PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has only been out of office for a few weeks, but his legacy is secure in ways that are critical to our national identity—and quite separate from his policy successes and failures.
One lens through which we can understand Obama’s relevance and lasting historical legacy is found, surprisingly, in the book of Genesis. Genesis 1:26-27 gives us the first biblical description of human origin: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. ... Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.’”
This text is foundational to how we understand God’s purpose for the world and for human beings. Perhaps most important, it establishes the foundational value of every human as being made in the image of God ( imago dei).
This biblical revelation—and America’s racial history—is why the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 is of such lasting importance. The United States was founded on the original sin of white supremacy, which declared that some people were less human than others; the nation was built on the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans and the displacement and eradication of Native Americans. In the process, the founders of our nation cast aside the notion of imago dei. The Constitution enshrined the notion that African slaves could be considered three-fifths of a person for the purposes of congressional representation (and Native Americans counted not at all).
Choosing an African-American man for the highest office in our nation—making him the most powerful person in the world for eight years—was and is a fundamental blow to white supremacy. The Obama presidency marked a historic era in the longstanding and ongoing movement to undo white supremacy and privilege.