You Did It, My Nigga!
By Jaylin Paschal
I've seen Barack Obama twice. Both times were in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Both times I felt an unfamiliar warmness in my chest. I assumed that feeling was whatever the hell he meant by "Hope." (Note: "Hope" is both cliche and far-fetched for the black community. Usually results in an eye roll. Somehow, and don't ask me the details, he was able to make it sound plausible.)
The only political memory I have before seeing then-candidate Senator Obama at Stivers School for the Performing Arts, was in 2006. I was just in fourth grade, and I remember my friend Uriel (another fourth grader, who I'm sure was just echoing a parent) telling me that Bush stole the election from Gore. I didn't know much about Bush. I knew my mom didn't like him, and that coupled with this theft allegation was all I needed to decide that I didn't want to know much about Bush. So I remained blissfully ignorant regarding national politics and underwhelming indifferent with what was going on in the world.
In fifth grade, that changed. A black man with a funny name entered the presidential race. I was captivated by the election, mainly because I saw how it impassioned everyone around me. At home, this passion was positive. At my predominantly white school, the feeling was the opposite. I lived in this world of political nuance, where I was forced to look at the election through both blue- and red-tinted glasses.
I remember being in P.E. around this time, when two white boys approached me and backed me into a corner of our small gymnasium.
White Boy #1: Hey Jaylin, are you a Democrat?
Me: I don't know.
White Boy #1: What do you mean you don't know?
White Boy #2: Of course she's a Democrat, she's black.
After that moment I wanted President Obama to win. No nuance. No purple space. I got it, then. I understood. And since then, I've scoffed at the "You only want him to win because he's black!" remarks--"Yeah, so?" I thought. "You only want him to lose because he's black. Let's call it even." And since that moment with those two boys, politics has been "it" for me. There would be no more "I don't know" moments to provide white people with an opportunity to generalize about my blackness. I wasn't having that.
As a young, black argumentative girl who loved politics, I cannot put into words what all it has meant to grow up under the Barack Obama administration. It is a privilege that has shaped the entirety of my world view. The free world, as I know it, has been lead by a black man, and I'm afraid that any and everything I say will be an understatement to how monumental that is.
And it's not monumental because he was an excellent president, though he was. It is monumental because I could see so much of myself in him; so much of the people I loved in him. The way he spoke, and code-switched, and walked, and chose Kendrick over Drake, and sang Al Green.
Policy, administration, and governance under him was controversial, but solid. He was not perfect, but brilliant. I disagreed with him frequently, and criticized him just as often. He pulled us out of silly wars and pushed through universal healthcare and sustained national job growth and challenged mass incarceration, but Gitmo is still open and drone strikes still killed innocent civilians abroad--but honestly, I'm not here to talk about all that technical stuff. So more reliable source can give you the details of his accomplishments and shortcomings.
I just want to reflect on the fact that my president was black, dammit! He was able to bridge together the seemingly opposite world of black and white to win his two terms. He was acrobatic on the line of nuance that I was still simply learning how to balance. Where I lived in two worlds, he lived in one. He merged them together, without ever declining one side.
Charismatic, arrogant, well-spoken, genius, widely-like and black, dammit! Facing more obstacles and hate that I can wrap my head around while literally moving mountains for little black boys with nappy hair, or little black girls who are cornered by her classmates.