Black America’s ‘savior complex’ causes many to question Obama’s impact

The former president simply could not meet the unrealistic expectations imposed on him by those who supported him most.

Cory Alexander Haywood | 2/2/2017, midnight

Savior: a person who saves someone or something (especially a country or cause) from danger, or who is often regarded with the veneration of a religious figure.

In 2008, millions of African Americans converged to vote for a man who they believed would be a game changer. The result of that year’s presidential election was viewed by many as the realization of a prophecy delivered in 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The election was, and will always be, the most profound moment in Black history.

Former President Barack Obama was supposed to be a Godsend. He was supposed to mitigate the anguish caused by more than 400 years of enslavement and moral decadence. He was supposed to pick up the mantle that Dr. King and other civil rights leaders had laid down. He was supposed to be the consummate Black superhero. He was supposed to be the embodiment of a post-racial America. And while it may not have been clear to him at the time, winning the election was supposed to solidify his role as the Black community’s newly anointed “savior.” This was the end to a prolonged absence of color in the White House.

Finally, the tables were supposedly turning in the direction of progress.

On the night of the election, I recall flipping through channels on TV and stopping to watch live coverage of an “Obama 4 President” rally taking place outside of an aging community center in Chicago. The gathering was featured predominately by African American spectators, but as always, there were a few token White supporters in attendance waving handmade signs and gleefully chanting “O-BA-MA”. After weaving her way through the effusive cheering crowd, a blond-haired reporter tapped the shoulder of a tiny old woman dressed in a tattered winter coat and gloves.

“Why are you voting for Obama?,” the reporter asked. “Because he’s the second coming,’ explained the rally-goer. “God sent him to help us prosper. And yes, I’m voting for him because he’s Black. It’s my chance to be part of history.”

The elderly woman’s candor may have been off-putting to others—Whites in particular—but to me her words reflected the opinion of those who viewed Obama as the next “Great Black Hope.” This prognostication would go on to haunt him during the years following his victory over John McCain, and it would ultimately stand in the way of Obama ever reaching a status equal to Dr. King.

If African Americans had their way, then Obama would’ve spent eight years attempting to eliminate the obstructions that often lay in the way of Black progress. It doesn’t matter that he was fought at every turn by adversarial Republicans who made it their collective business to undermine his authority. This reality or “excuse”—as many have called it—is falling on deaf ears, and it’s causing Obama’s critics to question his moxie. In spite of the inevitable blowback, Obama was expected to eat, sleep and drink civil activism. That didn’t happen.