We celebrate firsts, as we should, I suppose. They reassure us of the notion of relentless American progress, to which we have become accustomed. Although they are often also a reminder of how long people have been prohibited or denied.
Those firsts carry with their honor a burden: the weight of representing the race. They are not free to simply rise or fall on their own merit, and they bear the weight of the whole race.
Everything projected onto Black people is projected onto them — every bias and every stereotype, every assumption and every hatred.
They are simultaneously blazing a trail and entering the crucible.
The Obamas were chastened often on the subject of race, from the time Mr. Obama began his run for the presidency. This resulted in a skittishness on the subject.
When the Obamas shared an innocent fist bump during the 2008 campaign, E.D. Hill, the host of Fox News’s “America’s Pulse,” teased a segment about the gesture this way:
A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently. We’ll show you some interesting body communication and find out what it really says.
In 2011, as a regular citizen, Mr. Trump suggested that Mr. Obama, a Black man, couldn’t have written his first book, “Dreams From My Father,” because of its quality. He believed it must have been written by Bill Ayers, a white man. As Mr. Trump put it:
Bill Ayers was a supergenius. And a lot of people have said he wrote the book. Well, recently, as you know, last week Bill Ayers came out and said he did write the book. Barack Obama wouldn’t be president — and, you know, I wrote many best sellers and also No. 1 best sellers, including “The Art of the Deal.” I know something about writing. And I want to tell you, the guy that wrote the first book didn’t write the second book.
In 2013, after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin, Mr. Obama said:
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.
But in the political sense, he was Mr. Martin: under suspicion from first glance, suspected of nefarious intent, stalked and descended upon by the self-appointed guardians of the space.