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President Barack Obama’s Portrait on display in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

I’ve got mixed emotions about the President and Mrs. Barack Obama’s portraits which were unveiled at the Smithsonian yesterday. Neither one of them particularly grabbed my attention.

Artistically, I get it. A Black artist, Black theme, a way of connecting the first American of African descent to become president of the United States of America to his African American roots. I get it.

But the forty-fourth president did not govern as an African American president. He governed much as the American presidents of European descent had done before him.

Thus both Barack and Michelle look out of place on the canvass. So much so, that I have no qualms in referring to either of them by their first names. This is something I would have found unthinkable when Barack was the most powerfulest man on the planet.

These portraits seem beneath the dignity of both the Obamas and the Office of the Presidency. On the later point, we have had more than a fair dose of falling below the dignity of the Office of the Presidency of late. While I can not expect the current occupant of the White House to do better, I must admit, I’ve been caught off guard by these very well done portraits of former President Obama and his First Lady.

Yet Barack says that he likes both portraits. Perhaps that is all that matters about these two portraits which will define the Obama presidency far beyond his or my years on the stage.

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Harvey is Living Now Book Awards 2020 Bronze Medalist for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. Available at haroldmichaelharvey.com

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