(Originally published January 7, 2017 in Atlanta Black Star)
President Barack Obama is scheduled to give a farewell address to the American people on January 10 from his adopted hometown of Chicago. A farewell address by a sitting president, although not unheard of, is not necessarily a standard outgoing presidential act. We assume what has given rise to this need is the, uh, … shall we say, “unusual” nature of the new president-elect. President Obama himself says his speech is following in the tradition set by George Washington in 1796. That’s a long way to go back for a precedent.
His goal, as he states in the email announcing the address, is ” … a chance to say thank you for this amazing journey, to celebrate the ways you’ve changed this country for the better these past eight years and to offer some thoughts on where we all go from here.”
Later in the same email, President Obama noted that, as a country, we have faced challenges together “… because we have never let go of a belief that has guided us ever since our founding — our conviction that, together, we can change this country for the better,” he said. “So, I hope you’ll join me one last time. Because, for me, it’s always been about you.”
Some of us have never held the same belief as President Obama of a shared conviction on changing the country. Many, including the Founding Fathers, did not want change and attempted to enshrine the status quo of African enslavement and voting rights for white male property owners. This is echoed still today in Trump’s victory and “Make America Great Again” slogan. Obama has failed to realize that people have different views on what a change for the better means.
Based on what we expect from the farewell address, we thought we would have a little fun and offer a helpful theme for Obama’s speech, one of apologizing to the Black community for a lot of hope but not much substance. The following is our version of Obama’s farewell address:
My fellow Americans, especially the Black ones [long pause],
I apologize for supporting Hillary Clinton. I supported her so blindly that it led to the national disaster that Donald Trump will become. Hillary and her husband’s history of pandering in anti-Black rhetoric and policy, through the 1994 crime bill, should have given me pause before supporting her. The crime bill allocated $10 billion to prison construction and ushered in a new wave of mass incarceration at both a federal and state level that disproportionately impacted Black people because of the changes in drug sentencing. After Bill Clinton left office, the U.S. had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The federal and state prison percentage increased by almost 60 percent while he was president. During that time, Hilary helped sell this law to the public by using racial code words, like calling young black men “super predators.” This was obvious during the 2008 nomination process when Hilary was behind in delegates and began talking about the support she had among “hard-working white Americans.”
I knew then that she would be viewed as someone whose only agenda was getting elected, that her unfavorable ratings were remarkably high and spelled trouble right away. But I persisted. I even helped to persuade my own vice-president to stand aside, even as a “socialist” gave her the run of a lifetime. I am so sorry.
I apologize for never specifically targeting any major piece of legislation to help support the Black community. I targeted legislation and presidential orders to help support women with the first bill I signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. For the LGBTQI communities, I ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and I supported marriage equality. In the Latino and immigrant communities, I finally supported Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Hell, I even recently ended the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a program that was primarily used to track Arab and Muslim men, to make sure Trump couldn’t get a head start on his election promise.
However, I always made sure not to say I was specifically trying to help the Black community. Even Trump, in his own inarticulate way, has made overt promises to the Black community, even though we know he has no plans to implement or follow up on them. I didn’t even dig up good old Jesse Jackson rhetoric on creating a “Black Marshal Plan” to help support urban communities. I stepped out a few times on the killing of Black people by the police, but I kept it tepid so as not to upset the larger white constituency. Sure, I tried to make sure my general legislation helped Black people — Obamacare, ending the militarization of local police, releasing federal prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses — but I just couldn’t say that I was helping Black people or the Black community. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take the weight. I’m sorry.
Also, I’m really sorry for not breaking up the big banks and fighting for tougher Wall Street reforms. During the recession, half of all Black wealth was destroyed. In 2005, three years before the collapse of Wall Street and the ensuing recession, median Black household net worth was a little over $12,000. Believe it or not, this represented a great historical high point, while median white household net worth was close to $135,000. By 2009, Black median household net worth was down to a little more than $5,500. The white median income per household dropped only to $113,149 during that same time. However, the Justice Department and I decided not to prosecute Wall Street bankers for destroying the economy and black wealth. Prosecuting those bankers would have signaled to all of those upset by the bailouts that we were serious about punishing wrongdoers. But instead, we allowed those same individuals who caused the downturn to remain on their perches and collect millions, if not billions, in windfalls while the rest of the country slowly sloshed our way out of economic despair. I did nothing and those fat cats just got richer and now one is the new president.
I ask for forgiveness for expanding drone warfare in Africa and the Middle East from bases in Kenya and Djibouti. I ordered drone use in places you know, like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. I also ordered them in places you don’t know, like Somalia and Libya. I knew they weren’t exactly precision strikes. In 2012 and 2013 alone, we killed over 200 people in special operations, with only 35 of those people being the intended targets. Unlike my predecessor, I knew the “They hate our freedoms” mantra was not the basis of any Middle East conflicts with the Western world. I knew it was the history of past and present imperialism, the supporting of monarchs and dictators, and the continued military, logistical and economic support of a Western settler-colonial nation that took land. Of course they hate us. We won’t get out of their land and oil. I knew a few spiffy speeches about democracy and offering an open hand would not lead to any reset. But I didn’t think America was ready to hear the truth about our aggressive behavior and that, internationally, we are not considered a bright shiny beacon of light on the hill. I inherited an empire and I tried to curb some of the more outlandish aspects of it, but I was not the American Gorbachev looking to dismantle said empire. I just wanted to manage it better.
Finally, Black people, I apologize for just not being bold enough to challenge systemic white supremacy. (Whew! See, I finally said it after eight years and it feels good!) Again, I did some good things, though those things are about to get dismantled because I could never sell them to the public as good things for our society. Some things I won’t take responsibility for, like the racist core of the majority-white electorate that would never trust me only because I was a Black man. But, I built a strong coalition of various communities to overcome white resistance during my two terms in office and I should have rallied them more forcefully while in office to support my agenda, to support real change and then back a candidate who could carry the mantle further than I could. I should have rallied them to support a candidate who had bold beliefs to move the country forward. My bold acts would have empowered a candidate who also was bold, but … but … but, that takes me back to my first apology about supporting Hillary.
Sorry, Black America.