It was so easy to fall in love with the Obamas. In fourth grade, I witnessed President Barack Obama’s inauguration. It felt like the world stopped, and I had no idea why.
My school canceled classes and we sat in the auditorium watching the entire ceremony, as though elementary schoolers would be able to understand what was happening. It all seemed dramatic, and when we were finished watching, we had our own Inauguration Ball. In eighth grade, I finally began to grasp why that day had frozen in time.
Barack Obama is Black history.
He was the first Black president. He represented hope for this country to racially unify, or at least pretend to racially unify, after the Bush-era was stained by a lack of aid to Black communities post-Hurricane Katrina. Obama ran his campaign on the slogan “Yes, we can,” and while never explicitly promising to heal the divide in this country, he more than effectively sold dreams of a post-racial America to his voters.
As he was elected and sworn in, there was a collective feeling, one that said “Now is the time for equality, right?” Wrong. The air of racial progression was fraudulent. Obama’s changes maintained a stagnant state of racial uneasiness all to preserve the idea that Obama becoming president proved we’re all above race. Obama served his term as complicit in U.S. violence as every president before him. He perpetuated imperialist policies in other countries, pacified racial injustice at home and implemented drone strikes in ways that were far from humane.
All his faults seemed to be undercover. The United States has never utilized more drone strikes than we did under the Obama administration. Drone strikes were promised to be precise ways to attack enemies of the United States, but they still ended up killing civilians. The reason we got troops out of Afghanistan was because we largely replaced them with drones. The Obama administration also sold $38 billion dollars worth of drones to Israel, which is inarguably an imperialist state, helping it to facilitate even more violence with Palestine. More civilians were killed in crossfire from drones than ever before, and with very little opposition, as Americans were blithely unaware of it all.
The one big thing people thought Obama would do was help to heal race relations in the United States, but he just glossed over it. He apologized for racial injustice with his tears, often alluding to America’s “dark past” with racism — you know, with people owning other people and then not owning them and then disproportionately mass incarcerating Black men, and all that boring stuff that would be a bummer to discuss.
However, the accomplishments of Obama’s presidency were astonishing. He managed to end the war in Iraq, with the last troops leaving in December 2011. His troops found and executed Osama bin Laden in 2011. He passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. And he did everything he did never allowing time for any scandal. The closest he came to scandal was when he wore a tan suit and looked better than any other president has ever looked or will ever look ever again. He really went off. To be quite honest, sometimes I think about it and tear up. In that moment, I was proudest of my president.
The simplest way to love Obama is to appreciate him as a person and to focus on his positive moments. Even in the acknowledgment of his faults, I find myself missing Obama. Very much. I miss the diplomacy he was forced to have. I miss that I never felt the need to block him on Twitter. Above all, I miss a president that looked like me.
I would never denounce President Obama as a whole. I couldn’t. I loved him as much as I could. People tend to get upset by my criticism, but those people aren’t bothering to look into what he was actually doing in between speeches dinners. They aren’t seeing the full picture.
I will always stand by Obama’s work, showing how Black people can be anything they set their mind to in this country, but it is even more important than protecting his image that we all be aware that there is a big difference between appreciating and romanticizing the Obama-era of the United States.