Mr. Obama, Would You Please Stop Dividing America?

By Tom Gilson Published on February 13, 2018

Dear Mr. Obama,

The country witnessed the unveiling of your portrait in the National Gallery yesterday. We also found out you had chosen Kehinde Wiley to paint it. Within moments word went out that Wiley had once painted a portrait of a black woman holding a white woman’s decapitated head. It is a message that contributes to dividing America. I ask you now: Is that what you really want?

That 2012 painting was titled Judith and Holofernes. In choosing that as his subject, Wiley joined with many artists through history who have rendered that grisly scene on canvas. The story comes from the Old Testament Apocryphal book of Judith. Holofernes was an Assyrian general whose troops were besieging Judith’s city, Bethulia. Judith managed to get close to him, where she beheaded him, securing victory and safety for her people.

But Wiley had changed the subject matter: No longer a Jewish woman beheading an attacking Assyrian general, in his painting, it was a black woman holding the head of a white woman.

“Fury,” Yes. But “Righteousness”?

It’s hard to miss the message. Well, maybe it’s easier for some. One museum described it this way: “Wiley translates this image of a courageous, powerful woman into a contemporary version that resonates with fury and righteousness.”

It’s hard to miss the message.

Fury, yes. But righteousness? How? Judith’s act in the original story was right because, with a minimum of bloodshed, she saved her people from immediate destruction. What makes Wiley’s version of it right?

The fury is certainly understandable. There was a time when black Africans were systematically kidnapped — by African Muslims — and sold to white traders. Taking up arms against them would certainly have been justified. I can only imagine how much better the world would be today if some African woman had beheaded that monster — figuratively or literally — hundreds of years ago.

“A Play on the ‘Kill Whitey’ Thing”

But Wiley’s message is that black-white conflict today is like the battle between Bethulia and Assyria. The black woman’s fury is only “righteous” like the original Judith’s if she’s saving her people from an attacking enemy — an enemy intent on destroying her people. Which Wiley may even have intended, for he has told New York magazine, “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing.”

Help us champion truth, freedom, limited government and human dignity. Support The Stream »

Blacks are still angry. I get that. Their mistreatment has improved by orders of magnitude, for the kidnapping and the enslavement are mercifully just bad memories. But they retain power still as memories, and discrimination remains besides.

A Powerfully Divisive Message 

Your role as leader, Mr. Obama, allows you uniquely to recognize that anger, to validate its causes, and to speak it publicly. It also affords you a choice: You can either stoke that anger into red-hot fury, or you can help lead our nation toward healing at last. Which will you choose?

Wiley’s Judith and Holofernes embodies a message of mortal enmity between races

I know what you’ve given lip service to. How many times have you called for unity, not division? But you’ve also given us reason to wonder whether you really mean it. Your calls for bipartisanship went nowhere, even among the members of your own party. You did nothing to calm the painful divisions that erupted in the country after Trump’s election. 

And now with the unveiling of this portrait you’ve stamped your approval on an artist whose body of work upends every unifying message you’ve ever thought to speak.

Actions speak louder than words. Art does, too. Wiley himself told New York magazine, “The games I’m playing have much more to do with using the language of power and the vocabulary of power to construct new sentences.” He went on to say, “It’s about pointing to empire and control and domination and misogyny and all those social ills in the work, but it’s not necessarily taking a position. Oftentimes it’s actually embodying it.”

Art doesn’t merely speak a message; it embodies it. Wiley’s Judith and Holofernes embodies a message of mortal enmity between races.

So Mr. Obama, what is your real intention for this country?

It’s Not Too Late: Please Stop Dividing Our Country

So Mr. Obama, what is your real intention for this country? What was it during your presidency? What is it today?

This latest revelation from you is divisive. It pits Americans against Americans. This message is damaging to the nation — the whole nation, both blacks and whites, and people of every other race and color.

It’s not too late, Mr. Obama. Your portrait is finished and it’s on display, but it’s not too late for you to change your message. No one could speak it as well as you. No one is positioned like you are to turn America toward healing and peace.

Do you want that for America, Mr. Obama? I certainly wouldn’t expect healing to be quick or easy; there’s too much to overcome there. But this I do know: Peace is better than war. Unity is better than division. Calm is better than violence.

And though it’s a long road from here to that healing, we’ll get there a lot quicker if we walk in the right direction. Would you take that leadership, Mr. Obama? Would you turn yourself around, first of all, and give up on your divisive, harmful ways? Would you do what you can to lead America toward the unity you’ve spoken of so often?

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • ImaginaryDomain

    Your question regarding Hussain’s intentions is rhetorical, I assume. We all know what he wants for this country. His actions speak volumes…

  • Ken Abbott

    It’s not healing he’s after, it’s transformation. He said as much just before the 2008 election.

    • Andrew Mason

      Lenin was after transformation too. Look how that turned out :-

  • Chip Crawford

    This coming election and certainly in 2020, we can expect to have Mr. Obama on the campaign trail. It’s another opportunity to attempt to explain to him where he misses it so badly and perhaps challenge him to come up to actual leadership in something good, like unity. The left is increasingly exposed for continuing issues they have fastened onto — like DACA, which they recently passed up for the most generous fix ever. Of course, we know they could have fixed it themselves. They could be challenged to stop stirring up racism in the various ways they do, like continually pointing in that direction and accusing everyone who breathes that is opposite their party of it. There needs to be a strong push back on being white — excuse me, perhaps you should stop being racist against white people. A lot has been corrected that needed to concerning prejudice and injustice against black people. Now, stop playing with it. I make no apology to you for being white, nor should any white male or white woman or child. We see what you are doing. Most of America sees it. Stop it.

    • mark brocker

      Nice screed.

    • stan schmunk

      Oh my, Chip. What nonsense…

      • Libertybelle

        Thr Stream has trolls too. What a shame. Media matters misses you.

    • Cody


  • Patmos

    That “artist” is a dreadful person, filled with delusion.

  • Aril

    Wow. I blame the racist who make such a big deal over a painting for dividing America. It is hard to believe the crap people focus on.

  • JustNTyme

    Warts and all.

  • GLT

    As a Canadian I view Obama from a different perspective. However, in my opinion, there has never been an American President as incompetent or divisive as Barack Obama. It appears his singular goal was to cause the maximum possible amount of division among the American people. He sowed division along racial lines, economic lines, religious lines and the urban/rural split. I do not see history being kind in any way to this man or his presidency. His choice of an artist who openly displays a racist mentality only affirms his own racist attitudes.

    • stan schmunk

      Both your perspective and your opinion are wrong. The only way he divided the US is that he was born with the wrong skin color, which offended the folks of the Old South.

      • Paul

        Oh please, gimme a break. Sippin’ the koolaid much?

      • Jim Walker

        Yes, born of a wrong skin color and still got voted in for 2 terms as President. Maybe from your reasoning, there must be many millions of illegal voters out there to make him win.

        • Cody

          Democrats wrong once again. Maybe they should raise your taxes take your guns and bible healthcare away.

      • Cody

        Wrong once again, not the wrong skin color but the wrong motives this man hates the one true God and he also hates America even a blind man can see this.

      • GLT

        I never said anything about his skin colour. I only spoke of his actions and their consequences. His skin colour is irrelevant to the fact he was and is incompetent or the fact he is clearly a racist. It will probably come as a shock to you but at this point in history the most racist people are not those you would label as ‘white’.

        • You know GLT, to say that’s the only way he divided America is just empirically false. Even if that jhappened to be one of the ways, which I’m not so sure about.

          • GLT

            “You know GLT, to say that’s the only way he divided America is just empirically false.”

            I never said it was the only way he divided America. Read my earlier post.

            As for whether or not Obama divided America along racial lines, of that there is absolutely no doubt.

          • Sorry, I misidentified the person who wrote that. It was Stan. My apologies.

          • GLT

            Not a problem, I’ve made that mistake a few times myself.

      • 46Wild

        I totally disagree. I voted for him expecting race relations to improve but he took them in the opposite direction. He was in the perfect position to act and to make it a priority but he CHOSE not to.

    • Libertybelle

      Perfect description of our first communist president.

  • Tianzhu

    Wikipedia says the artist is gay. Big surprise.

    • Bojaws Dubois

      Relevant information

    • Jim Walker

      Hi TianZhu, the character 柱 is “column” so 天柱 literally means Sky Column.

      天主 (God) is that what you intended to use ?

      • Andrew Mason

        According to the dictionary I looked at there’s 6 TianZhus with 天柱 being pillars supporting heaven, which is a tad cryptic, but also the name of a county in the Guizhou province. Perhaps it’s a geographic reference rather than a typo?

    • Cody

      No really.

  • Jim Walker

    To me, this is extreme pride and the only one that has more than Obama, is satan.

    • Cody

      Pride cometh before a fall, and God resists the proud.

  • fiveHats

    Obama is showing his depraved side. Have you seen the artist’s sperm portraits? Google it. And this portrait is on permanent display.

  • Concerned Christian

    Well, there are no black supremacists running for office inspired by Obama, but there certainly are some running as republicans motivated by trump!

    Maybe you should expect more out of the current president, then you do of the former!

    • 46Wild

      educate yourself beyond the mainstream media and I think you’ll be surprised at what you find

Do Not Sin Against the Child
Charles Spurgeon
More from The Stream
Connect with Us