As the Iowa caucus shot the beginning of the next American presidential elections, we find ourselves almost the end of an era. Obama has completed two terms as President of the United States of America aka POTUS. I honestly could not care less about doing a round up of those eight years as extraordinary as they could have been
- because it shouldn’t be extraordinary for a black man to become president in any western country;
- because sadly enough, he became America’s token black friend.
Yep. I said it. It’s out there, you can go and burn me at the stake for it.
Wait a minute, what? You still don’t know what a token black friend is? Let’s rewind a bit. There is no doubt you’re familiar with most of the blockbuster movies or popular shows Netflix has in store for you… then you must have noticed that secondary character in the background with a crappy storyline? You know, the funny best friend with all the good lines, sassy clapbacks and stereotypically black, either thuggish, ghetto ratchet or the one all about weave and attitude… They’re usually drowning in an ocean of white people. They are the coolest, but never the hero, just a gentle reminder that racism is a thing of the past. Or not.
In your everyday life, a token black friend will be that one person your nice lady neighbour will use to justify the racist nonsense coming out of their mouth starting with: “I’m not racist, but…” No, having ONE black friend does not mean you are not racist, and if you think I’m joking, you still have time to hit that little cross in the corner of your page.
So why would I take a stance so harsh against Obama? I mean, I’m black, he’s black, I should be happy about that, right? Isn’t it what we all — people of colour — were waiting for?
So let’s talk about hope baby
Hope is one powerful thing, my friend. Hope and desire are the two things keeping us alive even against all odds. If it doesn’t strike you as such, it is the mere reason we survive, simple as that.
Okay now, so I watch too many tv shows to count, but I haven’t missed a single episode of Black-ish. Their take on the life of an Afro American family is maybe one of the most accurate on television at the moment. In one of their latest episodes about the controversial subject of police brutality, a particular scene between Andre and Rainbow about Obama and his rhetoric on hope completely struck me. Not because I wasn’t aware of it, not that I never considered it before, but because it had finally reached television. The despair was so great that it had reached entertainment television.
So yes, Obama ran on hope and we all ran for it. It was the hope that, in a sense, we were finally standing equal with white people or the hope that he could actually change the system from the inside while running the country. Long story short, we invested him with even more power than he actually had.
If he also appealed so much to white liberals it was because he was a living proof that America was finally a post racial society and they didn’t have to check their privileges anymore. Racism was really something of the past. If the highest office was taken by a black man, what more could we ask for?
Well, a lot more.
Obama, the political persona
What was particularly fascinating about Obama was the way he campaigned. To get you on board, to convince you that they are the answer you are looking for, politics have to be good storytellers. All of them, no exception. But Obama might have been one of the best. Not that difficult after eight years with Bush running the country if you ask me. With “Yes, we can”, Obama literally posed as the next messiah.
He was young, with excellent academics, a swift political career, he simply represented what everyone wanted to see for themselves and for their children. Except for his second name Hussein and maybe his birth certificate, the only reproach was his coolness. A political figure seemingly unfazed is always a concern.
But then, during his mandates, his persona was slowly moulded into something else. Something new and absolutely and stereotypically black. Traits like his abrasive and sarcastic humour took more and more space in his public persona. Every appearance became a real stand up comedy show.
Hilarious right? As entertaining as this may be, it is genuinely worrying. Obama invited his ‘anger translator’ to break the perpetual coolness image his audience stuck on his back. I don’t mind the idea, but take a look closer. His ‘anger translator’, a handsome black man in a suit and gold rings at every fingers, rendering Obama’s speech in a very ghetto ratchet version. What I read into it is that inside every black respectable looking man, a thug is lurking to get out. Not what I would call progress. His humour and cockiness are two traits often associated with black artists in general.
On colourblind politics
While Obama added some kind of street flavour to the game and contributed to make ghetto even cooler than it already was for the sake of his political career, he turned a blind eye on every racial issue the country faced during the last decade.
Colour blindness is a sociological term for the disregard of racial characteristics when selecting which individuals will participate in some activity or receive some service.
It is also the base on what the great South was desegregated. It sounds like something that would bring true equality right? But it’s the main reason why society as a whole leans towards white as the default value and disregard inequalities and issues faced by minorities.
The Reverend Wright controversy and the Gates Affair are two famous cases that showed Obama’s true colours during his 2008 campaign and when he took office in 2009.
The first one forced him to create a distance between himself and the ‘radical’ Reverend Wright.
Then came what is now known as the Gates Affair — a black professor and member of the Harvard faculty who encountered difficulty with opening the front door to his house and was placed under arrest by the police. The event itself was an open door to discuss racial profiling, door that Obama closed by giving a very strong speech — at least in appearance.
Indeed, it wasn’t the first time a President had mention the issues of racial profiling in the American criminal justice system. George W. Bush had a very similar conversation back in 2001. But because Obama is Afro-American himself, the fire he ignited with that speech started to burn too high. Once again he had to turn down even more the volume on racial issues to appease white people’s mind and not to look like a threat.
Wistfully, because he spent his presidency dancing a strange waltz to precisely avoid looking too menacing, his reforms will never bring true equality to the country. His Education policies are the blatant proof that racial inequalities have worsen because of his colourblind stance. Isn’t it fantastic that even at the highest ranking office in America, trying to rectify inequalities suddenly looks like creating inequalities? If it’s not white supremacy, what else is?
Was he a once-in-a-lifetime wonder? Maybe. He sure was able to take advantage of the momentum and his campaigns were indeed out of the ordinary. It would be sad to say what will remain of his two terms is the idea that minorities can stand out only once in a while. The backlash his presidency faced was the fertile ground that enabled people like Trump to be considered viable candidates. In the meantime, we’ve just spent eight years with Obama in the background of the racial storyline of the United States of America.
Of course Obama is not perfect, I mean he is a human being AND a politician, he was bound to be flawed. But we are part of a system — even when fighting it — and as cliche as it may sound, representations do matter. Obama was never the proof of a post-racial America, but I cannot help myself to hold on to that little glimmer of hope it created for all young black folks.