Eight years ago, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. Today, Americans will choose their next President – a woman, or a so-called woman hater. America’s fate hangs in the balance, and during this stressful time, it would be pertinent to look back on Obama’s presidency.
Since President Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination back in 2008, beating his then rival Hillary Clinton at the National Convention, I have proudly watched him and his family ooze positive images of black family life. Not only as America’s first family for all the people; black, white, gay and straight, but as the highest profile black family on the planet. The thousands of pictures and videos beamed around the world are of a solid and stable unit, in contrast to the many negative and stereotypical images we’re used to seeing of the broken and fatherless black families.
Barack is a black husband and father, surrounded by his family. Michelle has such elegance and grace, that many wonder why she isn’t running for President. Despite the horrid racism that exists in America, and around the world, Barack has managed to rise to the top of his profession, to become the leader of the world’s foremost democracy. Many in America who had never been able to relate or look up to the White House for guidance finally found a figure in which their own attributes were embodied. He gave the community hope – and inspired them, by breaking the barrier in American politics.
There are people, including black Americans, who say the President hasn’t done anything for them. But he is a president who has received unprecedented opposition and disrespect, the first president asked to show his birth certificate and have his Supreme Court nominee blocked. He has failed to get gun violence under control, primarily due to various blockages in the system from Republicans, and the racism that pervades America is still clear to see.
Let’s consider Chicago, his home city – black on black violence is still rife. An insightful documentary by Reggie Yates last month depicted the torment that the black community lives in. 20 year olds being shot on the street, purely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Morgues packed with bodies riddled with bullets – this horrific issue is still happening, eight years after his presidency began. Many cannot forgive this, but Obama has also pushed forward much change in the US.
Prior to his inauguration in 2009, many people around the world hated America, its dominance and foreign policy – with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama has calmed things down, with a new focus. Under his watch, he has steadied the US ship. He has concentrated on domestic issues such as Obamacare. As a gay man, I acknowledge same-sex progress, especially with LGBT reform and equal marriage. Some argue Obama hasn’t been an effective leader, at home or abroad, because he’s a pacifist. But this is the same man who has authorised air strikes, rightly or wrongly, and Osama Bin Laden was killed under his presidency. As a president he has stayed grounded and kept his cool – just what America needed after the Bush years.
As a black Briton, I’m fully aware that Obama never promised anything beyond the limits of his office, and definitely didn’t set himself up as a saint. He wasn’t meant to be the messiah. He offered hope and change, not salvation, and has delivered on these. Many now live in a stronger and more prosperous America, but I’m not naive as to those who don’t and are still struggling. Just because there’s been a black man in the White House doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more opportunities for black people in America.
I note the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality was born under his presidency. But I think it would be disingenuous of us to say progress hasn’t been made. Regardless of your views on him, as a black man he is a history-making president. By becoming the US Commander-in-chief, he has sent out a powerful message to other black boys and girls around the world that they too can achieve their goals.
Every time I hear him speak, I am reminded of all that is good about him. He is a natural orator. A burger-bar-eating president, adored by a youthful generation. A man who has shown different dimensions to his personality, in a very public and symbolic way. Under his leadership, there has not been a White House scandal. How many other leaders can say that?
History will judge Barack well, and he will be remembered as one of the finest presidents America has had – a man of character. His wife, Michelle, has been an inspirational first lady. About her husband she has said, “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.” About his wife, Barack has called her “incredible”, and that America “has been blessed to have her”.
Whoever is elected tomorrow, the world will miss the Obamas.
Published by The Independent on 8 November 2016.