*“When you go out into the world, it won’t be enough to be as good as the white man. You have to be better.”
I heard those words from third grade in the 60s, all the way to high school graduation in ’73.
See, all the Oklahoma City schools I attended, before bused integration came to the state, were Black: named after Black scholars such as Carter G. Woodson, F.D. Moon, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Frederick Douglass, they were located in Black communities and attended almost exclusively by Black students taught by teaching staffs mostly Black, in schools run by Black principals.
At these schools and Black schools across the country during that era, the informal tenet was You must be better.
It was as if all Black educators had signed up specifically to take on the mission of getting through our thick, nappy heads the notion that out in the world, America’s playing field wouldn’t be fair for people of color. Society could move the goal post any time it saw fit.
Anytime I see Barack Obama, I see that old teachers creed manifested in a human being, walking, talking, taking names and kicking ass.
Throughout his presidency (and even before it, during his campaigns), Obama not only outperformed his detractors, but when they attacked—-and the man took fire every day of those eight years—he illustrated an uncanny, ingenious gift for reason, logic and restraint. I came to refer to this as “doing the Obama”–when your calm and introspection leave your enemies looking like fools.
When he was elected, Obama was just what this country said it needed. Smart, intuitive, communicative, schooled and charismatic, he was half Black, half white and full-blooded badd ass.
His election–twice–reflected a nation that at least appeared willing to turn the corner on issues of race and garden-variety prejudice. We weren’t as far along as we thought. However, on the Love Train, Obama has been a skilled conductor.
It’s been interesting observing a segment of America adore the first Black First Family. Until we noticed what they were gushing about (“They’re so articulate!” Something you never hear whites say about other whites), it didn’t occur to Black America that whites hadn’t really seen or experienced Black people like the Obamas.
Before Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha, much of white America’s perception of Black people was left to entertainers, athletes, sit-coms and co-workers on the job. And Oprah. Thank God for Oprah. They still don’t grasp that in my America, there are plenty of families like Barack and Michelle’s. In my world, Barack is not some rare delicacy, but another Brother. They are bankers, artists, educators, CEOs, attorneys, entrepreneurs. They are fathers and leaders. They are stand up men.
What Obama had that they didn’t was an interest and gumption to run for president and the belief that he could win.
And, Barack has Michelle Obama. Lawyer, writer, fashion icon and–dare we say it?–entertainer. When you have a partner like Michelle behind you, beside you and when needed, in front of you, you can pretty much do anything.
At the end of every administration, there is conversation about legacy. What towering and immovable result does Obama’s presidency leave behind?
Some say a fractured Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is it. Others point to his domestic policy—-education, climate and progress in civil rights, including those of the LGBT community.
I say it’s self-evident. Why can’t his legacy be that from day one on the job the man exhibited a governing style, intelligence and grace that the Oval Office hadn’t seen in decades, if ever. That is going to matter to history, especially when contrasted with the president before Obama and the one who now comes after him.
Obama’s administration saved the country from the greatest recession since the Great Depression.
In an age where scandal is par for the course, Obama never suffered a one, professionally nor personally. Think about that.
Hell, he got Bin Laden. For practically anyone else, that would be enough. He kept the country safe. How about the fact that he tried to do the right thing even when it was unpopular?
That walk. His unmitigated, dignified cool. Turns out, we only considered JFK and Bill Clinton cool, because we’d never had the real thing. We’ll never have a cooler president. Not in my lifetime.
Obama challenged himself to be human in an gilded domicile that routinely turns men to stone.
He did all this as his haters, in ways both subtle and blatant, never let him forget that he is a Black man.
Lots of Americans are happy to see Obama go. Others are funeral-sad. The latter group can seek solace–as the former group groans–at the fact that the Obamas are just getting started.
How ridiculous are you when eight years as leader of the free world is a job on the way to something else?
Of the immediate future, Obama says all he wants to do is sleep. Something tells me when he awakens, the whole world will know.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]