(Editor’s note: As President Obama was writing a letter to the incoming president, he may have had a few other letters he started writing – you know, the kind you write but don’t actually plan to send. This one may have been found crumpled up in a waste basket next to his desk. Or it may have just been totally made up.)
Dear lovely, well-meaning white people,
As I leave the office of the President of the United States today, I realize that the folks that may be hardest hit by this are you.
For the last 8 years, you have really loved having me sitting in the Oval Office because it’s made it easier for you to feel good about the state of our country and about all the progress we’ve made in the fight against racism. “Look, a black man is our President!” you could say. “That’s huge progress!”
It made it seem like maybe the way people of color have been treated in this nation — the whole slavery/lynching/Jim Crow laws/racially motivated economic and educational injustice stuff was over or at least over-ish. And you could feel like you helped make that happen, because not only did you vote for a black man, you liked his Facebook posts. And you LOVED everything his wife did. (As well you should…Michelle is awesome.)
But now…those days of innocence and sitting back and feeling all good about yourselves…are gone. Or at least much harder to hold on to. And now, the next four years loom ahead and they seem like they are going to require a little more from you.
It’s suddenly become clear that we have some work to do around here to make sure America is a place where there is truly justice for all. We have some work to do on systemic injustice, on racial profiling, “law & order” policies that disproportionately target black and brown people.
And if you really want this to be a land where all people can breathe free, not just rich, white, straight men, you’re going to have to put your white skin in the game.
Let me just say, I’ve loved being your President. But I realize I’ve also made it easier for some folks to pat our country on the back and not address what is still so deeply broken within it. Made it easier to gloss over white privilege. Made it comfortable for some folks to remain comfortable with the ways things are. I’m sorry if that’s been the case, and today I want to ask you to step up. And you can start by sitting down with people who have been hurt in ways you’ll never fully understand simply because of the color of their skin. I ask you to sit and listen and learn. And yes, even to ask their forgiveness. And then ask what you can do to help. And then try your damnedest to do that.
I’m glad my presidency was a sign of hope for so many people. Today I’m asking you to become a part of the hope our country needs.
Can you be more than well-meaning and become active participants in making this the country you want to be living in?
Are you fired up…ready to go?
I pray that you are. Because we all need you to be.
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