the first family
With all the talk about the possibility of the first black president, I'm reminded and equally excited about the prospect of the First Family being black. The black community has never had that high profile black family we could point to as the model of success. Sure, we've had an endless list of individual heroes, with dysfunctional or very private family lives. We've even had power couples like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, who endured over time, serving as heroes for black love. But we never really got to know their family. So when we begin to have the black family discussion, the list of black families we all know and love quickly grows anemic.
The most celebrated black families of all time weren't even real people, they were fictional characters. The black family discussion over the past twenty years always seems to start and end with the Evans family from the tv show "Goodtimes", and the Cosby family from the hit sitcom, "The Cosby Show". In the Evans household, the black family experience was framed by struggle, something we can all relate to, whereas the Cosby's blackness was framed by the realization of success, which we all aspire to achieve. No matter who you are or what your background is, chances are your black family experience, or notion of one, resides somewhere between the Evans/Cosby spectrum. For some reason, our real black families haven't achieved that universal black acceptance. The King family could have had that, but it's hard to celebrate a family we remember more for their loss, than what they represented to black America. The Jackson family probably comes closest. Few families have been as high profile and achieved the amount of success they have. However, no matter how many hits you give us, there's only so many nose jobs, LaToya Jackson tell all books, and Michael Jackson pedophile cases black folk can take before you quickly fall from hero status to freak show. Therefore, in 2008, the void for that high profile black family we all can celebrate still remains.
"...you can’t love yourself unless you know that somebody that looks like you has done something good." - ophelia devore-mitchell
I was extremely lucky as a kid. Not only did I have both parents, I was surrounded by people, aunts, uncles, and friends of the family, whose black family unit resembled mine. Father, mother, kids, all under one roof. I saw complete black families all the time, but I was the exception. The average black kid grows up without his father living in the home, and most of their friends find themselves in a similar predicament. Thanks to the resiliency of black women, many have grown up to thrive and prosper, despite not having their fathers around. However, when I talk to my friends who grew up without one of their parents, they always talk about longing for that part of the equation they missed in childhood. There are certain lessons about family and black love that you only get by seeing up close, as it plays out daily in front of you. Unfortunately, it's not being played out in front of enough of our kids. So as the black family unit continues to erode, so do the lessons of how to maintain one.
One truly can't measure the impact seeing a black First Family day in and day out would have on black America. My first grade teacher used to tell us we could be anything we wanted to be, "even the president of these United States of America". Did we believe her? Nah, not really. I was more inclined to believe I could be a great boxer, cause there was a picture of Ali on the wall. I could be a Supreme Court judge, cause there was a picture of Thurgood Marshall on the wall. I could be O.J. Simpson, Barbara Jordan, Richard Wright, or Dr. Charles Drew, cause I could see the face to match the accomplishment every single day on the wall at school. But no where did I see a Black president. The Obama family in the White House, would provide an entire generation with a living example of what they could be. And not just president. The mere image of this illustrious family on the White House lawn would provide kids with a different set of ideals. Not only can I be something, I can also have something (a family).
Besides seeing the First Family on the cover of Ebony magazine, we'd see them on the cover of ALL the magazines. Always beautiful, always looking strong, healthy, and happy, like all black families should. We'd get to see their electric smiles as they walked with their dog, waving at cameras, just before stepping onto a helicopter for a family get away at Cape Canaveral. MIchelle would take up causes, and we'd see her in commercials, showing empathy for the problems that plague the world. We'd see the kids running from a limo as they entered their schools, or in candid behind the scene photos in some kind of New York Times profile. We'd marvel at how quickly our young kids began to learn their kids names. We'd see our First Family side by side with the first families of other great nations. And in the midst of all that we saw, we'd begin to feel a certain sense of pride. Somewhere in our minds, there'd be a wall with a picture of the Obama family, and it'd mean something to us. It'd mean the black family had ambassadors, the most powerful in the world. And suddenly, their image would be just as influential if not more, than the image of the philandering entertainer on MTV cribs had ever been.
I'm sure the image of a black president would help to kill stereotypes about black men. And a black first lady will most likely improve the visibility of black women in corporate America, as well as in Hollywood. But the real opportunity is to inspire and sell a new generation on the importance of the black family. We can be excellent. We can be rich. And like my first grade teacher used to say, we can be anything we want to be. But no longer do we have to do it alone. Thanks to the Obama's, hopefully we'll be reminded, we can do it, as a family. One luv.