When President Obama arrived on the political stage in 2004, his speech at the Democratic National Convention would be lauded by critics and raise questions about his political future. His announcement to run in the 2008 presidential elections began a remarkable journey to the White House. Millions around the world tuned in to watch as America elected their first black president.

Our goal at Literally, Darling  has always been to provide our readers with differing perspectives on issues. Vanessa, a 25-year-old from Connecticut, first registered to vote during Obama’s campaign in 2008. Coming from a high school where she was one of only a few black students, Vanessa was made aware of the differences between herself and her classmates. During her college experience she came to realize that she did not have to internalize it. Angela was a sophomore in high school during President Obama’s first campaign and voted for him in 2012. As a political science major at a small liberal arts college in Kentucky, she has learned that life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, and that there is not always one solution to a problem. As Millennial black women, they offer a unique perspective on the impact of President Obama’s election on millennial minorities.


 

Angela: Hope for a Better America

When Barack Obama burst into the scene in 2004, I do not think anyone was really prepared for what his subsequent campaign and election would mean. I was a sophomore in high school when he beat Sen. John McCain and began his journey to the White House. I remember the debates we had in school, when some in my class accused black voters of only electing President Obama because of his skin tone. What they did not or could not see was that it was hope which got him elected. Hope that black children, who account for 33 percent of the population of children living in poverty, would be able to move above the poverty line. After the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, a bleeding housing market and a 5.8 percent unemployment rate, I think that a majority of Americans, especially, newly graduated Millennials were looking forward to a little help from the government. Obama with his middle-class roots and years of public service in Chicago was the physical manifestation of the Democrats’ growing social agenda. It also did not hurt that he was a good-looking black man, who would become the face and voice for blacks everywhere. For more than a hundred years, blacks have been under represented in various sectors; from the political to the public sector with the 113th Congress having a record breaking 43 African Americans. America was scattered with thousands of plastic Change 2008 signs. For minorities, they were a banner of hope, a sign that maybe, just maybe, he would win and minorities could turn on the TV and see some who looked like them.

Vanessa: A Chance for Representation

I was a sophomore at Emerson College when Sen. Barack Obama joined the race for the presidency. Hope hung heavy in the air like honeysuckle; the student body primarily consisted of liberal Democrats, so the political and cultural fervor surrounding Obama was part Beatlemania, part astonishment. Here was a chance for representation. The Millennial bracket was searching for relief from the war-mongering policies of President Bush, and Obama seemed to connect with my peers like a black JFK. He was pitched as a different kind of leader, one who would actually listen to the voices of the silenced, oppressed and underrepresented. When he stopped in Boston, I happily attended. His appearance was at the Boston Commons, adjacent from campus. After seeing him in the flesh and being captivated by the steady authority and confidence of his voice, I followed his campaign trail with unprecedented diligence. I stayed up to watch Anderson Cooper on CNN despite early morning classes. I consumed newspapers and blogs and made sure to learn the process of out-of-state-voting. I prepared myself like a soldier plunging into a battle without promise of return. For me, it was more than a matter of Republican vs. Democrat. It was a sign that the social narrative of black Americans, as imposed by the white mainstream, was weakening, softening like sand in water.

Angela: Our Generation Cares About Social Equality

Minorities and Millennials played a large role in electing President Obama, with 66 percent of millennial voters in 2008, and a slightly lower 60 percent in 2012. As a generation we tend to be more progressive than our parents and members of Congress. More than creating new policy, the Obama Administration is seeking to effect and change American culture, which is largely supported by Millennials. This shift from an individualistic approach to rights, to a country where everyone has access to healthcare, equal pay and the right to marry who they want, gives minority Millennials opportunities that their parents did not have.

Jesse Holland, aptly notes in the Huffington post, that Millennials, “believe in a big activist government on some of the social issues of the day—gay marriage, marijuana legalization, immigration. Their views are much more aligned with the Democratic Party.”

These issues are so important to Millennials, and the support of white Millennials for President Obama, directly effects their minority counterparts.

 

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President Obama was elected by minorities and Millennials, because they had a specific plan for him. In many ways he has passed some of the Millennial agenda, like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, The Affordable Care Act plan, and the Administration’s decision to not enforce DOMA. Prior to the passing of the ACA, 33 percent of Millennials did not have insurance. Additionally, of all uninsured Americans, blacks and Hispanics comprised 52 percent of the uninsured population. In 2009, when talk of changing the healthcare system began, 61 percent of Millennials favored a government provided healthcare plan to compete with private sector healthcare. After the healthcare roll out, 30 percent of newly insured Americans were Millennials. This has long reaching effects for minority Millenials, who are disproportionately uninsured and undereducated. For minority Millenials, the chance to get an education means so much more than getting a job; it is the chance to return to the communities that raised them, with the tools to turn around and help that community. Since his election, there certainly seems to be more publicity given to minority issues, like the silent march in which thousands walked through downtown New York to protest stop and frisk.

Vanessa: Poisonous Partisanship Leads to Disillusionment

As the years have passed and the critics of Obama have gotten much more vocal and vicious, I’ve started to think that the anger and disappointment radiating from his naysayers, regardless of the political lines drawn in the sand, are rooted in disbelief: disbelief that this powerful figure is not Superman, but a mere human being who makes mistakes, sometimes mistakes that eerily echo the policies of those he condemned.

Noted writer Teju Cole pointed out in the New Yorker, “When, in 2009, he [Obama] was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, we noted the absurdity of such premature plaudits, but also saw the occasion as encouragement for the difficult work to come. From the optimistic perspective of those early days, Obama’s foreign policy has lurched from disappointing to disastrous.”

The scars of the Bush legacy run deep and the emergence of Obama, a skilled lawyer-turned-politician, relied on the allure of the right words: hope, change. With his progressive persona stacked against Senator McCain, it’s not hard to conjure another plot point in the tragic narrative of JFK: Nixon, sweating on camera, while the JFK’s youthfulness and vigor practically lunged through viewers’ television screens.

Before Obama was elected, my father used to say: there’ll never be a black president. Having been born in 1951, my father was witness to the Civil Rights Movement and this, combined with his personal experiences with racism, proves to him that not much has changed. People just found better, slicker ways to hide their racism. Much like me, his encounters with racism began on the elementary school playground and did not disappear with age. He voted for Obama both times and although he doesn’t think that Obama’s reign has been smooth sailing, he still adamantly defends the President. My father respects Obama’s “hustle.” After reading “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” my father was even more convinced of Obama’s integrity, that curious American myth of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” Unfortunately, my father is insistent that Obama’s election was some kind of fluke, a cosmic practical joke. We’ll never have another black president, he says.

 

Angela: Crossing Racial Divides 

I disagree that Obama’s election was a fluke, after all, even with the black community’s turnout in 2008 and 2012, he still needed non-blacks to come out in mass numbers to received the majority. Despite the arguments, the color of President Obama’s skin did not seem to be a negative factor in his election. Living in a time where our president is black is confirmation that we are trying to overcome all the horrible things done to and said about black people. The black community is strong and resilient, something that I think has been overlooked by the media, especially when you look at incidents like Trayvon Martin, where the black communities refusal to let the story die, gave the Zimmerman trial worldwide media coverage. I am not by any means trying to mitigate the strides and hard work of my ancestors, without their desire for equality, and refusal to be silenced; I doubt we would have a black president.


But the election of President Obama has ushered in a new era, an era of well-educated and ambitious black men and women, whose collective memory is working to mold a new American equality.

 

Vanessa: Racism is Still a Facet of Everyday Life in America

I’m not sure if it’s correct to say that Obama’s election and subsequent re-election prove that anti-blackness can be completely overcome. With the recent deaths of young African-Americans such as Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin Jordan Davis and Renisha McBride, in addition to the public’s relentless fascination with “who can and can’t” use the N-word, race and racism are too tightly intertwined with America’s past, present and future. We cleave to these subjects because they are the foundation for America’s history and its national identity. We cling to these horrors because they are still being denied.

Angela: Millennials Can Continue Obama’s Change

There is still a lot that needs to be done, as Vanessa points out, these issues run deep. However, I think that overall, we recognize that it is going take time to fix America, and probably more time than the eight years allocated to the presidency. We have our own agenda, separate from that of our parents, and President Obama certainly helps pave the way for the Millennial platform. Our generation is the most diverse and most educated in America’s history, with 59 percent of Millennials holding at least a bachelors degree. That is a powerful combination. Our government is becoming more proportionate to the actual make-up of America, with more women, ethnicities, sexual preferences, and races represented in Congress, with estimates suggesting that by 2020 we will make up about 40 percent of the electorate. While minority Millennials are still underrepresented, there is a definite change occurring throughout the country. The more minorities and Millennials collaborate the more change there will be.

Vanessa: Not Enough has Changed

Am I still hopeful as I was in 2008? I’d be lying if I said yes. Although Obama is the face of our nation, it’s not a true reflection of the often toxic political and cultural climate in America. A recent study shows that white Americans think that they experience more racism than African-Americans. Racial profiling isn’t just limited to the streets of New York or LA; I recently stumbled upon an article on The Atlantic about racial profiling that concerned a retired MLB player, Doug Glanville, who resides in my home state of Connecticut. Glanville was accosted by a police officer for simply standing in his driveway. I am not expecting overnight miracles, but my faith is constantly tested by the overwhelming plethora of everyday ignorance and institutionalized racism.