I woke up this morning thinking that I was going to write an entire slideshow on the top moments from President Obama’s farewell address last night. But when I sat down to do so, there was really only one that came to mind.
President Obama made some very salient and necessary points about learning to see life through the viewpoint of someone unlike ourselves, about the country not being finished when it comes to race relations and equal rights for all people and rejecting discrimination against Muslims and other immigrants. They were all things he needed to say to the country. Things we needed to hear as we walk, almost blindly, into our uncertain future.
Still, the most real, most heart-warming and most tear-inducing moment came when President Obama spoke to and about his wife and our First Lady, Michelle.
From the moment he said her name, he got emotional.
“Michelle… Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side…For the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and the mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own, with grace, and with grit and with style and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. So, you have made me proud and you have made the country proud.”
You don’t see it in the video above but if you watched the Farewell Address live, last night, you might have noticed her mouth to him, “I love you” from the audience. I found myself teary eyed as President Obama took the stage last night, in a moment that was eerily reminiscent of his 2008 acceptance speech. But as I watched him get choked up and dab his eyes, as the camera panned to show his daughter doing the same, hearing her father speak so lovingly about her mother, a Black woman, our First Lady, my own tears flowed.
These days, and probably even more so in the days that preceded them, it seems that every third person derives great pleasure from disrespecting a Black woman. Everyone from washed up rappers to Dairy Queen owners to White women in the grocery store, to school systems to the entire U.S. Army consistently finds ways to denigrate Black women just for being who we are. So it’s always refreshing when we’re celebrated by anyone, but particularly our own. And last night, on what was likely the biggest stage in the country, with the most eye fixated on our outgoing president, it was truly beautiful to hear the man who holds the highest office in the land speak so highly and so emotionally about a Black woman.
In his actions were the unspoken words, the years worth of private encouragement and sacrifice, the pain and anguish he probably felt watching his wife be ridiculed by racists who simply couldn’t accept a Black woman in this role. And he probably thought about the fact that she endured all of this for the sake of his dream. That type of love, the type that withstands unwarranted attack, is worth crying for.
And for those of us who have watched this couple so carefully over the past eight years, we understood the President on a deeper level when he said “a new generation sets its sights higher because [we had Michelle] as a role.” Hell, a couple of older generations learned from her example too. We learned about the fruits of supporting the right type of man. We learned what it means to do our good work in the midst of the naysayers. We learned what it meant to maintain our authenticity in the high places and most importantly, we learned that using our influence to inspire, advocate for and help others is the best way to make a name for yourself. These are likely lessons we learned long ago and over and over again throughout our lives; but Michelle, in her role as First Lady, was a beautiful reminder of those truths. And I couldn’t help but cry right along with the President in both gratitude and fear for what her example will be replaced with.
There have been those who both loved and hated Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe’s Lifetime Achievement Award speech. While it did have a bumpy beginning, I found more truth and good in it than not. Particularly when she noted, “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Without ever naming him, she was speaking about President Obama’s predecessor. And while she was referencing what his horrible behavior has the potential to do in the world, the same is true for the reverse. When we see our leaders, our elected officials, the people who represent us in foreign lands brought to tears in publicly honoring a Black woman, it too inspires both those inside the community and outside to do the same. It provides a welcome contrast to the belittling of women like Michelle and it affirms the beauty, the value and lives of Black girls and women across the world. Barack Obama’s presidency has not been perfect; but I will forever cherish that contribution, his public profession of love for a Black woman as one of his greatest legacies.
Image via WENN