Barack Obama is not your Magical Negro. I know y’all want him to be, but you have to give the man a break. He just got out of one of the most abusive eight-year relationships imaginable. I’m sure he needs some time to decompress.
There is this thing
white people do where they invoke Obama’s name and say he is the one who needs to come forward and speak out against Donald Trump. He is the one who needs to condemn the things Trump is doing. He is the one who needs to save us from a demise of our own making. Why?
The latest example of this phenomenon comes from Hamilton Nolan, a writer at our sister site Splinter.
Nolan contends that Obama “sucks as a post-president” because rather than jump immediately into saving the same Americans who demanded to see his birth certificate, called his wife an ape, used “Muslim” as a pejorative against him and questioned every policy decision he made, he’s gone on to quietly enjoy his funemployment, living his best life and not worrying about what you haters think.
Nolan thinks that Obama should be doing more. He starts off:
In the landscape of career opportunity, there is no more promising position than “immediate past president of the United States.” From that position you can do absolutely anything you want with the exception of “be president of the United States.” Imagination is the only limit.
I would contend that Obama is doing exactly what he wants, and there is nothing wrong with that. He spent eight years serving the will of the American people. Now he gets to do what Barack wants.
Alas, Nolan takes great issue with that:
For a president with true moral and political convictions, post-presidency is a chance to build upon and reinforce the projects he worked on while in office. It is a chance to tackle problems free of the constraints of Congress and polls and elections. It is a chance to use the most high profile public platform in the world to direct resources and money and attention to the places it most needs to be. It is a chance to do more meaningful work than you could accomplish in the White House.
The emphasis is mine, but I take issue with the phrase “true moral and political convictions.” Because he’s not doing what you want when you want him to do it, he lacks morals and convictions? By whose standards? And what is with this idea that he should continue to do the work for a job he was essentially kicked out of? He’s no longer president. He doesn’t have to keep being presidential.
Think of it this way: Obama had an eight-year contract to be the CEO of a large corporation. Said corporation has a rule that once CEO contracts are up, there are no extensions and no renewals. He can never be CEO again, so he leaves at the end of his contract, and they replace him with someone else. The new CEO is a bumbling idiot prone to childish outbursts on social media who is burning the company down to the ground. The corporation is now expecting Obama to come in and save the day. For free.
His old job is literally expecting him to come back and fix the fuckups of his replacement for free, just because he used to work there. Sir, please.
Then there’s this:
It is, in a very real way, a chance to pay back America for its belief in you—to use the incredible gift you have been given to do the maximum amount of good that you can in the time you have left.
There is a level of entitlement here that is disturbing. There is this notion that Obama continues to owe the American people something above and beyond what he was elected to give them. There is a belief that simply because he was elected to an eight-year position, he somehow owes a lifetime of
servitude gratitude labor.
It smacks of the kind of “We
freed you gave you a job. You owe us” sense of entitlement that is born of white male privilege, and that is wrong.
Nolan invokes Jimmy Carter as an example of someone doing post-presidency the “right” way, but let’s be clear: Carter didn’t become the elder statesman he is today until many years after he had been out of office, so that is a false equivalence.
Then there is this passage, which seems to hold Obama to a standard that no other former president is being held to:
Obama was a far more popular president than Jimmy Carter. But in the year and a half he’s been out of office, he’s been a profound disappointment. First, and most important, his voice has been almost entirely absent. He has rarely spoken out directly about everything that Donald Trump is doing to undermine our democracy. (We don’t have to get into it all here, but it’s a lot!) One can understand his silence in the early days—it was at least worth trying to influence Trump quietly, behind the scenes, to guide him onto a more sustainable and presidential path. Clearly that didn’t happen. We can safely call that a failure. The behind the scenes approach didn’t work. It is more important that ever that Americans and the citizens of the rest of the world see a prominent example of someone who was able to hold the same office Trump does without going entirely off the narcissistic quasi-fascist rails. But Obama’s political work since he left office has been subdued and utterly pedestrian. (He did find time to derail Keith Ellison’s bid to head the DNC, though. Thanks.)
Why not call for Bill Clinton to fix it? Or Bush 43? Or Bush 41, for that matter? Why is the black man expected to be the one to step up and correct what’s wrong?
The most privileged and entitled part of the entire essay comes in its last line, when Nolan says, “Barack Obama: your life is not just about you. Get your fucking shit together man.”
I would beg to differ. His life is about him. We don’t own him. We aren’t entitled to him. You don’t own him. You aren’t entitled to him. The days of America benefiting off the free labor of black folks are long over.
Obama did his time. He put in his eight years of service in the White House. He endured the criticism. He withstood the abuse lobbed at his wife and daughters. He smiled and waved and hugged and kissed babies and was the picture of dignity the entire time he was in office. He did his time, and he moved on.
When he left, America voted in an ignorant, xenophobic, racist egomaniac who has spent his entire time in office doing everything in his power to tear down Obama’s legacy. And this country is sitting by and letting him do it.
Obama is supposed to care about this country? Man, fuck this country.
Obama doesn’t owe this country shit.