Michele Obama presented these personal thoughts at the unveiling of her portrait by Amy Sherald;
“I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution.”
Of course her words are true. It is profoundly important also that white America see these portraits hung in this great American institution. That we hear and find the extraordinary introspection within ourselves that the Obama’s inspired for America as a collective of human beings. They did, you know – model the virtuous act of introspection. Search for a statement made by either President or Mrs. Obama directed to this nation that did not include a vital look inward. You won’t be able to find one. Such altitudes of clarity are often lost to lowlands of privilege we white folks cannot recognize even within the dispensaries of all that milk and honey. White people as a body of citizens seldom if ever look inward collectively as to who America is – and more, what we might become.
The white-American-collective-social-consciousness is an extrospective view. It is an assembly of assertions rather than biding assessments tempered by recollections and pauses for self-examination. Ours are moth-balled insights in dire lack for our attention, as to who we are and where have been – what we have led – and least of all, what to do now.
This is America now. Whether it is present in our consciousness or not, the broadest view – the aerial view – the Blackest view – of our human landscape is and will increasingly become the height of contemporary American wisdom. It already is the fulcrum for a tipping point still teetering in the ambivalence of white-mindedness. White suffering is a phantom we try to wallow in as our objections reveal themselves to be mere holograms – substanceless and devoid of redemptive cause. It’s a shooting pain, blindingly white, but take comfort – it will ultimately pass, though for some it could deservedly linger. This is fact in our human condition, despite what we may be conditioned to believe. No amount of white denial will shoo this reality away.
White people are no longer the purveyors of societal wisdom, as so many hover to guard a withered dynasty. There is a newer and truer wisdom. One many of us are ready to embrace. Whether instruction for this wisdom comes from women of color, as they bear their burdens a second and third time trying to educate white feminists to the depths and reach of amassing intersectionality – or as men of color reflect what love of country actually looks like – where the preservation of human dignity is not encapsulated in a recruitment poster or the waving of a flag emblematic only of the cost of conquest, incognizant of the blood of the conquered. His is offered to us gently and on one knee. Still though, in our fragility it remains too unthinkable to bear. It is here however – make no mistake of self-deception. It is calling, and it beckons for open and wide celebration.
Swing low sweet chariot coming for to carry me home. It is time for supremacy to die – to rest among its many unmarked graves. Time to take down the homage to a lie we no longer have to live. We can either wither or enlighten, that’s entirely up to us. Perhaps Barack Obama said it best, and even prophetically as to the evolution and enlightenment of governing power. It is tucked away neatly in his summation of artist Kehinde Wiley’s angular view.
“But, what I was always struck by whenever I saw his portraits, was the degree to which they challenged our conventional views of power, wealth, privilege and the way that he would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognizing the beauty and the grace and the dignity of people who are so often invisible in our lives, and put them on a grand stage,” he said. “The people in our families, people who built this country, built this capital, served food, took out the garbage.
Thank you President & Mrs. Obama. Thank you to those who have long suffered for this moment in time. It is almost bigger than the presidency and the occupancy of a White House for eight years graced by the Obama’s. This vital historic landing is forever immortalized in these halls, and stands like a lighthouse illuminating the jagged coast of a transatlantic heritage rising to the glory of its own.