As he takes his final bows as POTUS and prepares to exit stage left, Barrack Obama gave a helluva performance of Black Masculinity. Clap for him.
April 17, 2008 was when I met my President. He wasn’t elected yet and I would never meet him in person but that’s when he showed up for me and became familiar. Barrack had just been ambushed by George Stephanopoulos – a former Clinton aid in journalist’s clothes – the night before. Hillary Clinton was playing the antagonist and had been airing really nasty ads against Barrack in Pennsylvania and in Southern states. It was essentially a backhanded appeal to racists – transparent in its intent but calculated to make her not look racist.
Barrack knew what it was.
“I understand because that’s textbook politics…that’s the lesson that she learned when the Republicans were doing the same thing to her, back in the 1990’s…when you’re running for the presidency you gotta expect it and you just gotta…kinda…”
And then Barrack Obama shrugged his shoulders back and got that dirt off.
The crowd erupted. And I jumped up, pointed to the screen, and said “AYYYYY, That’s. My. Boy. Yo! Did you see what my mans just did?!” In that moment, he shifted from merely being a candidate I could relate to, to being a familiar. Someone I knew. In that one beautifully dope, simple moment Barrack Obama communicated so much Black identity without saying a word.
He offered a performance of Black Masculinity that affirmed his blackness as definitively and silently as Hillary was attacking it. And it was amazing.
And to me that’s a major part of the story of being a Black man in this country. Finding subversive and silent ways to assert your Blackness and your manhood in a world that would assimilate, subjugate and infantilize you.
Over the last 8 years President Obama has had his authority challenged countless times and sometimes those challenges occurred in ways that would, were he in the private sector, occur as a challenge to his manhood.
How many dudes you know stay chill when somebody jumps up in the middle of them talking and repeatedly spits “You Lie!” or remain diplomatic when dealing with people who passed around emails of his wife juxtaposed with a gorilla? But he knows, like all Black men know – they watching– and you have to be twice as good to get half the credit.
So he can’t afford to just “go poppin’ off” over little affronts to his mettle as a man. You stay focused – don’t let it break you, you do the job. You take care of your family. That’s how you assert that you’re a man: By doing your thing despite their efforts to trip you up. But even as he worked twice as hard he’s getting less than half the credit.
In the fatigue of the absolute tomfoolery that has been this election cycle it’s become popular, especially among the Black intellectual set, to deride Obama for “not doing enough for Black people.” And maybe there’s merit to that in terms of policy. But I’m not going to lie – I didn’t vote for policy. I voted to put a Black man in office.
After experiencing the Margarine of Melanin that is Bill Clinton, I wanted the Whole Butter Blackness of a Barrack. I wanted to see someone who represented Blackness on a scale the world had never seen. See, there’s really two sides to the First Black Presidency of America. There’s the Office and the Optics. And while ultimately while there have some been some major disappointments in the Office, I got nothing but love for the Optics.
My President hoops with his boys, swaggers to the podium, calls Kanye a jackass, gives shoutouts in speeches, clowns people to their face at the Correspondence dinner, holds and hugs Black boys – wayment – lemme say that again: this public Black man holds and hugs Black boys and lets the world know that that’s okay to do. My President takes selfies, chucks deuces, mic drops, and sings Al Green so good panties nearly flew.
My President does all theses things while being a dad – and not any ol’ presidential, absentee dad, but a full-fledged, corny jokes, ugly jeans, I-might-show-up-at-your-school, you-int-too-grown-for-me-to-embarrass-you dad. And his love for Michelle is so apparent and palpable as to be almost embarrassing. Like fam, the White House has 132 rooms, get you one! But it’s all love. Real love. A love we haven’t seen in the White House in at least 5 presidencies. And it’s a Black love at that. And yet, lately the President can’t seem to get any love.
But forget love, in the entirely hostile time surrounding his presidency time we haven’t really given the man credit for being literally unimpeachable. He is THE MOST HIGHLY VISIBLE BLACK MAN OF ALL TIME and you aint heard nann scandal, aint nann side chick shown up, no little “Malik Obama” from Compton with the same big ears, nobody shouting “WORLDSTAR!” on an unfortunate phone video of him. Nothing. For the first time in my waking life we’ve had a president that, really, ALL you could criticize him for are his policies. And it’s okay to be critical of him. But let’s not cling to this lie that he’s done NOTHING for Black people.
This one Black man gave the performance of a lifetime for Black Masculinity. We are a group that is too often categorized as violent, unreachable, erratic, hyper sexual, irresponsible, doggish, thuggish – I don’t need to run the roll call we all know what they think of us. They envy us and loathe us. And every misstep any one of us makes becomes the standard by which the rest of us are judged. And this one man in his 8 years as the most visible Black man on the planet gave the world a Black man who was, thoughtful, well-spoken, unflappable, emotionally available, vulnerable, brilliant, cooperative, familial, swaggy, flawed, human and most importantly – REAL. This wasn’t a fictionalized façade of a Doctor husband Lawyer wife and five adorable kids serving as a front for a rapist to expand his practice. Barack Obama is a real Black man.
And he’s our man.
Clap for him.