For young black and brown people in the U.S., Barack Obama’s presidency ushered in an era where the most powerful man in the world looked a lot like them. He had daughters that could’ve been their own siblings or cousins. Michelle could’ve been their auntie, their mom. Almost two months removed from Obama’s time in office, a lot of the excitement around what that symbolized has been replaced with confusion and fear.
It’s one thing to watch a country that elected its first black president turn around and elect a man whose political platform was built on eight consecutive years of trying to delegitimize his predecessor. It’s another thing to watch this happen and feel like no one cares how you feel or wants to listen to what you have to say.
To be a young person, especially one of color, is to constantly battle to be understood. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about your latest crush or about how scared you are that your dad might get deported and you’ll be left to raise your little brother by yourself, you want to be heard. We asked young people of color in New York City about how they feel in the aftermath of Obama’s presidency, their thoughts on the Trump era so far, and what they see as their role in the future.
“I was really young and didn’t understand the impact of having President Obama as our president, but as I got older, I understood how it impacted America. I can’t wait to vote against Trump in 2020, and I want a president that has everybody in mind. The only thing that people in America or the people that run America listen to is violence. I don’t think that’s the right answer. Peaceful protests can work, but they have to be strategic. The world should just take younger people more serious.”
“He was the first black president and that impacted me a lot, and now he’s gone and America’s future isn’t looking good. We have Trump in office, and what he’s doing doesn’t look productive. Right now we all have to come together and try to do things for ourselves. Our president, we don’t have a good one, so we have to fend for ourselves.”
“Our future is going downhill. But, what they did the other day with the immigrants closing their shops? I think that’s a good step. We just have to take it day by day.”
Jalik, 11, and Junior, 13
Junior (right): “I don’t like Donald Trump. I want a president that is a good person and cares about all the genders, people of all colors, and is not disrespectful. I don’t think people are listening to me, and I want them to.”
“It felt good to have Obama as our president. He respected everyone and treated us equally. It feels a little scary to have Trump as our president. He’s taking away things that help people survive. I know that some people are protesting, but I don’t think anything is going to change. I’ll be able to vote in the next election, but I don’t feel like it’s really important to me.”
“My mom is trying to become a citizen, but I’m not that scared. I don’t think we can fight back. People don’t really believe in young people’s future. They believe in their future. It’s going to take time.”
“I was very excited to have Obama as our president. I felt proud. I didn’t vote this past election because I don’t feel like my vote makes a difference. I want a president that wants to stand up for us and respects us. Protests work, but it depends on who’s protesting.”
“I was in middle school when Obama got elected, and it was awesome. Donald Trump was the worst decision America could have picked. My dad is illegal. My mom passed away, but she was illegal. I always tell my dad to be careful when he goes outside, especially when he drinks. I always tell him to act right and don’t start shit. I think we can protest, peacefully. No riots or breaking down businesses.”
“It was empowering to see Obama as president, and it showed me that nothing was impossible or unachievable. It’s scary to see everything that’s going on. My mom is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, and she’s trying to become a citizen. My stepdad is illegal in this country, and it’s scary that tomorrow he might not be here. I think protests help and more young people need to be involved. I think some people think the government is the government and they won’t listen to us, but the government does not run without us. They need us in order to have structure.”
“Having Obama as our president made me think the world is free. I could do whatever I wanted. Obamacare really helped me and my family, and now I don’t know what’s happening. Anyone can become president. To be honest, if my vote didn’t matter and only the Electoral College does, I don’t think we have a chance to fight back or even have a say in anything. My father is an immigrant, and now he’s scared of being deported. I’m scared too. He supports me and my brother, and I don’t have a job yet, so I won’t be able to support my brother.”
“It was nice to have Barack Obama as our president because I saw more change. I don’t like Trump. He’s rude and ignorant. There are things happening that people will never understand, and we need a president that cares. Obama empowered us, and he was a good president, but we could do better. Yeah, we don’t like our president, but we can grow up and change the world. The responsibility is on us … I could run for president.”
Some interviews were condensed for clarity.