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.
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 07:01 am (UTC)
Lawl, but academia > our lived experiences dontcha know?
homasse 14th-Nov-2012 07:02 am (UTC)
Inorite? What do us folks living it know about how we should be reacting to it?!
wikilobbying 14th-Nov-2012 06:59 am (UTC)
it's disappointing for you as a person who studies those things? rather than someone who actually experiences racism and the way it intersects and interacts with the fucked up institutional powers?

like, there are a lot of directions in which we can be disappointed and call him out and push for better, but we don't get to come after him with criticisms on how he does or does not talk about racism and the other social-economic issues intersected with it, no matter how much of dr. cornel west we like to brag about listening to or reading. people of color, especially black americans, are talking about those issues just fine without us, so stop it.
poetic_pixie_13 14th-Nov-2012 07:02 am (UTC)
Thanks for making this comment so I didn't have to. Like, shit.
homasse 14th-Nov-2012 07:07 am (UTC)
I swear, I'm feeling a racial tension headache coming on.
wikilobbying 14th-Nov-2012 07:24 am (UTC)
your other comment to them was spot on, though. not that you need someone who's not a person of color confirming that, obviously. but i came super close to telling the original commenter, "i'd like to see you try being a person of color in the white house," because if obama's presidency should be teaching us who ~study~ racism anything, it's that being a black/biracial president actually means you can't freely talk about racism. people of color who want to criticize obama's approach there can go for it because we white folks sure as shit shouldn't be telling them not to, but we also sure as shit need to shut up about how a president should be navigating discussions on racism. i'm not sure how that would be anything other than super condescending.
homasse 14th-Nov-2012 07:06 am (UTC)
I'm seriously loving someone who is not black telling black people how we should be acting as a community towards someone who is black.

And by "loving," I mean "side eyeing."
wikilobbying 14th-Nov-2012 07:47 am (UTC)
ami wrong in thinking there's always something that doesn't sit right when something "problematic" about "the black community" gets brought up - like an automatic red flag?
cyranothe2nd 14th-Nov-2012 07:17 am (UTC)
Yes, you're right. I've been thinking about this since you posted last. It was massively inappropriate for me to have commented about my disappointment with Obama in this particular thread and in this way. I truly apologize.
wikilobbying 14th-Nov-2012 07:53 am (UTC)
i hope you intend to acknowledge other comments made to you in this thread, because they were made by people of color. i'm white, you don't need to apologize to me about mouthing off like studying race + institutional power dynamics gives you any room to talk about how a black president should be discussing something he experiences and is impacted by. everyone else in this thread, though, they're the ones you need to be acknowledging and apologizing to.
etherealtsuki 15th-Nov-2012 01:47 am (UTC)
Kinda funny you kinda using Cornel West there considering how sexist as fuck he had been to Melissa Perry-Harris.
jazzypom LOL, Cornel West15th-Nov-2012 11:57 am (UTC)
Man, West speaks a good game, and White Liberals love him, but with what he did to various black scholars, he shouldn't be one to talk. Hah.
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