As I write this, I am still searching for the words to express my deep grief. In 10 days we will bit farewell to a great man, a charismatic leader, and the best president we’ve had in my lifetime. President Barack Obama will give his farewell speech in just a few hours, and I am beginning to lose the fight with my tear ducts that I have been putting up since the State of the Union back in January.
I was 12 years old when Barack H. Obama announced that he would be running for President. At that point, I remembered him as that guy who spoke at the DNC in 2004, my father LOVED his speech, and played it for me often as I practiced public speaking for various school projects and extra curricular activities. It was then that I learned that this half-black, half-white candidate was born and raised in my home state, Hawaii was beyond proud of Barack Obama, with some of his former classmates even sponsoring debate watching events at their homes for friends and colleagues. Everyone I knew was rooting for him.
By that time, I was already showing my true colors as a political animal, and politics became my family’s favorite sport. I would stay up late into the night watching all the programs on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox with my dad before waking up the next morning to make sure we didn’t miss East Coast morning news. I watched both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with a mix of awe and admiration, but it was him that I identified closely with… after all, he was like me. Biracial, raised in Hawaii, obsessed with politics, and seemingly deeply concerned with making the future a better place for not just future generations, but for the ones already here.
Above all though, I have to say that one of my favorite things about Barack Obama’s early campaign days was his cool. He had this way of just being above it all. When crazy people were saying nasty things, in attempts to demonize or bait him, he rarely seemed phased. Instead he would refocus, pivot to issues, the concerns of real Americans… ironically I found this same quality in his opponent, Senator John McCain. Though it was a bit marred by the insanity of the Palin debacle, I still look back at that election fondly, because it really was issue based… something I deeply craved in this most recent election cycle.
The day Barack Obama was elected is both vivid and vague to me. I remember turning on the TV when I got home from school (private school didn’t get the day off) and seeing that the results had already started coming in. I can’t remember which states I saw him win, accept for Florida, which is my dad’s home state. I remember Wolf Blitzer calling it… I remember waiting for my dad to get home, and I remember cheering. Later, I found out that my father had to pull over on the freeway when he heard the race called over the radio… he was born in the early 60s, went to a segregated school in the early part of his life, and then in his 40s, a black man would live in the White House! It was emotional for him.
I was less emotional. At 13 I had only lived through two other presidents, I lived in Hawaii where race relations are different, and I believed the story that parents tell their kids… “you can be anything you want to be if you work hard”. It wasn’t till I got older that I realized that part of the reason that Barack Obama’s election was so emotional for my father was that he, at that moment, wasn’t selling his children a dream. At that moment, his pep talks, his promises that us looking different made no difference, his insistence that we could be what ever we wanted to if we worked hard, were no longer prayers… they were a reality. In contrast, I was just happy because Barack Obama represented who I felt like I was at that time.
His first term would pass quickly, and I would grow up. Still keeping track of his speeches, still inspired by his words, still more than pleased to call him my president. When the Obamacare debate started, there was a Democratic majority in both houses, so I barely had to worry. I read about the debate in the Senate, and watched some of it unfold… But it was clear that there would be no problem passing it. At a glance it seemed like it would be loved by all, until the GOP erupted in outrage. They seemed to hate it, and their reasoning was thinly veiled hatred for the man who sat in the oval office. I wish I had known then what was to come…
Then the birther issue came to a head. I was a senior in high school, and Donald Trump (along with several other despicable members of our nations political discourse) demanded that President Obama release the long form of his birth certificate. I was shocked, and VERY uncomfortable. My discomfort was made worse when a friend of mine and her father mentioned that they believed our President was born in Kenya. I was young, and admittedly more concerned with keeping my friend than speaking my mind, so I went along with it. Never really agreeing, but never disagreeing either. It was odd though, to hear people disparage him up close. By that time, I had come to regard the President as somewhat of a hero, and hearing people buy into, and spew stories that I knew came from a place of bigotry made my heart ache. But, I had learned something from watching Mr. President with admiration all those years… school yard taunts mustn’t be dignified with an extended response.
When history looks back at you Mr. President, they will see a level headed, fair, and honest leader. One whose time in office was never marred by scandal or threatened by partisan pettiness. The world will look at Barack Obama and see an amazing man, and hopefully by the time history is weighing in, they will remember that you did all of this, achieved all off this while combatting those who had no kindness and boundless ignorance.
But Sir… there’s one other thing you have done, one that I am sure you don’t even realize. My favorite poem is called Crossed, by Langston Hughes, and it reads:
My old man was a white old man, my old mother was black.
If I ever cursed my white old man, I’d take my curses back.
If I ever cursed my black old mother and wished she were in hell, I am sorry for that evil wish and I now wish her well.
My old man died in a fine big house, my mama died in a shack… I wonder where I’m going to die, being neither white nor black?
This has been my question. Where in society do I fit in? Not really white, or black, or latina, or polynesian… always in the middle. Like you. But you answered my question Sir; in your achievement, and in your disposition. In your speeches and in your jokes, you said so much more than you realized. The answer to Langston’s question, to my question, the question of millions of little biracial human beings around the world is demonstrated by you every day. Where will we die being neither white nor black? Wherever the heck we want.
Though it will pain me more than it should to watch you and your family leave the White House, I really do wish you nothing but peace and quiet. You have earned a very long vacation, Sir.
So here is to you… To Sir, with love!