9 of Obama's blackest moments, from fist bumps to "folks wanna pop off"

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President Barack Obama made history by becoming America's first black president, but that didn't make it any easier for him to navigate the country's racial minefield. 

He was often on the defensive, careful to assert himself as "America's president," and not just "black America's president" while also withstanding an unprecedented amount of racist backlash. 

But Obama could not escape being a black man in America. That's what made the moments when he publicly embraced his blackness all the more powerful. Here are some of our favorites.

Fist bump FTW

Michelle Obama greets Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.  Fox News

On the campaign trail in 2008, Michelle and Barack Obama stirred up controversy when they bumped fists during a campaign rally. One Fox News host famously lashed out. "A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently."

Black folks, however, were thrilled by what the gesture really meant: "We got this."

The hair touch seen 'round the world

Jacob Philadelphia pats Obama's head.Source: White House/Flickr
Jacob Philadelphia pats Obama's head.  White House/Flickr

Just months after taking office, Obama hosted former Marine Carlton Philadelphia's family in the Oval Office. Philadelphia's 5-year-old son, Jacob, asked the new president, "I want to know if my hair is just like yours," according to an account later published in the New York Times. Obama responded, "Why don't you touch it and see for yourself?" It was a powerful moment that underscored the importance of a young black boy seeing a relatable image of himself in the world's most powerful office, one that had long been off-limits to black Americans. 

"Wha gwaan, Jamaica?"

Source: Jamaica/YouTube

On April 9, 2015, Obama became the first president in more than three decades to visit Jamaica. He, of course, did it in style by greeting students at the University of the West Indies with local patois, "Greetings massive! Wha gwaan?" It quickly became something of a dancehall classic. 

"Folks wanna pop off."

Source: TMZ/YouTube

During the 2015 G20 Summit, Obama called out critics of his plan to challenge the threat of terrorism with a little bit of 'hood lingo when he lamented, "...folks wanna pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do? Present a specific plan." Those words became a meme, obviously:

As Damon Young wrote at Very Smart Brothas, it was one of the blackest things that ever happened. 

That gospel intro

Source: White House/YouTube

Obama hosted a White House celebration of gospel music on April 14, 2015, and opened it with, "Wellllll," in a tone that might remind you of a black Baptist preacher. 

It was all jokes, but the seriousness of the moment was not lost. Calling gospel music "songs of hope," Obama said, "Hope that we might rise above our failures and disappointments. Hope that we might receive His redemption. Hope that, in lifting our voices together, we, too, might one day reach the Promised Land."

"Let's Stay Together"

Source: AP/YouTube

During a 2012 appearance at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, in New York City, Obama gave props to music legend Al Green by breaking into his classic, "Let's Stay Together." That too went viral:

Source: David Rice/YouTube

The anger translator he brought out during the 2015 White House Correspondents' Dinner:

Source: CSPAN/YouTube

President Obama was praised and criticized in equal measure for his perpetually calm demeanor during times of crisis. But he did manage to use the White House Correspondents' Dinner to poke fun at himself and his critics when he invited comedian Keegan-Michael Key on stage to be his "anger translator" and tell [white] America what he really thinks.

And then there was the infamous moment with NBA superstar Kevin Durant, when Obama broke out the black handshake:

That even inspired a popular sketch from comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele:

Source: Comedy Central/YouTube

Obama leads "Amazing Grace" at funeral for Charleston massacre victims

Source: CSPAN/YouTube


Finally, one of the most powerful moments of Obama's presidency came during one of the country's lowest, when he sang "Amazing Grace" to eulogize the nine black parishioners who were gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof during bible study in South Carolina.

We'll miss the president's grace and humility.

President Obama at the White House.Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Obama at the White House.  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

But we'll also miss his swag.

Obama on election night 2012 in Chicago.Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Obama on election night 2012 in Chicago.  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images