Dear Obamas: Eight Wonderful Years

by | August 4, 2017 | Empathy, Politics | 0 comments

When then Senator Barack Obama won the election in 2008, I cried.  I was so happy for our nation.  I genuinely thought it was an affirmation, that history had not only been made on that night, but that our future held an optimism unlike anything I’d ever known previously.  I had never been so proud to vote as I had been on that day.  He was the first presidential candidate in my life that I genuinely wanted to vote for.  This man was going to change the world.

I must admit I was also a little sad for him: he had just lost his grandmother.  How I wished so much she could have lived to see that moment.  I thought about how proud she would have been, and how tragic it was for her life to end right on the cusp of one of the most momentous and rare occasions ever to be recorded in American history.  My heart went out to him and his family.  I can’t even imagine.

It wasn’t that he was black (or biracial): it was him, as an individual, that made him so special to me, and loved so completely by so many of us.  We loved him immediately, completely, and profoundly.  The world did too.  That was obvious in the reception he received wherever he went.  But it would be disingenuous to not acknowledge it also; it is a powerful dynamic in this country.

I was so worried about his safety, that someone might take him from us, that I dared not say it out loud.  During the Inauguration Parade, I remember when he impulsively got out of the car and began to walk down the street.  He looked so vulnerable.  It terrified me.  And yet, there was such strength in that act: bravery, genuineness, compassion.  He was the kind of leader we rarely see, not just here, but anywhere.  He was the kind of leader I imagine JFK was, but he was before my time.

President Barack Obama.  First Lady Michelle Obama.

My President.  My First Lady.

We all have memories of that day.  Many of us cried, I have no doubt.  For the black community, it must have mended so many broken hearts.  Young black boys and girls got to look up at the television screen and see themselves reflected in this remarkable couple who were now the most powerful in the world.  It must have filled their hearts with such pride.  Most importantly, in that moment, they surely must have known their own worthiness, just how much they mattered.

I cried thinking about this.  How could I not?  It is a terrible thing to grow up internalizing hatred from others.  I know what that feels like (from a different perspective), because I was born gay, and I internalized those hateful messages and made them a part of my own identity: I was ashamed of myself.  No one could cause me more harm than I did to myself when I allowed that hatred to become self-hatred.

I didn’t have any role models to warn me about this.  And my experience pales in comparison to most black families in America.  They must know these feelings intimately, and as I contemplate this now, it occurs to me that the parents must find it very difficult to instill a healthy self-worth in their most precious children.  It must be agonizing to know what they are feeling and in many ways feel powerless because we cannot convince anyone how much they are loved: that comes from within.  We either feel it or we don’t.

I’ve had moments in my life where I was the minority, where the people around me were a different race.  It is an uncomfortable feeling.  You feel out of place.  Being gay and in the closet adds to this feeling.  You feel alone no matter who you are with.  I really struggled with this in my youth.  I’ve tried to keep this in mind throughout my life.  When I see a Muslim woman in a grocery store, I make a point of smiling, of recognizing her humanity.

I wish more people did things like this.  I love the idea of the #SafetyPin hashtag for this reason.  I’ve seen so much progress in my lifetime, but I also know we still have so far to go.  When President Obama stepped into the White House, I thought we were so close.  I was not prepared for the backlash that swiftly followed.  How appropriate that word is, backlash.  He was treated horrendously, less than human.

At the time, I must admit to some level of ignorance about this.  I was unaware just how nasty it was.  I’ve always lived a somewhat sheltered, independent lifestyle.  I don’t encounter a great many people in my daily life, and certainly not a diverse group of people.  I wish I knew then what I know now.  Somehow, the election of Donald Trump has really opened my eyes.

He whines and moans about everything.  The Obamas were the very definition of grace under fire.  I cannot recall a time when President Obama or First Lady Obama ever acted in anger, or jealousy, or hatred.  I can recall dozens of times when they displayed empathy, love, respect, vulnerability.  They are true role models, extraordinary individuals.

When I see the way Donald is acting, I’m ashamed…but I also pity him.  It’s not empathy I feel.  It’s repugnance.  He is so weak, so privileged, so childish, that he doesn’t have even 1/100th of the strength and poise the Obamas do.  He is more than a national disgrace.  He is a human disgrace: he is the worst that humanity can become.  Michelle said it best when she said, “We go high.”  They are the best of humanity.

I’m so grateful for the eight years they gave to us.  I’m so happy for the little black boys and girls who got to grow up with them as their president and first lady.  I’m happy for their parents.

I love my country, but it has failed to live up to its promise too many times.  That we could go from President Barack Obama to Donald is a human failing of unimaginable scale.  I am not okay with this.  I’m not okay with what he is doing to our country, to my fellow neighbors of all races and creeds and status.  But I should have seen him coming.  As Hasan Minhaj once said, “I wish I would have done more.”

Whatever happens, I just want you to know how grateful I am to the Obamas, and that I care about you too.  I want to be an ally, someone who helps make an impact in this world.  To do that, I have so much I must learn, and so I listen.  I listen a lot these days.  You’re my guides, my teachers, my friends.  Somehow, I must believe we’ll get through this, and that the lessons learned now will be internalized in such a way that we never again go down this awful path.

Thank you for listening.

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