The Pressures of a Black Superhero

Black Jesus. Black Santa. Black Barbie. Black Disney Princess. Black Emojis.

All of these things were White before they were Black – with the exception of Jesus, Jesus has been Black—and the Black counterpart was then created to fill the equal representation void. In our minds it’s as if the more representation we have in mainstream society, the closer we get to being accepted by said society. We just want our kids to see people that look like them in different arenas so they can relate and eventually have something to aspire to. I get that; I make sure my daughter watches Doc McStuffins often. There is this notion that having Black figureheads is always a step toward justice and with the darker skin complexion is a character that has overcome an oppressive history and their representation alone symbolizes ideologies and experiences of the Black community. That’s righteous.

And then there’s Obama: the poster boy for post-racial America. Obama was supposed to be the incarnation of Black Santa and Black superheroes alike, and the reincarnation of Martin and Malcolm all while being wrapped in the cloths of Black Jesus, finally delivering White people from the sins of slavery and bestowing upon us the gifts of 40 acres and 40 oz. He knows Jay and Bey. This was our man! But alas, we instead elected the “President of All People” as if we didn’t know that was going to be his job in the first place.

We loved the fist bump, and him dusting his shoulders off, and that he probably smoked Newports like many of our uncles and aunties, but when he spoke up on Trayvon Martin it wasn’t enough and when he treaded very lightly around Mike Brown we began questioning his loyalty. I read a piece titled “Barack Obama Doesn’t Care About Black People”, and I rolled my eyes so hard I was legally blind for five minutes. That same week I read Rembert Browne’s piece on his visit with Obama before Selma in which he asked the question we all wanted the answer to regarding the censorship of his own voice.

Obama is not Captain-Save-A-Negro nor did he ever promise to be; if that were his platform during either election he would have lost. He has been methodic in his approach to our issues as a community and to retain his presidency.

Martin had a dream, assassinated. Malcolm had a dream, assassinated. Do we really need Obama to put his career and the possibility of his life on the line for America to understand the implications of this country’s ugly history? In unison, let’s answer that together: No.

Our first Black presidency has brought more than surface-level symbolism. If the tragedies of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Rekia Boyd, Tanisha Anderson….. had all happened under a White president, it’s tough to call if the community would have mobilized and gained momentum like it has. The post-racial argument has provided gallons of gasoline for this fire, an unintentional argument only truly made possible by our Black president, regardless of his expressed opinions and thoughts on pressing matters.

On more than one occasion Obama has made comments directed at the Black community that can be translated as respectability politics. Rather than become outraged because the complexion of this figurehead didn’t come with the ideology package we thought we voted for, we need to be our own superheroes. In a community working towards acceptance of all kinds of Black lives and beliefs, we’ve placed the most pressure on our President to align himself with what our greater community believes in. This criticism is a waste of our time and we have no one to rely on any longer, except ourselves – organizers doing the work, activists mobilizing the people, peers spreading awareness and education of our history and circumstances.

In a nation built upon physical and historical oppression of Black people—in or out of positions of power—who’s to say we can’t also be the ones to tear it down and rebuild with our needs in mind?


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