Eight years ago, I walked into my local precinct to cast my vote for President. I had voted for John Kerry in the previous election begrudgingly because I could never muster any excitement at the thought that a White man whose policies were a little more beneficial than his White male opponent who might possibly win the election. But entering the voting booth in 2008, I could hardly contain my excitement. I chatted with the other Black people in line, all of us beaming with pride as we waited to cast our votes for the first Black president.
However politically incorrect it may be, I admit without reservation that my enthusiasm about voting for Barack Obama was because he is Black. That admission is offered with neither regret nor pleading. White people spent centuries voting for one white man or the other without having to consider race, so when I had the opportunity to support a Black candidate with moderate views, posturing about his policies never came to mind. We finally had a chance to have a brother in office, and that was motivation enough.
I clearly wasn’t alone in that sentiment, as Black voters voted for Obama at 95 percent in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012. And while Obama won the majority vote of among Latino and Asian voters too, neither group, in either election, was as loyal as Black voters, with Latino voters voting 67 percent and 71 percent, and Asian voters voting 62 percent ad 73 percent in 2008 and 2012 respectively. From the moment he threw his hat into the ring, Obama has been championed and supported by Black people.
And despite many Black Americans, myself included, being vocally critical of Obama’s performance as it relates specifically to us (Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza penned an op-ed for the Washington Post about Obama ignoring Black women and the Post also ran a piece about historically Black colleges and universities saying, “Obama’s policies have fallen short,” for example), when Obama and his family have been bombarded with racist hate, Black support has been unwavering.
We have upheld and defended his Blackness consistently. Whether it was Black Twitter rallying for Malia Obama when a troll suggested privilege and not hard work was responsible for her admission to Harvard, celebrating Obama saying “folks wanna pop off” as the Blackest thing ever, clowning Melania Trump for plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech or dragging Waka Flocka for questioning Obama’s Blackness, the Black collective has made it unequivocally clear that we have Obama’s back.
Never has our collective acknowledgment and affirmation of Obama’s Blackness been more crucial than it is now, as his second and final term draws to a close and we dread his replacement with Donald Trump. The “Black” in “first Black President” is unambiguous. It’s not the proximate Blackness based on relentless persecution that the brilliant Toni Morrison had in mind when writing about the adultery scandal of President Bill Clinton. After watching Clinton cut down to size, Morrison surmised, “White skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President.”
Nah, Obama’s Blackness is real, phenotypical, perceptual, literal Blackness.
Apparently, Vogue didn’t receive that memo, though, as they ran an op-ed about President Obama titled, “On the First Asian-American President.”
Whatever kinship non-Black people of color feel with the president, it must be noted that he is Black. Claiming Obama as representative of other racial minorities is not just inaccurate (and disparaging to an eventual Asian-American president), but it is also a challenge to his legacy, a legacy that he has seamlessly, though perhaps consciously, infused with elements of the Blackness he embodies.
While “visceral recognition” between Obama’s experiences on the political stage and the experiences of many Asian-Americans may endear him to those pained by racist xenophobia, those common experiences do not give title to Obama and his identity. Even more, the examples cited in this ill-advised essay are not unique to Asian-Americans but rather a part of the universal experience of being anything other than White and American in this country.
“What is this ‘Birther’ tedium, but a macro version of being asked where you’re ‘really from’ after your American hometown proves to be insufficient for the thousandth time?” the writer asks. I’d say that questions as to whether a Black man really belongs to, or in, this country out of the chains of bondage are the same ones posed to Black folks for centuries anytime we’re told to “Go back to Africa!” That “Obama seemed to have gone through enormous effort to memorize the rule book he was meant to play by, only to be denounced for adhering too closely to the rules,” as the writer argues, may seem a familiar story for Asian-Americans, but it is in fact the game of assimilation and moving targets that Black people have been forced to play for hundreds of years.
Obama is not the first Asian-American President any more than Clinton was the first Black President. And Morrison’s unmatched ability to effortlessly weave words into eloquent tapestry are not enough to change that fact. Whatever truth there was to Morrison’s claims that Clinton was being treated like a Black man by proxy, crafting an “argument as an intentional parallel to Morrison’s” is at least problematic and at most erasure. It is an attack on Black Americans’ fierce, near absolute loyalty to Obama in both elections. It is a dishonest mischaracterization of the majority but far from absolute support of Asian-Americans.
But most egregiously, it is identity theft.
Obama’s performance of Blackness has been purposeful and deliberate. His choice to shower his brown-skinned wife from the south side of Chicago with adoration publicly, his choice to embrace Black speak and his unapologetic love for Black music were all done in the name of Blackness. And most of all, the challenges to Obama as a leader, as a man, as a human have all been because of his Blackness and his choice to own it.
He is not being called anti-Asian slurs. He is not being strapped with the burden of being the model minority. He is being depicted with nooses reminiscent of those that hung from the necks of Black people. He is having the n-word lobbed at him like it’s his name. His wife is being labeled “ghetto.” National publications are making “watermelon” jokes about him.
So, no. We deny your claim to the man we have covered for nearly a decade. We reject the notion that a few instances of White America doing what it does to all people of color means that Obama is more Asian than Black. We call BS on your surface level understanding of oppression and its manifestation in race. We do not consent to identity theft of the first Black President.
LaSha is a writer and blogger who is passionate about Black people. Find her on Twitter @knflkkollective.