ONTD Political

Photographer pens open letter to POTUS; takes striking pics of her son.

11:23 pm - 11/13/2012
An Open Letter To President Obama

Dear President Obama,

I have sat down to write this letter dozens of times and always end up a bit tongue-tied. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain myself. Nine years ago I watched the image on a sonogram and heard the words from my doctor: "It's a boy." In that moment, my first emotion was fear. How was I going to raise a man? It seemed daunting, but perhaps nervousness is not uncommon for mothers of sons to experience. I also felt extremely aware that as a Caucasian woman having a son with a man of African American descent, my son would undoubtedly face issues in his life I would never fully understand...deep breaths...

Truth be told, I was unprepared for the powerful love I felt when I held him for the first time. He was perfection, the way all newborns are. He was mine and any hesitation or fear about mothering this little tiny man was replaced with adoration and love. I am blessed to have a loving husband by my side who is also a wonderful father. Our son (and two other daughters) have been lucky to grow up loving two parents of different ethnic backgrounds. And yet there has always been the element of the unknown. Neither my husband nor myself would ever be able to entirely comprehend what it felt like to grow up bi-racial child in a world that is not always embracing of things and people that are different. I was faced with trying to figure out how to prepare my son for issues that he may face in his life due to his ethnicity that I had no firsthand experience with.

The election in 2008 had a profound effect on our family. As you pursued your dreams and became the nominee for president, there was a shift in the air. I was overwhelmed with the implications your success had for my children's lives, particularly for my son. We watched the debates leading up to the election as a family. I lined up three small chairs and made the kids popcorn (admittedly, a bit of a bribe for them to sit and watch something they did not really understand). I explained that although they may not understand what they were watching, it would have an important impact on their lives, regardless of the outcome of the election.

We were watching history unfold, a story that had a direct impact on our children. I felt this was especially true for my son because he could see himself in your face.

He was 5-years-old at the time you were elected president. And although I realize you were in the midst of pursing your dreams, you inadvertently simultaneously changed my son's life. Quite frankly, I believe you changed the lives of sons across the world. This, Mr. President, is no small thing. My son could see himself in you, the leader of our country, something no child of color had been able to do in America prior to your presidency. He was at an age when he had just become aware that my skin did not look like his. You gave my son in this moment something I could not.

My son is vibrant and funny, an incredible athlete, a well-balanced mix of tenderness and independence. I've loved him and raised him to the best of my ability. You gave him something that I could not, the possibility that he could actually be anything he wanted. This is a concept that far surpasses any political orientation; it is not a Republican or Democratic concern, it is purely an acknowledgement of what all mothers want for their sons -- an opportunity to pursue their dreams, to be anything they want to be. Mothers of mixed-race children are often confronted with the limitations that subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle prejudices can bring.

As a photographer, I felt compelled to share visually in some way, the impact you and your political success had on my son's life. I think perhaps this image says it, far better than my words could ever convey. I do not know where his dreams will take him, but I do know that the path you carved in your life will benefit him as he grows as a man, in ways he will probably never fully understand. I realize the possibility of my son and/or myself meeting you personally is quite unlikely. So I wanted to take this opportunity to share my gratitude.

Thank you on behalf of all mothers of mixed-race children for making the words "You can do anything you want in life" feel like the truth. You have changed the lives of children across the globe and that, Mr. President, is a wonderful gift. And more personally thank you on behalf of my son...thank you.

Elizabeth Messina

source: one | two | three

You might have seen one photo of the kid floating around on Tumblr with the caption "Representation matters." accompanying it. Nice to finally discover so MANY more pics, but also the back-story.
cyranothe2nd 14th-Nov-2012 05:25 am (UTC)
I feel what she's saying, but I also think that, unless Obama speaks out about the prison industrial complex and speaks truth about racism, not a whole lot is going to change for this woman's son.

IDK, the idolization of Obama is the black community, especially when he's been so tepid on black issues, is problematic.
wikilobbying 14th-Nov-2012 05:53 am (UTC)
and i think that unless you're a person of color, this is a massively inappropriate comment.
(no subject) - Anonymous
wikilobbying 14th-Nov-2012 06:02 am (UTC)
like i'll step way the fuck back and apologize if i'm wrong, but i got this itching feeling all the way down to my bones on this one.
roseofjuly 14th-Nov-2012 06:07 am (UTC)
I had tears pouring down my cheeks on Inauguration Day, January 2009. It's not that I thought that Obama was going to significantly single-handedly change the world - it's because he already had significantly changed the world. A black man was president in a country where 50 years prior he couldn't even have voted without trouble. A black woman was being held as the most recognizable woman in the country, a style icon. People died, in horrific ways, for that moment to happen. And as a young black woman, who think about those people every time I walk into a polling place, that meant a lot to me. That's all I could think about, all day, January 2009.

Unless you're a a person of color you simply cannot understand that feeling in that moment. So for you to say what you said in that last line makes me feel disappointed and misunderstood inside, but most of all angry at its thoughtlessness. And even if you are a person of color, I would think that despite issues with Obama's policies (and we're not stupid - black people can think critically too, you know) you'd realize that the way a lot of black people feel about Obama is NOT problematic at all. Produce a better black president role model. Oh wait. You can't.
cyranothe2nd 14th-Nov-2012 06:39 am (UTC)
I'm not saying that he isn't a role model. And I'm truly sorry about making you feel bad and angry. It was not my intention. I do understand that having a black president is a transformative moment in the racial politics of this country. I definitely could have worded my comment better to reflect that.

What I'm saying is what Dr. Cornel West is saying--that this president needs to be chastened with love because he is not fulfilling the hopes and dreams of many of the people who voted for him. He is at best a centrist who has sold out to corporate interests. And that's a shame because, as pivotal as he is for being him, *he could be so much more.* That is my point. I think that its too easy to get caught up in the moment and ignore the fact that Obama doesn't address poverty or institutionalized racism or the prison-industrial complex in a real way. For people like me--who study race and matters of institutional power (with the hope of changing things for the better)--its really disappointing.

But I should not have put that on the black community, like its their responsibility to drag Obama. That was unfair and I withdraw it. I think its on all of us us who are progressives to do that--to demand more and better.

Edited at 2012-11-14 06:40 am (UTC)
homasse 14th-Nov-2012 06:57 am (UTC)
You clearly only study race but have no idea how things actually WORK, then. :/
poetic_pixie_13 14th-Nov-2012 06:52 am (UTC)
How has Obama been tepid on black issues? Given the fucked up ways race works in America he actually has less freedom to talk about those issues than his white counterparts. Hell, he has to be careful of every single issue he talks about because too much passion or frustration turns him in an Angry Black Man. It's fucked up and obviously not right, but as President he has to navigate that climate if the wants to get shit done. The vast majority of folks of colour I've heard talking about this, especially black folks, understand his position and sympathize with it. We have to do that balancing act everyday just avoid the usual bullshit, I can't imagine what he has to think about.

Obama's Presidency, his campaigns, his career, his life, all of that is an example of truth about racism. Like, shit. I still can't listen to his acceptance speech on election night 08 without crying. And I'm a Sri Lankan Tamil woman from Canada. My history and struggles are very removed from Obama and what he represents. But goddamn if I don't feel lighter when I think about him and his family in that White House showing all those salty, pressed white asshats what we've known all along. That poc are strong and intelligent and loving and beautiful and capable of all those human things that we are still denied.

My little brother was six when Obama was elected. My little brown Canadian brother has pretty much grown up seeing a black man as President of the most powerful country in the world. He adores Obama. Whatever Obama does or doesn't do my brother will have his formative years influenced by that.

When I realized on election night that the first black President was going to be a two term President... I can't even describe the feeling. Knowing what so many have gone thought to get to that moment, how many decades and centuries of brave, brilliant, fantastic people who faced harassment and abuse and violence and death paved the way for that moment, just as they had four years ago, it was wonderful.

Edited at 2012-11-14 06:59 am (UTC)
fishphile 14th-Nov-2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
*whispers* When I'm feeling really down sometimes I go watch election night coverage of 2008 on youtube and just let my feels wash over me.

And I'm pretty critical of Obama, but sometimes I just need that "oh my gawd, this actually happened" moment.
homasse 14th-Nov-2012 06:54 am (UTC)
Yeah, well, here's the thing.

Look at how the Republicans have been acting towards him even without him doing that.

Look at how as soon as he said if he'd had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin, the right-wingers instantly began venerating Zimmerman and painting Trayvon as a thug.

If you seriously think he frankly has the breathing room to "speak truth" about racism, I'd love to live in the world you're in right now. And I daresay most of us black people ARE pretty aware of how tied his hands really are. And on what Obama means to us.
skellington1 14th-Nov-2012 05:29 pm (UTC)
Well illustrated.

I hesitate to speak because I'm white (and don't study race issues :P), but it seems fairly clear even from my vantage point that his opponents have been looking for any opportunity to say he "played the race card" for over four years -- and they'd immediately use it to discredit him. He is NOT in an easy position.

Obviously there's a whole other slew of problems with the people who'd use that to discredit someone -- as if talking about actual problems you face nullifies their validity -- but whether they're right or not is immaterial. They'd do it, and they'd be successful. Scary stuff.
cyranothe2nd 14th-Nov-2012 03:34 pm (UTC)
Its been pointed out by several people that my white privilege and my privilege as an academic has blinded me to how imappropriate it was to post this comment. Thank you for checking me; it was needed and welcome. I am truly sorry to have basically become whiteopinions.gif and I will shut up now and let other voices fill this space.
pistol_eyes 14th-Nov-2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
idgaf I agree with you. The issue with me is not only his tepid response but his tone with black people as well. He talks down to black people. I'm still not over his response to Maxine Waters and the CBC.
etherealtsuki 15th-Nov-2012 01:59 am (UTC)
Oh ho, how easily we forgot the response to Obama talking about the treatment of Black men by the men during the Henry Louis Gates arrest and that was what? A few months after him being in the office? Which told him to shut up real quick if he wanted anything done in the office?

Or that remark of Trayvon could've been his son?

I know he couldn't say about Troy Davis case that wouldn't make it even worse for that poor man.

Or we can go even earlier when the main concern about Obama was if he was going "to pander" to the Black community among White people, yes even White liberals.

Can you se how much your white privilege had blinded you on how much racism had affected the most fucking powerful man in America? And lol on thinking that reading Cornel West gives you can insight when he fucked up a lot on Obama as well.
jazzypom I know, right?15th-Nov-2012 12:02 pm (UTC)
And lol on thinking that reading Cornel West gives you can insight when he fucked up a lot on Obama as well.

Hah, yes. I know Cornel West gets all the love from white American liberals (Natalie Portman, for instance). But West is all sorts of shady and fucked up when it comes to Obama, and his shade for Al Sharpton (which smacks of a classicism and some of that 'our kind of people' thrown in) is a whole Gordian knot of fail.

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