I was really blessed to grow up with a wealth of political education around me. We didn’t have much, but we did have PLENTY of things to read and watch to develop my politics. I remember being a little Black boy and believing that I could change the world as a lawyer by fighting racism in the judicial system, knowing it was going to be extremely difficult, and eventually becoming the first Black President.
By the time Obama ran for president I had become very jaded of true equality coming from the United States government. Still, the idea that the year I would turn 18 would also be the year I would be able to cast a vote for the first Black President filled my heart with hope. Truthfully I had hoped he wouldn’t win the primary, I thought he was too centrist. I believed Dennis Kucinich was the candidate Democrats needed, but I recognized the writing on the wall and embraced Obama.
The Black “elite” community came out in a full court press to support Barack Obama; “rock the vote,” “vote or die,” “my president is Black my Lambo is blue.” Black celebrities LOVED Obama & it helped me to find comfort in co-opting my politics “for the culture.” I even had an Obama shirt, starting to truly believe a Black President would radically shake our struggle in America into the next phase in the search of freedom.
During his campaign he faced several instances of blatant racism that he side-stepped by distancing himself from Black people, from the Black church, and from liberation theology. Not to mention he simply did not address the racism coded as birtherism. It was becoming apparent to me that Obama was not going to hold us down, still “let’s get the first one in there” theory allowed me to cast my vote for Obama. What was the other option? Vote for McCain who voted against Martin Luther King Jr. Day? (Isn’t this the same thinking in 2020, but that is for another essay).
Just a few weeks before Obama took office, Oscar Grant was executed with his hands behind his back on a BART platform in the early hours of the new year. There was a video for the whole world to see. Oscar Grant was my Emmit Till, my four little girls in Birmingham, my Rodney King, my Trayvon, Big Mike, George Floyd, Oscar Grant was my Breonna Taylor.
The combination of Oscar Grant and Barack Obama radicalized me more than any reading I could have ever done. I had studied Garvey, Malcolm, the Panthers, and the Black Liberation Army. I had always caused issues and was never afraid to speak out. When Arnold Schwarzenegger won the governors seat, I was afraid he would bring about a new nazi regime to California so I made flyers and put them on every classmates desk calling for a protest of the election. During high school my band teacher brought House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to speak with us and gave us a quick Q&A. Once I found out she was coming to speak I spent days writing down multiple questions I would ask to hold her accountable. They finally called on “the young man in the back with the colorful jacket,” my heart sped up, my mind raced and all the questions I had swirled together. “Why aren’t you impeaching Bush about lying about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?” The room was tense and her team whisked her away. I had believed myself to be a radical but I still believed in the system in some fashion, and that belief resided in Obama’s promise of hope.
The injustice of Grant’s murder, the subsequent trial of Johannes Mehserle, the Department of Vererans Affairs (mis)handling of my father’s death and burial, combined with Obama’s eight years in office changed me to my core. The last hope was burned out as Obama sent federal troops to shut down the people fighting for their lives in Ferguson. Obama had fought the people at Standing Rock, mocked the people in Flint, bombed countries in unprecedented numbers, killed Gaddafi, and despite two Black attorney generals, the world watched nobody be held accountable in Trayvon’s murder. Once Baltimore was on fire I was ready for the entire country to burn down because I was so broken and had lost all hope of achieving equality.
I am telling you to BLAME BARACK OBAMA for radicalizing me to fight in my revolutionary war. Give us (read: ALL the people) liberty because you have already given us death.
Obama’s eight years in office radicalized me more than any speech or book could have ever done, I experienced eight years where I lived out what Jamil Al-Amil (H. Rap Brown) said “to really believe that we can put someone in office and that these people will be responsive to our needs is naive, politically naive. Because even if one of the Black candidates who ran for office were to take the office of president then Black people must be prepared to fight against that person. Because you see, the system mandates the actions of the individual, the individual does not determine how this country will function.”
Barack was correct about a few things though, “what we do echoes through the generations…You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient — the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.” In order to do that it is time for “we the people” to re-capture our political power and ensure our future freedom from white supremacy and oppression. As the Democrats stated, the country is at the brink; but what is on the other side isn’t anything to fear, on the other side of the brink of the collapse of a racist imperial regime is freedom. So blame Obama.
Thank you to my editor Felisa Concepcion, MSW