Farewell to the chief

Farewell to the chief

The Times of London

Trevor Phillips

April 22, 2013: the president pauses for a moment of silence in honour of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings

After eight years in the White House, Barack Obama relinquishes the top job this Friday. Trevor Phillips criticises his legacy on race, while the White House photographer Pete Souza shares candid portraits of the outgoing president

Most of the 40,000 graves in New York’s Flushing Cemetery are marked by neat marble headstones, mostly white or grey, occasionally black. A few bear elaborate tombs, but for the most part they display the quiet restraint of immigrants for whom the American dream means exchanging a precarious existence in a developing country for a steady blue-collar job in the world’s greatest metropolis.

These modest memorials also tell the story of the borough where America’s flamboyant president-elect, himself the son of a Scottish immigrant, was born and raised. Queens claims to be the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. The tombstones carry thousands of names charting two centuries of ceaseless migration: English Quakers, German Protestants, Italian and Korean Catholics, African-American and Caribbean Episcopalians. Under a tree close to the cemetery’s southern boundary lies one marked “Marjorie Eileen Phillips”. My mother.

I always make a point of running over the family’s news for her benefit. We sometimes also talk politics. Last time I was there, shortly after the presidential election, we reflected on Obama’s tenure. I was keen to know what the wise matriarch thought the legacy would be of America’s first black president, who steps down this Friday…

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