At the time of this writing, “I Miss Barack Obama” is one of Twitter’s top trending topics; a response to a viral piece from David Brooks of the New York Times, where he opines on the president’s many virtues (most notably, the fact that President Obama is, above all else, a good and decent person). I share Brooks’ sentiment, for reasons he expressed (Obama’s sense of integrity and steadfast belief in his values) and for reasons I would not expect Brooks, a white man, to have much of a personal connection to.
There is just no way to accurately assess the psychic benefit of having the president of the United States be a black man. Perhaps you can be critical of his politics, his personality and his policies—he is not infallible, so you should be—but the impact of his terms in office stretches beyond that, and it is not quantifiable. How can you possibly measure how much it means for tens of millions of black Americans to watch the State of the Union and see someone who could very easily be an uncle or a cousin or a brother or a barber? What type of poll or survey or study could possibly assign a number to rate that spiritual and psychological boost?
Even now, eight years after he was elected, it still feels surreal. Kafkaesque, even, because this surreality has come with a latent sense of doom. A fear that something might happen to him. To wit, my most resonant memory of his presidency came the night he was first elected. The unbridled joy I felt while watching him give his acceptance speech was matched—and, possibly, surpassed—by the dread that someone was going to do something to him. And I will miss the feeling of this mirth congealed with unease. Because even though this unease isn’t a positive feeling, it’s a feeling that stems from a positive feeling. An unfortunate by-product of fathomless and genuine care. And I will miss having a president whose very existence conjures and cultivates that.
Also, I will miss his wife.
Referring to something as “everything” has recently emerged as a way to encapsulate an entity’s degree of awesome. The Beyoncé concert wasn’t just “amazing.” It was “everything.” General Tso’s shrimp wasn’t just “delicious.” It was “everything.” The piece from your favorite writer about that funny thing that happened wasn’t just “entertaining.” It was “everything.”
Usually, this everything status is inherently hyperbolic, a consciously exaggerated way of expressing a sincere affinity. Yet, in Michelle Obama’s case, she has literally been everything. Amazing wife and mother. Role model. Fashion icon. Fitness benchmark. Gracious global ambassador. Slayer in chief. So much of everything that the best people to compare her to—namely, Clair Huxtable and Elastigirl from The Incredibles, etc.—don’t even exist. She hasn’t just broken the mold. She is the mold. The prototype. The archetype that all others, from henceforth, will be compared to.
Also, the significance of Barack Obama being married to her cannot be minimized. She was, and remains, the president’s most vital co-sign. Despite his blackness bona fides, his unique background and relative anonymity did create some skepticism among certain pockets of black people. Not a pervasive cynicism as much as a curiousness; a delayed, “wait and see” entrustment. But once we (collectively) learned that he was married to a bad-ass sista from Chicago, we (collectively) were reassured. If someone like her loved this dude enough to accept his hand in marriage and bear his children—and, just as importantly, if he had the wherewithal (and the game) to convince someone like her to marry him—we were in good hands.
I will miss having this beautiful and unapologetically black woman in the White House. In honor of her last year as first lady, here are 10 of her best and blackest moments.
1. Launching the Let’s Move! Initiative
President Obama has been criticized by both the type of white person searching for reasons to be critical of him and the type of black person searching for reasons to be critical of him for not doing anything specifically to benefit black people. This criticism has always been, for lack of a better term, dumb as hell, since anyone with a working brain stem and Wi-Fi connection can easily (easily!!!) find dozens of initiatives and policy measures very obviously intended to benefit people of color. It’s also no accident that the first lady’s most comprehensive initiative is a program to get America healthier. We (black people) disproportionately suffer from obesity and malnutrition, and the very first thing Michelle Obama did in office was devise a way to help change that.