Manual The Obama Nicknames: a retrospective on the Obama Presidency.

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The division is not neat; the two are linked, and it is incredibly hard to be a full participant in the world of cultural identity without experiencing the trauma of racial identity. Obama is somewhat different. But the kinds of traumas that marked African Americans of his generation—beatings at the hands of racist police, being herded into poor schools, grinding out a life in a tenement building—were mostly abstract for him.

Moreover, the kind of spatial restriction that most black people feel at an early age—having rocks thrown at you for being on the wrong side of the tracks, for instance—was largely absent from his life. In its place, Obama was gifted with a well-stamped passport and admittance to elite private schools—all of which spoke of other identities, other lives and other worlds where the color line was neither determinative nor especially relevant.

Obama could have grown into a raceless cosmopolitan. Surely he would have lived in a world of problems, but problems not embodied by him.


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He was sitting on Air Force One , his tie loosened, his shirtsleeves rolled up. Why that is, I think, is complicated. You feel pretty good about it. Stanley, his grandfather, who came originally from Kansas, took him to basketball games at the University of Hawaii, as well as to black bars.

Stanley introduced him to the black writer Frank Marshall Davis. The facilitation was as much indirect as direct. That suspicion of rootlessness extends throughout Dreams From My Father. But instead of being in awe, Obama realized that he and the woman lived in different worlds. After college, Obama found a home, as well as a sense of himself, working on the South Side of Chicago as a community organizer.

It was less obvious to me. How do I pull all these different strains together: Kenya and Hawaii and Kansas, and white and black and Asian—how does that fit? And through action, through work, I suddenly see myself as part of the bigger process for, yes, delivering justice for the [African American community] and specifically the South Side community, the low-income people—justice on behalf of the African American community.

But also thereby promoting my ideas of justice and equality and empathy that my mother taught me were universal. And I can fit the African American struggle for freedom and justice in the context of the universal aspiration for freedom and justice.

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If women, as a gender, must suffer the constant evaluations and denigrations of men, black women must suffer that, plus a broad dismissal from the realm of what American society deems to be beautiful. But Michelle Obama is beautiful in the way that black people know themselves to be. Her prominence as first lady directly attacks a poison that diminishes black girls from the moment they are capable of opening a magazine or turning on a television.

The South Side of Chicago, where Obama began his political career, is home to arguably the most prominent and storied black political establishment in the country. Washington forged the kind of broad coalition that Obama would later assemble nationally. But Washington did this in the mids in segregated Chicago, and he had not had the luxury, as Obama did, of becoming black with minimal trauma.

President Barack Obama Exits With Long List Of Accomplishments - Rachel Maddow - MSNBC

Axelrod recalled sitting around a conference table with Washington after he had won the Democratic primary for his reelection in , just as the mayor was about to hold a press conference. He felt those things. He had fought in an all-black unit in World War II. He had come up in times—and that and the sort of indignities of what you had to do to come up through the machine really seared him.

Like Washington, Obama attempted to forge a coalition between black South Siders and the broader community. But Obama, despite his adherence to black cultural mores, was, with his roots in Kansas and Hawaii, his Ivy League pedigree, and his ties to the University of Chicago, still an exotic out-of-towner.

But even as many in the black political community were skeptical of Obama, others encouraged him—sometimes when they voted against him. You just have to be patient. And being able to break through in the African American community is difficult because of the enormous loyalty that people feel towards anybody who has been around awhile. There was no one around to compete for loyalty when Obama ran for Senate in , or for president in He was no longer competing against other African Americans; he was representing them. Obama ran for the Senate two decades after the death of Harold Washington.

Axelrod checked in on the precinct where Washington had been so loudly booed by white Chicagoans. Obama believes that his statewide victory for the Illinois Senate seat held particular portent for the events of Illinois effectively allowed Obama to play a scrimmage before the big national game in And so part of the reason I was willing to run [for president in ] was that I had had two years in which we were generating enormous crowds all across the country—and the majority of those crowds were not African American; and they were in pretty remote places, or unlikely places.

So what that told me was, it was possible. What those crowds saw was a black candidate unlike any other before him. For most African Americans, white people exist either as a direct or an indirect force for bad in their lives. Biraciality is no shield against this; often it just intensifies the problem. What proved key for Barack Obama was not that he was born to a black man and a white woman, but that his white family approved of the union, and approved of the child who came from it. They did this in —a time when sex between black men and white women, in large swaths of the country, was not just illegal but fraught with mortal danger.

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The first white people he ever knew, the ones who raised him, were decent in a way that very few black people of that era experienced. And he was like a blue-black brother. And so, yeah, I will always give my grandparents credit for that. In this, the first lady is more representative of black America than her husband is. African Americans typically raise their children to protect themselves against a presumed hostility from white teachers, white police officers, white supervisors, and white co-workers.

But that willingness to help is also a defense, produced by decades of discrimination. Obama sees race through a different lens, Kaye Wilson told me.

Presidency of George W. Bush

He needs that frame of reference. He needs that lens. Or Al Sharpton. Different lens.

What Obama was able to offer white America is something very few African Americans could—trust. The vast majority of us are, necessarily, too crippled by our defenses to ever consider such a proposition. But Obama, through a mixture of ancestral connections and distance from the poisons of Jim Crow, can credibly and sincerely trust the majority population of this country. That trust is reinforced, not contradicted, by his blackness.

That, too, is defensive, and deep down, I suspect, white people know it. Four days earlier, The Washington Post had published an old audio clip that featured Donald Trump lamenting a failed sexual conquest and exhorting the virtues of sexual assault. As we flew to North Carolina, the president was in a state of bemused disbelief. A feeling of cautious inevitability emanated from his staff, and why not?

He had likely not paid taxes in 18 years. He had been denounced by leadership in his own party, and the trickle of prominent Republicans—both in and out of office—who had publicly repudiated him threatened to become a geyser.

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My President Was Black - The Atlantic

At this moment, the idea that a campaign so saturated in open bigotry, misogyny, chaos, and possible corruption could win a national election was ludicrous. This was America. It is a quintessentially Obama program—conservative in scope, with impacts that are measurable. But what are we going to do? They told stories of being in the street, of choosing quick money over school, of their homes being shot up, and—through the help of mentoring or job programs brokered by MBK—transitioning into college or a job.

Obama listened solemnly and empathetically to each of them. When he asked the young men whether they had a message he should take back to policy makers in Washington, D. He was correct. The ghettos of America are the direct result of decades of public-policy decisions: the redlining of real-estate zoning maps, the expanded authority given to prosecutors, the increased funding given to prisons.

And all of this was done on the backs of people still reeling from the year legacy of slavery. The results of this negative investment are clear—African Americans rank at the bottom of nearly every major socioeconomic measure in the country. Blacks disproportionately benefit from this effort, since they are disproportionately in need. Its full benefit has yet to be felt by African Americans, because several states in the South have declined to expand Medicaid. Obama also emphasized the need for a strong Justice Department with a deep commitment to nondiscrimination.

And what the [George W.


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  • Holder is certainly blunter, and this worried some of the White House staff. But positioning the two men as opposites elides an important fact: Holder was appointed by the president, and went only as far as the president allowed. I asked Holder whether he had toned down his rhetoric after that controversial speech. He is the Zen guy. But he and I share a worldview, you know?

    Obama would deliver this lecture to any black audience, regardless of context.