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What President Obama Means to My Mixed-Race Son

Photograph by Nicole Blades

My toes were frozen, but my heart was warm and full. I was standing on the National Mall, just behind the Reflecting Pool, huddled with countless other teeth-chattering citizens there to witness President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. This was history happening, once again, and I was part of it—this time live.

I'd missed the first truly landmark moment four years ago. I'd wanted to be there live, too, giddy and hollering like everyone else, but I was nine months pregnant, only three weeks away from giving birth to my first child: a son. A son who, like the newly re-elected president, is biracial. A son who, like Barack Obama, could grow up to be the president of the United States.

I’ve wanted to write about what Barack Obama represents to me and to my young son’s future for more than four years. The words about all of it have swirled around my mind, gathering up sentiment and strength since we first found out that we were having a boy. However, each time I’ve tried to spill these words onto a page, I’ve been overwhelmed and often have had to smooth away tears—proud, happy ones—gathering at the corners of my eyes. But standing there in the very chilled, early morning, my golden ticket tucked safely inside the chest of my heavy winter coat, I was bursting to tell anyone willing to listen: I’m here watching the future unfold, and it’s brilliant!

I was bursting to tell anyone willing to listen: I’m here watching the future unfold, and it’s brilliant!

Putting politics aside, it is important that this man is our president. Given the nation’s complicated and often harsh history, we can all recognize the sheer significance of a man of color elected to be the leader of the free world. For me, this mother of a toffee-colored boy, it is what Mr. Obama symbolizes that matters most. He’s this beacon of promise and change, of purpose and kicked-opened doors.

Despite my son’s actual DNA—or maybe because of it—he will be viewed too often through that faulty lens reserved for other black boys and later men: disposable, trouble, incapable, worthless. All the positive parental coaching and chorus singing of “You matter” sound like whispers up against the unkind roar of media, educators, the majority telling him he most certainly does not.

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This president is a red-blooded response to all of it. Whereas before I would likely tell my son about what might happen if he works hard, now I can point to what actually happened. He’s the precedent—this president—for what it looks like to reach beyond the idea of possibilities and potential and grab hold of the fact that greatness is real, and it’s there for you, no matter what this lopsided world might try to tell you.

The inauguration was excellent. I can still feel the excitement tingling in my fingertips. I was there! And I have the swag to prove it. One of the things I brought home was an official inauguration 2013 T-shirt for my husband. On it, the smiling faces of the president and vice president.

“I want to see,” my son said when I handed it to his dad.

“That’s the president of the United States, sweet potato,” I said, pointing. “That’s President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.”

He took a beat, letting their faces settle in. My husband began folding the shirt when our son said, “Wait, let me see the other guy again.”

“That’s President Barack Obama,” I said again. “He looks like you.”

My son tilted his head, smiled and said: “You’re right, Mom! He does look like me,” and returned to his breakfast. And like that, without even knowing it, this almost-4-year-old kid proved my point and left me brimming with hope.

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Photo by Nicole Blades

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