Beyond Romanticization: Reflections on Obama in the Age of Trump

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We can recognize the good in Obama’s presidency, while still understanding that, regardless of his identity, Obama is still a neoliberal politician functioning in a political system that can never bring us liberation. (Photo: Marc Nozell / Flickr)

On January 10, when Barack Obama returned to Chicago to give his last speech as president of the United States, I could feel the city hold its breath and hold back tears. I live in Hyde Park — Obama’s old neighborhood. Here one can feel the pride Chicagoans have for Obama more than in most other parts of the city. A plaque where he and Michelle had their first date sits at the corner of 53rd and Dorchester. In the Cove Lounge on 55th St., a six-foot mural of his grinning face looms opposite the bar, and on January 10, hours before his speech, he dined at Valois in the heart of the neighborhood, while people eagerly waited in the Chicago chill hoping for a glance of our soon-to-be-former president.

I cannot feel that pride in Obama’s legacy. In February of last year, Black Lives Matter Chicago founder Aislinn Pulley — my colleague and friend — wrote a piece explaining why she declined an invitation to the White House:

I was under the impression that a meeting was being organized to facilitate a genuine exchange on the matters facing millions of Black and Brown people in the United States. Instead, what was arranged was basically a photo opportunity and a 90-second sound bite for the president. I could not, with any integrity, participate in such a sham that would only serve to legitimize the false narrative that the government is working to end police brutality and the institutional racism that fuels it.

A significant part of our work as Black Lives Matter Chicago is to support families of police and state violence, and to work with them in demanding justice for their lost loved ones. We hold marches, we organize vigils, we build counter-narratives to police accounts, and we uplift the real stories and lives of those lost to…

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