In response to…

I follow the esteemed Dr Kehinde Andrews on Twitter, and last night I was pleased come across a tweet with a link to a recent opinion piece he’s written for, a blog that Dr Andrews contributes to and that is part of the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity, about the legacy of Barack Obama entitled: “It’s time to ignore the White House Negro”.
It is a highly critical and an incredibly unflinching indictment America’s first Black president. As much as I disagree with it, it is also a really important and brave way to look at Obama, that isn’t a well-trodden path, as Dr Andrews tackles a topic that, I suspect, is usually had in the privacy of the kitchen table. Read with caution, and when you’ve read the piece, come back here and to read what I have to say in response…or feel free to do it in reverse and read my comments first! Enjoy

Dear Kehinde,

This is a very thought provoking piece, and as a fan of Michelle Obama, in particular, and therefore Barack, by association, it is difficult for me to be so critical but I found myself nodding as I read along and agreeing, in part. Despite my appreciation for the Obama’s, it is necessary to critique Obama because something did go wrong with him.

When “yes we can” was being chanted from rooftops in the lead up to Obama’s first win and through to his eventual election in 2008, the expectation that he would uplift Black Americans and at least try to put a stop to centuries long abuse, was naively front and centre for me and I’m sure for most black people in the diaspora. Yes, we made a mistake but when you say he was a political coon, I think you’ve missed the mark, it wasn’t that he was a well-dressed Uncle Ruckus (of “The Boondocks”, for the uninitiated), because that would have been flagrantly obvious much sooner. I don’t believe Obama would even have made it to the White House if he were simply pretending to be FUBU (for us by us) for Black America in the run-up to his presidency. As you say he never promised he would be and I agree it was foolish of us to have expected that. However I can’t completely side with you that all he was was a political coon, I strongly believe that, even from the beginning, he could already foresee that his hands would be tied and that is all it was. And as time went on, and as more and more of his policies and proposals were blocked by a mainly Republican House, it became clear that this was true and that his presidency was purely symbolic, sort of like the British monarchy, no longer holding any real power.

I believe that in knowing this, Obama left his race and any affinity to Blackness at the door and operated in the only way he would be allowed to operate: neutrally. Yes, the public made a mistake, but it wasn’t in believing in Obama, it was in underestimating just how racist the politics of America was (and still is). Just how mammoth a task it would be for any Black premier to openly seek to uplift Black America. The USA government owe Black America, specifically the descendants of chattel slavery, a great deal in fact, both emotionally and fiscally. And so any crusader who dares take up that cross and try to right wrongs, will be swiftly stopped from doing so. It’s not that Obama was a White House Negro, it’s that we forgot a few things:

  1. That Black people were never brought over to America to win and that wasn’t going to change with a mixed-race president and his black wife;
  2. We forgot that, just like the officer who casually knelt on George Floyd’s neck, American politics intends to firmly keep its knee resting on the neck of Black America and:
  3. We forgot just how white the White House is and all that that entails – after all it must be called “white” for a reason, right?

Author: jacquicourtenay

Mum. Wife. Writer. Poet. Curator. City Worker

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