Barack Obama on the Cover of Essence

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Perhaps in his quest to re-earn the support that he’s lost over the last four years, President Barack Obama made an appearance on the cover of Essence Magazine.  You can tell that this must be an election year, where all sins are supposed to be forgiven and all lost ground is regained in an instant.  Broken promises from the past are reconciled with promises that leverage the future, like borrowing more money from the bank that you never repaid in the first place.

I’m not sure what to make of President Obama’s appearance in Essence, but I can only ask this: “What’s the reason for Obama’s appearance and what does it mean for “us”?”

Barack Obama, for the most part, is worthy of every bit as much respect as any other African American public figure.  He is an accomplished man and has a beautiful family.  But as a black leader, I’m not sure if he meets the mark.   The president, unfortunately, has spent the last four years trying to prove to a pack of racist Republicans that he’s not as black as they want to believe that he is.  He’s worked to be non-threatening in situations that called for him to fight.  He’s tried to build bridges in scenarios that called for a mobilizer.  He has been fearful of confrontation, leading millions of supporters to wonder, “Why did we believe in you in the first place?”

At this point, by putting him on the cover of Essence, the magazine editors are getting a presentation that is as empty and mindless as the rest of its overly commercialized content.  They are getting flash without substance, and hype without actualization.  They are getting a politician who just happens to be black, but he’s only black long enough to take the picture.  Then, he goes right back to being whatever the situation calls for him to be.

I don’t dislike Barack Obama, but I don’t love him either.  Listening to him speak is like drinking a glass of water:  Devoid of flavor, uninteresting, yet not terribly bad to drink either.  I would hope that our first black president would not be such an empty shell, but the honest-to-God truth is that there is nothing meaningful for me to be excited about.   Obama’s “presidential swag” is the only thing that makes him interesting right now, and I’m sure that even Michelle is ready to go home.

I hope that Barack Obama wins the election in November.  But if he does win, I’m not sure what there is to look forward to.  Another four years of double-digit black unemployment, endless mass incarceration, unequal educational systems, and political leaders who are afraid to stand up for us?  Neither the word “hope,” nor the word “change” should be used for black Americans, since being hopeful that anything is going to change in Washington might only lead to disappointment.  At best, we can say that Obama is the better of two horrible options, which hardly makes anyone excited about American politics right now.

Sorry to sound like such a drag, but it is what it is.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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