Late on a Tuesday night in 2008, I hugged my crying parents and then-13 year old sister as we realized the United States had – somehow – elected a black man as president. Our very first: Barack Obama. My dad called his family and friends in Chicago, and I heard him say “We did it,” as tears clouded his eyes. The most recent September prior to Election Day I had turned 18 – and as I listened to speech after speech from Obama, who will forever be my favorite orator, I was inspired to speak out, too. I was a very politically active high school student, and that November, the fall of my senior year of high school, I felt the enormity of what we had done, too. I cried tears of joy, relief, and disbelief.
As a college senior four years later, I stood in line for eight hours to hear my president speak at my small-town Iowa college. He was newly grayed from the years of stress, but still ever elegant, humorous, intelligent, and emitting swagger.
Over these eight years I have had to defend the Obamas – Barack as well as Michelle, Sasha, and Malia – from racism in the media as well as from “friends”.
I had to speak out against drone strikes, and what I felt was not enough liberalism from Barry O.
And yet…my president, the very first one I voted for, was black. He and his wife danced when they felt like it and sang the tunes they enjoyed. They were intelligence and grace personified. The Obamas were scandal-free and as all-American as you can get, and never got the respect they deserved. Representation is perhaps the most important for black people and people of color, so seeing a black man, his black wife, and their black children laugh, cry, and love each other in the White House has been an honor and a privilege. It has helped me learn to, if only for a moment, forsake my cynicism for hope. It has helped me to believe.
So on this, the day of the Orange Menace’s inauguration, I can feel nothing but loss. Not only because we are losing what history will certainly look back on as one of the best First Couples we have ever had, but also because of who they are being replaced with.
That we could replace such a symbol of progress with such a symbol of regression is disheartening. Like a death in the family. So permanent and final; so sad.
When I made my coffee this morning, I put sugar in it, something I almost never do. But it felt necessary. I am relishing the relief I can find.
May you find the sweetness in this bitter day, and the bitter days ahead.