Obama’s legacy? Black excellence and courage under fire
Four words from rapper Young Jeezy said so much to a generation: “My president is black.”
Jeezy made this bold, prideful assertion on his now-classic album The Recession months before then Senator Barack Obama would become leader of the free world.
At its root, hip-hop has been many things to many people. For me, I embraced the early revolutionaries like Chuck D and KRS-One, as well as the unlikely radical thinkers like Ice-T and Ice Cube. Generally, we have a love for decidedly capitalistic entities like Jay Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs, those able to amass money, power and respect by any means. Others have been able to grasp the lighter, decadent parts of hip-hop, which have also yielded some forms of accomplishment too.
In a lot of ways, Obama is the first hip-hop president, as he harkens the notion that we find a way where there is none – by any means. That rapid ascension can be problematic as well. I recall vividly being a panelist at the 5th Annual Netroots Nation conference in 2010 in Las Vegas, where we discussed Obama’s impact. I told that audience that I never looked for a president as a savior, because we still lived in American society. Honestly, I saw Obama as a symbolic victory, as we still faced many systemic challenges.
I was not wrong.
Immediately after the victory, the term “post-racial” became all the rage, and it was complete, utter drivel. With the election of Donald Trump, the subsequent surge in hate crime, we all know that racism is a living, breathing beast. It is a beast that must be slain. It was not about to be killed in 8 years from a president that was disrespected like no other. He faced a Congress that stonewalled every move he made. We saw police brutality for the vile, evil thing it was. We also saw Americans became largely mute to issues around race and, perhaps more importantly, equality.
When I was writing this, I was crafting a tragic conclusion to Obama’s legacy, because of the looming crisis in the Dakotas at Standing Rock. However, the president stepped in, and the pipeline that would have likely polluted the waters of millions was averted. Herein lies the problem with black people and Obama. We forgot he is a servant of the public, not our king.
Those protests in Standing Rock worked as effective determination, because it was a focused, pointed, unwavering demand. At one point, black people stood together in solidarity in a similar fashion, around similar issues. Even the conditions were eerily similar. Yet, we did not meet the president with a list of demands, as the LGBT folks did, and those that spoke truth or countering opinion to Obama were often cast out. Quite frankly, like hip-hop, black folks largely forgot the message Obama stated when he campaigned the first time.
“We are the ones we have been waiting for,” was not slick talk or a motivational speech for me. It was a call to action in all aspects of life from business, good parenting, mentorship, education and nation building. It was also about holding each other accountable, as I tried to do within other organizations. Folks only wanted to protest, but those same people didn’t want to run for office or buy a corner store in their own community. AllHipHop is Black-owned media, yet you even see activists clamoring like celebrities for a CNN or MSNBC look. Rappers run to Pitchfork and Complex like they care. We did not — do not — look within enough to found our own power sources and amplify them.
I love everything Obama represents, from the swag to FLOTUS to the kids to the power he wields. Class, grace, discipline and good taste underscored Obama’s presidency. There was no scandal to disgrace African-Americans or any American. There was no Sept. 11, which sparked a 15-plus war. There was no Monica Lewinsky. There was no Iran Contra Scandal. There was no Watergate. Obama did not shame us.
As a father and man, Obama was indeed a role model in other ways.
My family and I got out on a cold, rainy day when then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama hit the trail on the last week of campaigning in 2008. It was a rally at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, on October 28, 2008. I knew Obama was special, and I didn’t want any of us to miss that moment. That was also, oddly, the first time my daughter missed a day of school. My daughter, niece, brother and I were extremely excited at the prospect of a Black First Family, and they didn’t disappoint.
So, as a man, I look at the president with a respect I didn’t have for most others. It was almost like Obama was a living, breathing lesson on how to deal with hostility and adversity with grace. It is fairly cliche now, but representation matters even in the White House. My daughter doesn’t remember the George Bush era and has been full of pride since going out to support Obama. I have been proud too. I wish my father was here to see this, the once-unfathomable. No matter how you look at it, he has represented you well, as a black man and world leader.
However, he is a servant of the public, and that escaped black people and their truth tellers. Hip-Hop didn’t want to say a word against Obama, not even the hardest rapper. Only folks like Killer Mike had anything to say. Cornel West would mention “children” and “drone strikes” in the same sentence and get reduced to an angry hate by black folk.
Did I have issues with the presidency? Or course. I wrote a “The Hip-Hop Response To The 2016 State Of The Union Address” each time the president spoke to the Nation. I never liked that drones killed innocents or that families were destroyed by mass deportation. Each time I wrote those pieces, I had to address something to my readers that I fundamentally disagreed with. When writing this, I did the same. I probed my constituency on social media on Obama’s legacy and, as expected, the critiques of Obama were wide and colorful:
The legacy of Black folk thinking Whites will respect us because we’ve attained a certain status only to later face a rude awakening reminding us why our original thought was naive.
The fact that there was a black man leading the Free World on television in newspapers and magazines . for the last eight years was one of the most inspiring things that I’ve experienced. Why because when I went to Africa I saw black people running everything. To see President Obama and his family in the White House being the leaders of the world was just very inspiring. I watched and listened and read almost everything that Obama did and said.
He was our JFK.
Overcoming the odds to become one of the better presidents to the overall country while simultaneously completely failing black America.
HOPE!!! In a time where we had more negative imagery in the media about African Americans, more than I can ever remember, we always had the first family as an example of what we can become.
His biggest legacy may be creating such excessive fandom surrounding himself that people willingly ignored all of his malfeasance (deporting more immigrants than any president ever, jailing more journalists than every president combined, extending the Patriot Act, giving us the NDAA, senseless drone bombings, being pro-fracking, continuing to leave Flint in peril, ignoring Standing Rock, etc.)”
This comfort notion that we lived in a POST RACIAL society. He debunked that myth in its entirety! I have seen more black people proud to be black, unapologetically so, and more willing to come together. He may not have been the change ppl want but he was the spark to many idle minds that realize a president can’t do it: that is OUR JOB.
I know, Obama will largely be judged on what he did or didn’t do, but I would like to peer into his heart — rooted in the past. Rooted in activism. Rooted in Harvard. Rooted in Black Liberation Theology. Rooted in blackness. Rooted in that different handshake when he sees a brother. Rooted in the unprecedented number of black folks in the White House. I personally have been to the White House more times than I can count.
Ultimately, Obama’s legacy might just be that he forced America to be what it has always been: a nation at war with its own marginalized, disrespected, hated, disenfranchised people. Black people. Brown people. Red people. Poor people.
Obama was the president of America, not black folk. I hate that, because it is cliché now. But it’s true.
America is a company, a business, and Obama is the biggest cog we can see. He saved this sh*t, and this is the thanks he gets? He didn’t save us. He saved you. Poor people clapped back at America with hip-hop, a thriving middle class, musical greatness, strides in sports, culture and black pride.
If you look around, all of that is happening again. Like it or not, Obama did that.
Are you ready for what’s now?
“You motivate us, homie, that’s what it is.” – Young Jeezy
Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur is the co-founder and owner of AllHipHop.com. He’s a business man, cultural critic, pundit and trailblazer that has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR), BET, TVOne, VH1, The E! Channel, MTV, The O’Reilly Factor, USA Today, The New York Times, New York’s Hot 97 FM and like a zillion other outlets. Follow him on social media @ChuckCreekmur.