Eight Years Later
I remember the chatter 8 years ago.
"He's not qualified enough."
"America would never elect a black president."
"It's Hillary's turn now, but maybe in the future."
These were sentences flowing out of my barbershop, my church, even my own house.
My grandparents were born in a racist south, migrating north to a place where things were better. Better, however, doesn't necessarily mean good. My father was born in Birmingham, Alabama, 6 years before Brown v. Board, 7 before the formal start of the Birmingham Bus Boycott. For good reason, neither he nor my grandmother had much reason to believe this country would elect a black man with Kenyan heritage and the middle name Hussein to the most powerful position in the world.
But then, to quote our current Republican nominee, he just kept winning.
It felt like a dream at first, the fact that people were showing up in droves to support him at these primaries. Once Hillary started to make up ground, it seemed inevitable America would eventually wake up, that the fairy tale would end, that the Clinton dynasty we'd be guaranteed would come to pass.
But the fairy tale continued. He won the Democratic nomination, and even though the general election seemed like a layup, I knew even at 16 years old that black folk in this country should never let their guard down. I spent Election Day scared out of my mind, aware of how things should go but also aware of how things in America tend to turn out. A mock election at my school had Senator McCain winning in a landslide. Yes, the school was predominately white and Republican, but so what? Never let your guard down.
That night, my dad and stepmom went to an election party. I stayed home. I was hoping for the best, but was fully prepared for the worst.
And then, the best:
I cried. My dad, notorious for never shedding a tear, could barely contain his excitement over the phone.
Yes, we did.
I cried on Wednesday night, too.
I don't think I ever took actual time to reflect on what this presidency has meant to this country, to me individually, to my nephew and my little cousins and anyone else who has lived through what has been unequivocally the greatest presidency of all-time.
I spent my undergraduate career literal blocks away from the White House. I was in the District during his 2013 inauguration. And while I haven't agreed with all of his policy positions, I can't help but respect that a guy who was just a lowly state senator 12 years ago not only convinced America that he was the most qualified person to rescue us from the Bush years, but by every metric has saved this country from what seemed to be an insurmountable economic crisis.
Last summer, a friend and I spent a little time ruminating on what exactly this presidency has meant. I spent a little time on Capitol Hill as an intern, but he was entering his second year as a political appointee, and he'd noticed the increased diversity in these positions. A litany of white men as president has meant the white men they've appointed to high-level positions have also hired other white men to work as their appointees or staffers. This president wasn't beholden to those same rules, and so federal politics in this town had become more colorful and sexually diverse than ever before. For the first time, I had a president who I knew culturally understood me, who – even if he was handicapped by an inability to be explicitly racial – intricately knew the pain of every black person in this country. My nephew, who tomorrow turns 13, likely can't remember a time when a black man wasn't running this country. All of my nieces were born in this midst of this presidency. As a kid, I'd always been told I could be whatever I wanted to be – even the president. They've got the last 8 years as proof.
And so, the longer the speech went on Wednesday, the more difficult it became to hold back the tears. I don't know if I'll ever have another black president, and even if I do, what are the odds he'll be as effective, as regal, as overall good as this one?
Once he finished Wednesday, I immediately went to YouTube and turned on his 2004 convention speech. I went to my bookshelf and grabbed The Audacity of Hope. I didn't want that moment to end. I don't want this presidency to end. I know the two terms things is Constitutionally-bound, but I'm fairly certain if he wanted a third, we'd do whatever it would take to make it happen.
Yet, as sad as I am that Barack Hussein Obama has only 5 months left in the White House, as disappointed as I am that his election failed to signal a positive shift in race relations, as devastated as I am that whoever wins this election won't be him, I'm more than grateful for the last 8 years.
Thank you, President Obama. You did it. We did it.