It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter, to you, Barack Hussein Obama, the man who, even now, means so much to so many people.
I miss you.
We miss you.
From 2008 to 2016, you served as our 44th President. And you did it with a tremendous amount of humility, dignity and grace. But, in 2017, many of us Black Americans were scratching our heads, asking one burning question: What did we gain from you being the first, Black President?
We got Donald Trump.
Donald being elected President last year was a glaring reminder that there is a segment of the American populace that never saw the content of your character because they couldn’t get past the color of your skin. They thought your being The Leader of the Free World was an aberration, made possible only because both John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were perceived as flawed, Republican candidates. But they were wrong. You were elected President twice, as a Democrat, because, even though you would readily admit that you possess flaws as well, you represented the hopefulness we Americans needed at the time to begin a dialogue, one that would ultimately lead to a better understanding of how our inability to get along across racial/ethnic lines prevents our nation from becoming a more perfect union.
But as I type these words, I find myself wondering if the unenlightened few who voted for Donald even want to get along with the rest of us. They seemed to embrace him without reservation when he asserted that you were born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia, not America, offspring to a White American mother and Black Kenyan father. I get that you wanted to prove them wrong by producing the long-form birth certificate that showed you were born in Hawaii, something no other American President has been asked to do, but you must admit, even that wasn’t enough. Now that you’re no longer in office, Donald is going out of his way to sully your reputation, undo all the executive and legislative good Democratic lawmakers and you did on behalf of all Americans, which includes the ones who didn’t even vote for you.
There is no need for me to recount your accomplishments. Just complete a critical analysis of everything Donald has been trying to undo since taking office. Repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Revocation of the executive order allowing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Blatant disregard for American citizens’ right to protest peacefully. And signing into law a consequential (and highly controversial) tax reform bill.
Donald is quick to tell us he wants to make America great, again. But his incessant attacks upon your legacy are evidence that you, along with at least seven of the 43 presidents that preceded you, were intent on adding to America’s greatness, not take it back to a bygone era marred by prejudice, racism and discrimination. I want you to know that your efforts are appreciated, not just because you led responsibly, but also because you made it clear through your words and deeds that all of those Democratic accomplishments corresponded nicely with your cabinet’s efforts to fairly administer passed laws, regulations and rules. Donald can’t compete with that because someone forgot to tell him there’s no I in team.
But I digress.
When you were my President, I felt even better about the Black skin I am in. I’m not going to lie; it was great seeing someone who looked like me take up residence in the White House. You knew all eyes were on you, but you didn’t use your notoriety to enrich yourself. No. You used it to encourage us to turn toward each other, not away.
Yes, you said the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri had a right to peacefully voice their concerns about police brutality against Black and Brown Americans, and the unfair sentencing of members of these same groups within the American criminal justice system. To this day, it’s no secret that you support Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, his taking of a knee, for racial, social and economic justice. But that’s what good men do. But Donald didn’t become President because he was good, or popular. That honor was bestowed on Hillary Clinton. That’s why he only champions causes put forth by his Republican base, individuals who lack the enlightenment to see the dying breed of bad apples in our police departments, understand the profit motive that leads to the profiling, incarceration and murder of disenfranchised and downtrodden Americans.
After Heather Heyer, our White sibling in the struggle, was murdered in Charlottesville, Virginia by a White supremacist, Donald seemed to shower more praise on the Tiki Torch-bearing protesters than the brave Americans who stood against them, against prejudice, racism, discrimination and hate. But Donald knows nothing about American history, and the historians in his inner circle failed to brief him before he addressed the media in the aftermath of Heyer’s death. One has to wonder if he would have suggested that the Tiki Torch-bearing protesters were protecting their heritage if he had known the first Confederate monuments were erected between 1890 and 1950 (the era of Jim Crow segregation) to make Black Americans feel less than rather than equal to their White counterparts.
When you were my President, I was able to see Black love done right. While my 13-year-old son is able to see my public displays of affection for his mother in our home, it has been refreshing to see the same phenomenon displayed by a Black couple from the confines of the White House. But First Lady Michelle and you weren’t performing before a Black audience only. Truth be told, you weren’t performing at all. What you were unknowingly doing was reframing the negative narrative that unenlightened White Americans have been writing about us Black Americans since 1619, when our ancestors were ripped from Africa and shipped as cargo to Jamestown, Virginia.
But what did they hear, what did they see, when your faces flashed across the television screens. They heard, saw, a Black couple living and loving out loud. There were the fist bumps during your acceptance speech, your kisses to the top of the First Lady’s head. There were the interviews in which you praised the First Lady for being an exceptional wife and dedicated mother to your daughters, Malia and Sasha. And there were those moments when you applauded your life partner for sharing her concerns about men who think they can grab women and girls by their genitalia and get away with it.
That’s why I am so upset with those White Evangelical Christians who voted for Donald in 2016. They excoriated you for your evolving positions on homosexuality and abortion while accusing you of endorsing policies that infringed upon their religious liberties. Their assertions are mind-boggling, for it let’s me know they don’t understand the difficult hand American presidents are dealt.
American presidents can’t allow their decisions to be guided by their strong feelings about two or three issues. Their decisions have to be constitutionally based, and they must protect every American citizen’s right to life, liberty and happiness. Thus, these protections must be extended to adherents of other religions as well. You can’t support infringement of Muslim’s religious liberties because you mistakenly believe their religion runs counter to Christianity. That’s wrong. When White Evangelical Christians behave this way, they become hypocrites, not fully understanding what it means to practice what they preach.
And that takes me back to the Black love that the First Lady and you did right. However, this is where I choose to focus less on the black and more on the love. White Evangelical Christians didn’t vote for Donald because he is Christian; they voted for him because they have been conditioned to esteem their Whiteness over their Christianity. You knew this. That’s why you spent eight years walking a fine line when you addressed us from the Oval Office, the Rose Garden or the West Wing. You knew that they refused to love and respect you because of your blackness, even though your words and deeds showed that you are, and have always been, a part of their family, their Christian brother. For this, I say shame on them. Because when you were our president, your words and your deeds showed that you love your God and you love your neighbors, which just so happens to be the two greatest commandments of the Christian faith.
But if we Americans were honest with ourselves, we would conclude that your time in office allowed us to finally establish a benchmark for what it will take for us to become a more perfect union. To many Black Americans’ dismay, you chose not to focus most of your attention on issues that only had relevancy to us. You were thoughtful in your approach; making sure that the legislation you signed into law benefitted all Americans, not just a few. Unfortunately, the unenlightened few who voted for Donald in 2016 failed to recognize the method behind your generosity, the immensity of your love of country.
But moving forward, we must believe that more of them want to reject Donald’s divisive rhetoric and spiteful actions to join the ongoing crusade to make America’s better great.