Let me begin by saying I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. Teaching history makes you numb to both. This piece is taking an unbiased historical perspective on the topic of presidential legacies and social progression. Second, if the analogy comes off mildly racist that was not my intention. When teaching kids, you must come up with simple and at times crude analogies to get your message across.
As I was leaving school today I thought to myself, how will I teach the presidency of Barack Obama in the future? The answer was simple at first, and that was, just like the others. When I started to comb through all the excess in the media I found my answer even more obvious. I realized very quickly that while some will consider him great and some will consider him horrible, academia will do as it has done to all other presidents over time and that is they will reduce his years in office into a 40-minute lesson plan, focusing only on the bare essentials of his presidency and forgetting the majority of the little things we all argued about. What will be those bare essentials? Well those should be pretty obvious by now. But let me further substantiate my claim.
Today in one of my classes we looked at the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and throughout the eight years he was our president we boiled down his accomplishments and his failures to but a few blurbs. In contrast, I was able to do the same exact thing in another class as we covered Warren G. Harding. As you may already know, or what you may infer by not recognizing his name, he didn’t do much but still fulfilled the same 40 minute period. Every great president had blunders, and every poor president had some accomplishments. But like all objective historians who dig through books for answers, every president should be seen in the purest and most honest of terms. Unless you are Larry Schweikert or Howard Zinn who clearly have agendas for their interpretation of history. If you look at every leader in our history, you must consider everything that enveloped their presidency. Staunch Reaganites cannot ignore Iran-Contra, devout FDR supporters cannot forget Japanese internment camps, and so much more. The point is, for what good they did, there were unfortunate, maybe at times, unavoidable evils. So was Barack Obama the worst president? No. Was he the best president? No. Will he be remembered for the good and the bad? Of course. But the best way I can explain how presidencies work in the overall view of history and progress is by using some of our favorite beverages.
Consider for a moment that all of our US presidents prior to Obama are represented as a glass of milk. Now take the famous black leaders throughout history, and consider them for a moment to be chocolate chips. While these chocolate chips had a lot to say, a condensed black voice, when thrown into the white milk they quickly sank to the bottom and over time dissolved until we barely noticed a change to the milk. We can use the following people in our assessment: Frederick Douglas, WEB DuBois, Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey, and so forth. The reason being, despite their ability to be vocal in their differing ways of advocating for civil rights in their time, they still failed to float, and/or change the political make-up of the overwhelming white liquid. Every one of those leaders mentioned have vocalized it in their own writings. So what we have learned is that a few chocolate chips can’t change the overall identity of the predominantly white political class. Even the great Martin Luther King Jr would see that this was true. And one could not have assumed, though I’m sure they were hopeful, that Barack Obama would be any different. The milk was still there despite him being the most important chocolate chip in US history. If you were to listen to Marcus Garvey and his “True Solution” argument you’d hear the same thing from 100 years ago. Which is why he felt it was time to go back to where all the other chocolate chips came from. Maybe not a good idea on his part, but you get the point.
Now if you are an African American in the United States you probably think that the world is similar to a drink like hot chocolate. A drink rich with chocolate history (the cultural identity of blackness) but a product of melting chocolate under an intense heat (the oppressive systems in the western world). Furthermore African Americans may feel that the majority of those who accomplish anything in a society built on black shoulders can be viewed as those little fluffy marshmallows that float on top the hot chocolate. Even over time when those marshmallows dissolve atop the heat of the black voice they still managed to float on top like a foamy white coat seemingly covering the hot chocolate beneath it. Unfair? Of course.
So when we break down the Obama Administration in terms of liquids we see something interesting. Some say he is a chocolate-chip dissolving in the cold white milk and some say he has defied the white marshmallows that float upon the hot chocolate by becoming a great chocolate marshmallow (and yes they make those). But what we really see is something rather interesting. For the first time we realize that maybe the solution is not so much a chocolate chip or a marshmallow anymore. Whether that marshmallow or chocolate chip is white or black. Because if we were to take that marshmallow and put it in the cold white milk it would still float on top and if we take that chocolate chip and put it in the hot chocolate it will still melt. Therefore if we look at the true solution, the preferred drinkability of these liquids, maybe it is more of a flow of chocolate syrup to that cold white milk of society or maybe it’s using that cold white milk to help cool down that very hot chocolate so that in both cases, with a little positive turbulence, we can have a product we can all enjoy.
Whatever your approach, ideally it is a mixture of the two products. It is important to realize that whether it’s the chip that may unfortunately sink to the bottom or the marshmallow that unfairly remains on top, it is the liquid that is in the cup that matters the most. No entirely homogenous liquid will create the tasty drink that is society. And what real psychopath doesn’t like chocolate milk or prefers making their hot chocolate with powder and water instead of powder and milk.
As we study the history of our most iconic presidents, we must understand that every president had and will have successes and failures and the Obama Administration was no different. The people we idolize are people nonetheless, and apotheosizing such figures can be detrimental to the progression of a society. We must approach every presidency equally and the historical perspective can be brutally honest at times. History does dictate how we will view presidents, and so far it has all been the same. But what we must also remember is that the study of history is not just the study of presidents but the other people who lived as well. The Martin Luther King Jr’s for example. People who didn’t ascend political ladders to the highest positions of the government but those who led social movements. These are the people who get lesson plans just as long as the presidents who served this country. And yes, Presidents may spawn social movements but they can often be diluted by partisanship or be warped through time to fit a certain agenda. So maybe it’s the abundant chocolate syrup (black political thought like MLK) or that cooling white milk (white support against injustice) that can help make the drinks (society) more tolerable.
Some may be thinking after reading this that President Trump is more of a glass of orange juice and while that’s funny let’s consider him for a moment to be just another marshmallow. We must remember the fact that the marshmallow will only be able to float because of the liquid beneath it. But if you disagree further, and think him to be just more cold white milk, then maybe the question we ask is, Mr. President, can you please either cool off my hot chocolate, or put some chocolate syrup in the mix? Whatever your preferred beverage, the solution now, and historically, does not depend solely on one but on the collective.
Finally, if John Locke were to use this analogy he would say, “If the day comes that this marshmallow falters and does not support the basic interests of the liquid he serves, then grab a stick because we’re making s’mores.” And if you’re thinking, who’s the chocolate bar in this scenario? Well, my vote is for Al Sharpton.