By Coshandra Dillard
President Barack Obama’s farewell speech Tuesday night was sobering. I watched it expecting to hear a spirited pep talk that would reassure us all everything would be OK. It wasn’t a “fired up and ready to go” speech, but still effective.
As a news junkie who has followed the 2016 election since the beginning, I usually don’t let the current political discourse rattle me. Tuesday’s speech made me swell with pride, but with a touch of sadness, too.
It’s been a full circle.
The night Obama was elected, I was a reporter at a newspaper and had the fortune of covering a Democratic watch party. Like many other black people, I never got my hopes up about electing the first African American president. I was there doing my job not expecting anything spectacular to happen. “This country isn’t ready, yet,” I thought.
As the results trickled in, I became increasingly anxious, still not believing Obama would win. But he did. I’ll never for that day. The lounge where the watch party was held comprised a diverse crowd who were jubilant upon the announcing of the returns. With each state Obama won, the noise level grew to a raucous roar.
I cried on the way back to the newsroom—the ugly cry. I contained my excitement when I returned to the newsroom. It was very quiet and somber there, the complete opposite of what I was feeling inside.
It was late and I, after all, had a front page story to turn in. The photo accompanying my story featured a black woman and her son, who flashed a wide grin when she told him he could do anything. At just 31 at the time, I still didn’t fathom I would witness this in my lifetime.
The night of his inauguration, the tears continued to flow as I saw a black man—with a black wife—being serenaded by another black woman on the biggest stage in the world.
We didn’t cheer for Obama only because he’s black. We’ve always known that a person with black or brown skin was more than capable of leading the country. The powers that be just wouldn’t allow us to prove it. His presidency made us breathe a little easier, knowing that yes, anything is possible. But we held onto a healthy dose of skepticism, because we know how America operates.
And sure enough, America showed its behind before Obama even took office. He had no scandals, but instead, a long list of achievements. However, his critics would swear he’s the anti-Christ. I witnessed people who spoke so passionately about their dislike for Obama, but couldn’t give one good example why. Everything they regurgitated was a conspiracy theory, came from their pastor, or rhetoric they overhead on Fox News.
The foolishness crescendoed when people voted for the man who is sure to set us back a few decades—if we let him.
The bar is set so low for the president-elect. If Obama spoke the way in which his successor does, had failed marriages, cluelessly fumbled through a debate, or tweeted every half hour, we would not know his name. But in fact, Obama is the epitome of everything conservative evangelicals praise: Well mannered, compassionate, respectful and lends his life to serve others.
We can argue all day about Obama’s policies and whether it helped or hindered us. We can analyze whether he did enough for the black community or if he was too soft on his critics. We can even say that he didn’t address race relations enough.
But what we cannot do is deny that this man brought us eight years of dignified, diplomatic, intelligent, and impassioned leadership. He and his wife, Michelle, should be admired for their class and integrity.
He reminded us Tuesday night what we will be losing. The president-elect has made a mockery of the office. He’s tweeted more insults than attempted to bring the nation together. He’s shown that he has little knowledge of how government works, or the responsibilities of the executive branch. Not to mention that he suspiciously sympathizes with an villainous foreign power.
During Obama’s final speech, he spoke about the continued fight for equality and the importance of empathizing with others. It’s up to us to not lose that hope we had eight years ago.
One of his most poignant messages was the idea of putting in the work—participating, in some way, in the democratic process. This is a hard one for black people, as we tend to be cynical about government. Even people who are on our side sometimes let us down. While this system was not designed for us to prosper as free citizens, let alone participate in its democratic process, it doesn’t mean we can’t dive into it now—and thrive.
That starts with actually doing work beyond a keyboard or in the comfort of other people who think the way we do. The easiest thing we can do first is pay attention to what’s happening in politics. Watch the news, read the newspaper, or follow news organizations on social media.
Then, hold local and state government officials accountable when they don’t act in the best interests of all citizens. That is what we should be more concerned about: the lawmakers and local politicians who directly impact our lives daily.
There is a grassroots network in the works with people joining forces around the country, including here in Tyler. An Indivisible Smith County event will be from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 20 in the Genecov room at the Tyler Chamber of Commerce, 315 N. Broadway Ave. Indivisible is a practical guide developed to provide a plan for individuals and groups who want to resist discriminatory policies expected to come in the next four years. Get more information at indivisibleguide.com.
The silver lining in this disastrous election season is that we may soon find out how resilient we are, and that there are many people in this country who want to create an America that reflects the idea we have only dreamed about.