I was eight years old when Barack Obama was sworn into office as our first black President. Quite honestly, I don’t really think it meant anything to me then, and it doesn’t mean anything to me now, simply because I can’t remember a time during which we had a white president and politics mattered to me.
I know that President Obama’s not being white is a big deal. I know this because I’ve been told so, and I’ve been told a million times over, from friends and family to teachers to my mother and a million car bumper stickers. But deep down, I still don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. For me, a nonwhite little girl growing up in a family of similarly nonwhite people, it wasn’t a revolutionary idea that nonwhite people were just as competent as white people, or to see nonwhite men and women in positions of power. Barack Obama’s our first black president? Well good on him, but I didn’t really see how that changed anything.
As a kid, I didn’t understand racism or sexism. I didn’t understand that some people in this country are still so intolerant that we’ve blocked nonwhites and women from the presidency for two hundred and forty years. I grew up and still live in a very nice, liberal town where racism generally isn’t openly taught to kids, and the racism that people do exhibit is not intended as racism. Women in my city usually work unless they don’t want to.
I know President Obama’s race is a big deal because I’ve been told so, but every time I switch on the television and hear about the President, I don’t envision forty-three old, white men. I see President Barack Obama, a black man. To me and to perhaps a lot of people my age, a black president is all we have ever consciously known.
It’s ridiculous that our country’s idea of a “president” is so embedded in the old-white-man ideal that it’s hard for us to consider the idea of another president of color, or a woman president. I have nothing against having a white president sworn in to the Oval Office on January 20, 2017*. But I really, truly hope that President Obama, our first nonwhite president, does not end up being our last nonwhite president. Those people who have only ever known a black president are a very small sliver of the United States population. It may well just be those of us born around 1999, because those before and those after will remember the white president preceding or succeeding President Barack Obama.
I will never, ever judge a candidate’s ability to be president based on his or her race. But I do hope that our country can get to a point where every American can picture a president of a different race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender and where every American’s picture of who a president is can be undeniably true.
* Let it be noted that I have just about everything against Donald Trump as President, period.