Eight-year-olds throughout the country have never known anything other than a black man, in a suit and tie, sitting in the Oval Office. To them, that is presidential. It’s not earth-splitting or a radical notion; it’s simply a part of life: a fact to memorize for the next presidents quiz, another part of the naivety of every child’s dream to be president, a brief dinner time conversation. The ripples caused by the Obama presidency will surely be analyzed years from now, eventually fully compressed into bite-sized pieces for American history classes, but the short-term effects of Obama’s administration can be seen in the children of the nation. An Obama presidency, no matter what his policies amounted to, did the one thing the black community has been striving to do for centuries: uncap the limits of our potential.
But all this is about to change.
The Obamas are moving out, and the sounds of their packing, of their suitcases zipping, of boxes being filled, can be heard across the nation, and the hairs on the back of the neck of every black man and woman have begun to stand as the election season comes to a close, threatening what the black community had fought for.
Take for instance the now, ever trendy — and rightfully so — First Lady. A Harvard Law School graduate and convincing writer, Michelle Obama has been plastered across the news as Hillary Clinton’s latest handbag. Her words, though brilliant, and her speaking abilities, though eloquent, have been praised as a great megaphone for Clinton, a black angle that can be used to win. Some see her only when speaking on a white woman’s behalf. Hillary too often repeats her latest catchphrase plucked from Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high,” to mass applause. Standing alone, Michelle is often seen as too masculine, arms too strong, tongue too quick, but when all that strength goes toward lifting Clinton’s campaign out from the eyes of public scorn, she is instead seen as some sort of savior, as a well-behaved black prop, as someone the country can look up to.
But this is no recent development. Before the details were known, Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech initially garnered much more attention and praise than Michelle’s ever received. And instead of asking why Melania thought it was okay to steal the words of a black woman and sell it back to the world as her own, the matter became a laughing stock, a new punchline for the next Trump joke.
But these occurrences were nothing new. We have seen them before when black musicians were overshadowed by more marketable white vocalists singing their songs. For a little while, the Obama presidency had changed that. Finally, there was a black family able to take credit for — whether for better or for worse — the work they had done, the speeches they had made, the energy they put forth instead of simply serving as a tool to be used to further someone else.
When the Obamas leave, the moment they walk outside, the White House doors will close. For some, it will be a time of rejoicing, of returning to their comfort zone, of giving the White House a fresh coat of white paint. But for the rest of the nation, regardless of whether you are begging for another four years from Obama or still fuming over the current presidential choices, do not forget what was done here. You’ve seen a family bring black into a White House. There will be more elections. There will be another black candidate worthy of the presidency. That much is assured. This is not the end. Do not forget the work they have done here even when others try to spin it as their own. Their hard work cannot be plagiarized. It is not easily copied or mimicked as a gimmick or a slogan. Obama’s presidency marks a turning point in American history. And we cannot let the hope they have given us go to waste. Because for some eight-year-old out there, this all they have known.
Contact Juliet Okwara at jokwara ‘at’ stanford.edu.