A Promise Land

A Promise Land Denied: A Critique Of Obama’s Presidency

“Through them, I resolved the lingering questions of my racial identity. For it turned out there was no single way to be Black; just trying to be a good man was enough.”

― Barack Obama, A Promised Land


President Obama Failed Black America.

President Obama failed black America. I do not enjoy writing these words, but this is my overwhelming impression after reading A Promise Land. It was not his policies that failed us, but his failure to confront the ugliness that his ambition, ability and assent to national prominence summoned. 

America had been asleep. As Coates describes, we were all trapped in the Dream. Yes, the four officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted, but so was OJ. President Bush botched the response to Katerina, but he failed to protect the Towers. James Byrd was lynched, but so was Matthew Shepard. We were all asleep in the Dream. 

Barack charged into our lives. He gave the speech of a generation at the DNCC in 2004. It appeared that he was going to be the next Oprah, Secretary Powell, or Michael Jordan. A person’s whose immense talent and professional capabilities allowed them to be accepted as white. When he exclaimed, “Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.” That was his audition to enter the rarified air that those three occupied. 

A man of his intelligence must have known that these words were false when he said them. It has been clear that there was a black America and a white America. Yet, he allowed us to remain in the Dream

He Failed To Anticipate How His Blackness Infuriated Some White People In This Country. 

When he was sworn into office he was immediately met with organized resistance. We think of Senator McConnell standing up and declaring his only goal is to make President Obama a one-term President in political terms, because we were only starting to wake from the Dream. Instead, the proper frame to view Senator McConnell’s words is from a white man, representing the commonwealth of Kentucky, telling the rest of the world he will not tolerate or work with a black man in any way. What Mitch said was a racist call to arms against the first black president. It was the dog whistle that allowed many to unfurl their racist flag and fly it high and proud. 

For eight years he occupied the White House. For eight years he had unobstructed access to the bully pulpit. Every time he attempted to wade into a blatant racial issue he turned-tail and fled. When Dr. Gates was accosted and placed in handcuffs for trying to enter his own home, Barack correctly identified the actions of the officer as “stupid.” However, the organized resistance manufactured a fake outrage that caused Barack to bring all parties involved to the Rose Garden for a “Beer Summit.” 

When he said that if he had a son, his son would look like Trayvon Martin he was immediately smeared in the media for this statement. He glammed onto a powerful black preacher in Chicago for the political capital it provided.  He admits in A Promise Land, that Michelle and him rarely attended church. When insincere political operatives started digging through old sermons of Rev. Wright they found audio and video that was shocking to those trapped in the Dream. What Rev. Wright had said. through the decades, was standard fare in black churches across America. Instead of educating America about George Stinney, Black Wall Street, Tuskegee Experiments, about how Chicago firebombed black homeowners out of existence, how Chicago plundered black homeowners, how Chicago Police assassinated Fred Hampton, etc, he discarded Rev. Wright.

Rev. Wright was not prepared for the onslaught he was about to face. He was not equipped to have people lying on his name, his church, and on his brand of black liberation theology. Obama’s treatment of Wright was foreshadowing of what he was about to do to us. 

A Promise Land

Barack Never Woke Up From The Dream.

Barack Obama failed black America, because he failed to wake up from the Dream. No person, in the history of the United States of America, has received a Secret Service detail faster than him. He was besieged with so many credible death threats that President Bush deemed it necessary for this extreme action to take place. He writes in A Promise Land about many black women of Michelle’s mother’s generation being fearful of what would happen to him. They were afraid. We all were afraid.

His swagger was/is undeniable. His smile infectious. His voice soothing and steady. His drip was fire. Barack Obama was the coolest world leader in modern history. He made us proud each and everyday he served in the White House. Furthermore, Barack Obama is bracketed between the two worst presidents in the past 100 years. His proximity to two abject failures will unfairly elevate him as one of the best Presidents in our history. His import is undeniable. 

Reading his Presidential memoir funneled so much anguish into my weary soul. Time after time he allowed white senators to bargain with him in bad-faith, not because of political reasons, but because he was black. This failure to discern their nefarious intentions caused him to deport more people from this country than any other President. It was only when he realized that the Republican Party had no interest in doing a deal on immigration that he stopped the deportation machine and created DACA. 

He failed us every-time a racist called his beautiful and intelligent wife an ape. Instead of him running down to the bully pulpit and confront that evil, he has the audacity to go to Moorehouse in 2016 and give a commencement address to black men about being fathers and husbands. The same man that allowed white folk not worthy of shining his shoes, to denigrate his wife. It was this man who chastised a graduating class of black men about how to be fathers and husbands. Barack never realized that the First-Family was what we aspired to be: two professionals, educated at the finest schools, happily married, blessed with two intelligent and beautiful children, and an energetic, lovable dog named Bo. We all aspired to have what he has; and when a large swath of the Country rejects that Rockwellian family, not on the merits, not on some moral failure, but because of the hue of their skin…it was incumbent on him to defend his family, to defend us. 

Obama Was The First Hashtag President.

Barack Obama might be best known as the hashtag president. #TamirRice, #MichealBrown, #SandraBland, #EricGarner, #WalterScott, #PhilandoCastile, #LaquanMcDonald, #AltonSterling, #KorrynGaines, #FreddieGray, and #RumainBrisbon are all part of his legacy. Obama did strike-back at the cities/counties that allowed this to happen. The most consent-decrees in American history were obtained during his presidency, but he never explained what a consent-decree is, what it does, and why it is important. He never explained to the American people his objection to what is happening and the steps that his administration was undertaking to hold people and entities accountable. He never jarred us from the Dream. 

For the past four years, we have had an unpredictable and emotional person at the helm of our Government. A person who gave cover to the worst element in our society. A person who did expose the Dream as a lie. For four years this person sought to do what has happened through out our history: he meticulously identified all of Obama’s achievements and systemically went about erasing them. That is why we as a nation have no collective memory of the thriving black towns, they were systematically erased/destroyed from history. 

Barack still tried to be civil, to a person who basks in incivility directed towards his enemies. He believed being decent towards someone whose very nature is indecency. Barack tried to tolerate the intolerable. Once in a while he would wade into the national spotlight to deliver a terse tweet about the conduct of President Trump, refusing to address him by name and then he would return to the darkness. 

He failed to stand-shoulder-to-shoulder with us and fight back against the fascism that was trying to take hold in our country. This statement of his becomes ever more laughable when we consider the legacy of President Trump: “Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.” 

DC provided a more violent response to people saying black lives matter than armed white seditionists disrupting the peaceful transfer of power. The hallmark of the Trump Administration was its unrelenting cruelty towards Latino immigrants and refugees. A former President who incited and fomented violence against Asian-Americans by continuing to blame the virus on China and referring to it as the “China virus” or the “Wuhan virus.” (The current wave of violence that is being committed against Asian-Americans, is not new. Chinese-Americans were lynched and murdered all through the West. The assaults, the murders, the hatred being directed at our Asian-American neighbors is nothing new, it is part of our collective history that we have attempted to conceal.). Yet, it was Barack’s belief in the institutional norms, I presume, is why he was silent. 

Barack Obama cares more about respectability than results. He cares more about the negative peace than justice. He cares more about how our institutions are supposed to operate than how they are used to harm people who lack basic needs. Barack Obama has never been proximate to black people and that continues to be apparent whenever he speaks. 

Defund the police, is not a snappy slogan, it is a call to arms. Instead of guns and clubs, it is ballots and registering people to become voters. Fact, Republicans had far out-paced Democrats in registering people to vote during the pandemic. It was not until the Summer of BLM that we caught up. It was the work done in PHX, ATL, MPLS, Philly, Milwaukee, and Detroit that allowed Biden to win this election. 

I know that Barack Obama wants to help. I know his intentions are pure. I also know the man feels constrained by the mores of the Office he used to occupy. He asked for our solidarity and we gave it to him, and when we asked for his…he absconded. 

I write these posts, all of these posts, as a way for me to work out things I have been reading, hearing, and seeing. Basquiat would take in all sorts of information, and then what he put down on canvas was his interpretation of what he had heard, read, or seen; filtered through the prism of his mind. That is what this is, a glimpse into my mind. I hate that I feel this way about Barack Obama. Perhaps, one day he will wake from the Dream or I might dream again…on both accounts I doubt it.  

“The conviction that racism wasn’t inevitable may also explain my willingness to defend the American idea: what the country was, and what it could become.”

― Barack Obama, A Promised Land