small, stages, in humble settings, and global venues. On January 20, 2017, the Obama administration, the most momentous presidency since George Washington’s, ended. Eight years of thoughtful, intelligent, and compassionate leadership joined the annals of American history.
Barack and Michelle Obama brought class, flair, élan, and sophistication to new heights as they navigated the uncharted waters of executive leadership provided by a Black couple. I worked the polls in Oakland, CA as a judge on November 4, 2008. I witnessed Black families, who turned out eager to help make history, happily taking group photos after casting their votes. The city was a peaceful place that night. Young brothers, some on bicycles, gathered in clusters, savoring the sweetness of an electoral victory validating their existence. It was a sight to behold and one I’ll never forget.
A couple weeks later, at my church, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal, Berkeley, many of us younger folks listened, enraptured, and tearful, as a few of our elders talked about what Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency meant. My people, my beloved people, spoke of the indignities they endured and what it meant to survive, thrive, and vote for Barack Obama. Those testimonies continue to resonate with me. We sat in awe of women and men who had known many of us since we were children. They watched us mature into adulthood, kept us in their prayers, and celebrated our achievements. Many of them have since graduated from labor to reward. My mother, who has also transitioned from this life, predicted Obama’s success after hearing his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Among the many memories I hold dear of our time together was attendance at a 2012 rally in Greensboro, on the campus of the University of North Carolina, where Michelle urged us to support Barack. I hold this blessing in my heart. Mama proudly cast her votes for both his terms of office. She believed in Barack, loved and respected both he and Michelle.
During my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the presidential campaigns of the Honorable Shirley Chisolm, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley Braun, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. I heard, over and over again, the collective handwringing and gratuitously doleful declarations about the absence of a Black president. When Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy in 2007, I signed on, yet in conversations with Black friends, I often heard his chances vociferously pooh-poohed, downplayed, ridiculed, or dismissed. I knew plenty of Black folk who aligned themselves with Hillary back in ’08. She was the safer bet, the person most likely, and I had some nerve getting behind a young brotha with big ears and a suspicious-sounding name. No matter, I know what I saw, heard, and understood. I even bargained with myself. I knew he’d be president of the entire USA, and would make decisions I wouldn’t necessarily agree with. I also knew I didn’t want the job, but felt he could, and do it well.
I recall his speech on race. The political reality demanding his public break with Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright hurt me. It wasn’t necessary. No! It was NOT necessary. It was unfairly demanded because Rev. Dr. Wright’s exercise of free speech, as guaranteed by the First amendment to the Constitution of the United States made a lot of white people nervous, and the maimedstream media gleefully stoked the fire, hopeful it would derail the senator’s campaign. I witnessed the struggles of members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Barack or Hillary? The Honorable Stephanie Tubbs-Jones went to meet her Lord and Savior, firmly committed to HRC. Those pitched battles weren’t made-for-television dramas. The media inappropriately dubbed Bill Clinton the first Black president. Why? He sho’ nuff ain’t no brotha!!!
White people can choose to do anything they want. Oh, yes, they can. Black folk, and other people of color find our choices questioned, analyzed, dissected, dissed, denounced, held to a different standard…because we’re not supposed to think for ourselves. And here comes Barack Obama! I always do a slow burn when I hear some white person explaining what I’m thinking and feeling. And for the record, there are some colored people out there who do the same thing. Just so you know – they don’t speak for me, either.
Obama’s election rattled John G. Roberts Junior, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, so badly the man couldn’t properly administer the oath of office! He was not similarly afflicted when carrying out his duties on behalf of His Orangeness. Do I have to draw picture here? No, I don’t. Some wypipo don’t get it cause they don’t wanna. Barack Obama upset a long-standing tradition. The results of the 2016 general election are the best evidence I can offer which unambiguously speak to the damaging impact of ignorance, white power and white privilege in America.
President and Mrs. Obama experienced, and rose above, breathtaking instances of disrespect and racism. None of this would have occurred if they were perceived as dumb blacks or Negroes who got lucky. Sadly, this is the reality we children of the African Diaspora live with. If we demonstrate intellectual heft, we’re threats. When we can’t distinguish our asses from holes in the ground, we’re happy-go-lucky pickaninnies. The Obamas publicly straddled the racial divide of this country with sensitivity, sanguinity, and grace, while remaining unapologetically Black.
Michelle Obama overcame the media-inspired angry black woman definition to champion causes worthy of universal support. Why, I wonder, are Black women lumped into one demeaning, demonizing, and organically unappealing category? Angry white people only get recognition in election years and then, bam! Every other article published these days is about them and the reasons why they vote the way they do. Racism never seems to qualify as an explanation, but I digress…
Barack and Michelle made me proud…there’s nothing phony about them. They aren’t given to pretentiousness, condescension, or snobbery. They are beautiful people, an amazing power couple who shattered myths and overcame obstacles by being true to themselves. I am ashamed of the way they were treated by Republicans, and some Democrats, in the US House of Representatives and Senate. Oh, and let’s not forget former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her fear of the black man shtick which was amazingly, but unsurprisingly disingenuous and disgusting. The refusal of these legislators to work with President Obama has hurt the nation, not the man.
For eight years, I basked in the sunshine of a president and first lady who look like me. As much as I love Barack, I could never get enough of Michelle. I am partial to beautiful, intelligent, articulate, Black women. I’m grateful for their time in the White House. I’m thankful for the impact they have had, and will continue to have, on a generation of children who have grown up with an Ebony-hued man, his wife, and their daughters as our nation’s first family.
All good things must come to an end. I never did prepare myself for their departure. Oh, how they are missed, yearned for, even. Thank you, Barack, for your leadership. Thank you, Michelle, for your courage and the elegance with which you comported yourself. Thank you for caring. Thank you for redefining the established norms of what it means to be beautiful. You do it so well. Thank you for your sartorial genius. Thank you for every one of your timely speeches. You know how to hit home runs and make them appear effortless. Together you took the world stage and made it your own. You captivated, charmed, encouraged, and inspired us. You challenged us. You made a positive difference. When all is said and done, you gave us hope, modeled faith, fidelity, friendship, love, inclusion, and you did it with grace. You proved, once again, Black is beautiful.
Author’s Note: This entry was originally intended for posting prior to January 20, 2017. I couldn’t get my act together to do the editing and proofreading. I was heartsick, disgusted, and completely turned off by the election results. I couldn’t say goodbye. The Universe, however, does its own thing, bringing efforts to fruition in God’s time. And so it is – I’m having my say!!!
©March 29, 2016 by Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes. All rights reserved.