We Still Have Not Had a Black President

I made the gross mistake everyone on planet earth has made: calling Barack Obama the first black president of the United States.

The problem? Obama’s mother was white. Hence, he is bi-racial.

According to the rules of the black card, Obama qualifies. His wife is black. He plays basketball (and has a nice three-point shot). He can dance. He can sing. He has a bop to his walk. He listens to hip hop. He eats half smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl.

His previous status as the leader of the free world earns him platinum black card status. So, we will omit the presence of his white mother.

Besides, look at his skin tone and features. He must be our first black president. We need him to be.

If he was trying to catch a cab, you would see he was black. If he was driving and got pulled over by the cops, you would see he was black. If he walked into a department store and was followed by security, you would see he was black.

So, what do we say to his white mother, who delivered him into this world, who cared and nurtured him? That’s right, we cannot. She is dead. So like most women we posthumously marginalize her legacy.

First, let’s give Ann Dunham the respect she deserves–that is the name of Obama’s mother.

Dunham received her three degrees from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa including a Ph.D. in Anthropology. She tackled poverty in villages in Jakarta. She worked with the United States Agency for International Development. The Ann Dunham Soetoro Endowment in the Anthropology Department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa was created in her honor.

It was Dunham who influenced Obama–he said this often–in his journey into scholarship, and community and political activism.

Yet we focus on Barack Obama, Sr., his Kenyan father–we were defending his natural born American citizenship against Trump and company–to reaffirm his black roots.

But dig deeper into our psychosis.

There was a southern white gentleman from Arkansas who stepped out on late night TV sporting shades and playing a saxophone. Many blacks responded with the declaration, “he’s going to be the first black president!”

Yes, Gov. William Jefferson Clinton in 1992 was declared the first black president. “Brother Bill” was so black that he attacked black mothers on welfare, instituted a crime bill that destroyed thousands of black families while calling young black men “super predators”, and turned away Haitian refugees, several of whom died as a result.

Our amnesia allowed us to slip into another factual error, and declare that Barack Hussein Obama, was really our first black president. Obama kept Guantanamo Bay open against his campaign promise, kept us in Iraq and Afghanistan, compromised with health insurance companies thereby failing to deliver universal health insurance, instituted the National Defense Authorization Act, and so on.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that one’s politics reflects their race. I am merely pointing out to those who believe that presidents should be carrying out policies that favor their own race are not being realistic. They are presidents of the United States, the greatest empire of the world, and though a black president may know the words to the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, they are following the Oval Office playbook.

Let’s acknowledge there are blacks across the political spectrum, and no, being conservative does not make them less black. Clarence Thomas is problematic judicially, but he is black. His wife is white, which should not invalidate her either. She is a human being. Love is universal, and you have no idea with whom you fall in love until it happens.

What I am talking about here is our incessant need to place someone in power that we believe is like ourselves, so much so that we lose sight of the cold hard facts.

And in the process, invalidate another race of people. We would not want that to happen to us, as it has happened for the last 400 years, so why would we do that to others?

I know, hurt people hurt people.

We celebrate many people whom we embrace as black, but they will inform you of their biracial heritage: Lenny Kravitz, Trevor Noah, Bob Marley (RIP) to name a few. They do not hide it, or hype up their black side to be “down with the people”. They comport themselves as fully functioning within their identity and humanity.

Perhaps that is our lesson, to embrace who we are in our factual fullness. Then we can celebrate a black president, when one finally gets elected.



Ron Kipling Williams