In the arms of a white man, I cried. I cried because I knew.
I didn’t grow up enslaved or under Jim Crow. I grew up in a two-parent, six-figure household. My parents taught me the importance of formal education, self-love, and being sympathetic to the journey of others.
Yet on that night, I cried, because for all that I studied in school and in libraries, I knew this was a once in a lifetime achievement for us and him. I knew that electing the first Black person as President of the United States was a cry-worthy moment because it was one my grandmother lived over 90 years to witness. The election of Barack Hussein Obama, married to a dark-skinned Black woman and with two Black daughters, meant a change to this country and a change to this world.
On November 4, 2008, Black women hit the main stage.
With his inauguration that January, America would be required to stare in the face of what it had hated for centuries. It would have to recognize Black leadership, Black intelligence, Black beauty and Black love.
Often criticized for not leading with an emphasis on the plight of Blacks, our President, over the course of just eight years, was what we yearned for as Black little girls and grown Black women—a Black man who celebrates his Black wife and Black daughters. In a world where Black women are seen as either obnoxious and gossipy or career-driven but thirsty for love, our President acknowledged the heroism, complexity and beauty in Black girls and women.
Under the Obama Administration, we passed the most expansive health care reform ever, legalized gay marriage, commuted the sentences of more people than the last seven presidents combined, killed one of the most lethal terrorists in world history and restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. While this list is not exhaustive and does not include what is most critical to my people, the president did change how this nation saw Black women.
I remember the first time I saw Michelle Obama with her dark skin, course edges, and curvy frame. I saw me. I saw my mother, my aunts, my girlfriends—I saw something I had not yet seen before, a Black woman being celebrated by the masses on the world stage.This woman represented the pinnacle of most of the things you need for mainstream acceptance, yet Michelle Obama walked around every day celebrating her Blackness. And her husband, our President, loved that about her.
I remember the first time I saw Sasha and Malia with their care-free personalities, corn-rows, lanky bodies, and crooked teeth. I saw me. I saw myself as a young girl growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, confused by what my body was doing, and contemplating whether it was popular to be smart, whether my mother and father were proud of me. These girls were allowed to be exactly who they wanted to be. Their parents taught them their worth. These girls weren’t just the First Daughters. They were Black girls, too. They were required to make up their beds, obtain jobs once working age, maintain good grades, do community service, and eat their fruit and vegetables. Sasha and Malia were the epitome healthy Black children raised within a healthy Black family.
Representation of his lovely family aside, our President continues to show up and show out for Black women. Not long after being inaugurated, in March, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls cementing his commitment to gender equity. In 2015, he dedicated his remarks at the Annual Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner to the critical role Black women have played this country’s success. Barack Obama has also hired more Black women to leadership positions in the White House than any president before him.
While people admonish our president for not doing the most for Black people, but I recognize that the task was tough. Those of us who remember even some of our Civics lessons know how the legislative process works, and don’t blame the President for not moving even further to ensure Black equity and justice. What I also recognize is that despite the setbacks, this President has made my life and the lives of Black women in this country easier. Though not free of gender or racial discrimination, Black women have had a platform on which to celebrate their brilliant Blackness.
President Barack Hussein Obama brought Black women to the main stage and that is enough for me to say, thank you, Mr. President.
Working in politics, government, and community organizing for over 10 years, China Dickerson has always had a passion for helping to realize justice for all. Originally from Charleston, S.C., China currently resides in Washington D.C. and is the Executive Director of DC Young Democrats. China also serves on the executive boards of various community organizations and can be reached at www.chinadickerson.com