Fiyah. Lit. Sixteen bars. There are all sorts of African American colloquialisms and aphorisms that will be used to describe President Barack Obama’s last speech as president to the Congressional Black Caucus last night. While all of those descriptions are true enough, there was something even more daring and more compelling about the president’s speech last night that will likely be overlooked in the frothy mix of nostalgia and praise that will be heaped upon him in the coming days.
Barack Obama has serious concerns about Hillary Clinton’s ability to bring this one home.
I have attended just about every Congressional Black Caucus Phoenix Dinner since President Obama took office. Each year has a different feel as his presidency—and what he faced and the challenges the nation faced—became more varied and complicated. I remember the tempered enthusiasm in 2009 when the buzz in the room was simply being happy that there was a listening ear in the white house. I remember 2011, probably one of the roughest times of POTUS relationship with the caucus. His “take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes” speech received copious side-eye and open recrimination from some members.
I especially remember 2014 when he extolled the audience to not have a repeat of 2010 where progress was stymied by a Republican takeover in the House. Each year Obama vacillated between happy, cocky, excited, concerned and occasionally downright condescending. This year he was all of those things.
POTUS came out almost jovial, taking Donald Trump to the woodshed for dragging out the ridiculous birther nonsense when there were so many other issues facing the nation. many other issues facing the nation. And after Obama read Trump like he [as a PERSONAL insult if Black vote don’t come out in large numbers to vote this fall, he is not just acknowledging his legacy on the line, he’s saying that things are so close that he’s got to make a personal plea to get Hillary over the line. That’s not just serious Obama, that’s not Obama the lecturer in chief or the Dad in chief or the first black president. That’s Southside with You Obama putting his heart out there and hoping that it won’t get crushed.
“If I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect — read up on your history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote,” Obama said to the CBC. “I will consider it a personal insult — an insult to my legacy — if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote.”He needs black voters to love, work for and vote for Hillary Clinton. Since the Gala is a non-profit he couldn’t actually SAY “Vote for Hillary Clinton” but even the densest of black Bernie or bust folks heard him loud and clear.”
POTUS came out almost jovial, taking Donald Trump to the woodshed for dragging out the ridiculous birther nonsense when there were so many other issues facing the nation. And after Obama read Trump like he was a footnote in the Library of Congress, he quickly switched gears towards a long history lesson, praising the ancestors and the great men and women that made his and Michelle Obama’s lives in politics even possible. However the third and most important aspect of the speech came when he began to talk about what was really at stake in the current election.
If African American millennials come out in large numbers and vote for Hillary Clinton, she wins. Then the black community gets to proudly grow old with Barack and Michelle Obama, with another 40 plus years of memes, Michelle Obama “slay” gifs and President Obama’s greatest speeches being put into a remix album by Willow Smith in 2018. (You know there’s more where this came from) If African Americans don’t come out to vote in large numbers for Hillary Clinton she will lose to Donald Trump. If that happens, collectively the black community will have an incredibly awkward too embarrassed to make eye contact kind of relationship with Barack and Michelle Obama. President Obama knows that. He knows that for some black people the shame of letting his legacy fall into the hands of a racist unqualified charlatan like Donald Trump will be enough to get them to vote. The catch is he wants to make sure they go out and vote for Hillary.
And if his speech last night was any indicator, he’s not ready to trust that black folks have gotten that message just yet.
This article originally appeared on The Root.