Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The black family: Not gone the way of the dodo bird yet

By Tami, Crossposted from Anti-Racist Parent



by Tami Winfrey Harris, editor

I am a Barack Obama supporter. If you are not, I apologize, but please indulge me for a moment. I am not about to become a political proselytizer. This post isn't about policies and platforms. I'll save that stuff for my own blog. But there is one thing that I know for sure Barack Obama can help do that his opponent cannot: "normalize" the black family in America's eyes.

Last night, viewers of the Democratic National Convention spotted what is the rarest of things, according to media and statistics: a traditional, loving, black family. Wait...wait...I know that families come in all different varieties, and that families comprised of a single parent, same-sex parents, parents of different races and groups of extended relations, are as loving and valuable as the traditional model we insist on calling "the all-American family." It's just that I rarely see families like mine and the ones my husband and I grew up in on TV and in pop culture. (Clair and Cliff, where did you go?) It has been decided that relations between black men and women are dysfunctional, that all black women are unmarried and unmarriageable, that black children don't have fathers. (Related note: When my husband and I lived in Chicago, in a condo between downtown and the South Side, we noticed something odd about the card selection in the nearest Walgreen's, situated in the historic black neighborhood of Bronzeville. The selection for Father's Day cards, and birthday and seasonal cards for dad, was freakishly small. It was as if the store manager had decided "why bother," what with all those stories of absent daddies and dire predictions about the extinction of the black family.) So, forgive me if I get a little thrill when I see Sasha and Malia Obama become excited at their father's visage on a big, convention center screen. And pardon if I cheer a bit when the Democratic candidate and his wife bump fists, when she affectionately ribs him on the campaign trail, or when he rests his palm lovingly on the small of her back. Yes, Virginia, there are happy, black families.

I also appreciate how having a black family constantly in the news spotlights little cultural flourishes that are black and American, but invisible to the mainstream--like the Obama kids' "girlpie" hair that is sometimes "pressed," sometimes in twists, sometimes in cornrows, sometimes fuzzy in the way that black girl hair gets fuzzy. I worry about those little ones, who may have to experience adolescence in the public eye, but maybe, by watching them grow, it will be harder to "otherize" black women into "nappy-headed hoes."

I probably shouldn't need validation of normalcy from the culture at large, but sometimes that validation makes me feel good in spite of myself. It's hard being invisible. The Obamas show the world that black families are still here. I am here.

And the Obamas provide another example for the black children who I love that, contrary to popular belief, marriage and family is one of many life choices available to them. They don't have to want it, but have a right to try for it, if that's what they believe will make them happy.

4 comments:

Citizen Ojo said...

Wonderful post, as a black man/husband I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of what was said.

Jennifer said...

I cried at the end of Michelle Obama's speech, especially when I saw her daughters join her on stage.

I want SO BADLY for the Obamas to be in the White House--to have them be America's first family.

And I LOVE the fact that this family is so beautiful, so loving, so real (a friend of mine said that Michelle Obama seemed like the kind of person you could be friends with--that you can imagine calling her up to come over and hang out--wouldn't that be fabulous!), and black. Because it's the 21st century and we need to have more images of people of color, especially African Americans to combat the centuries of negative, racist, images that have plagued our nation.

Lovepoetically said...

similar to what jennifer said, i too cried at the end of michelle obama's speech, especially when stevie wonder's "isn't she lovely," began to play. not only is this an african-american song, but it compliments/confirms that african-american women are beautiful.

Isnt she lovely
Isnt she wonderfull
Isnt she precious
Less than one minute old
I never thought through love wed be
Making one as lovely as she
But isnt she lovely made from love

Isnt she pretty
Truly the angels best
Boy, Im so happy
We have been heaven blessed

michelle, sasha and malia braced the stage all together after the song played. this placed a beautiful face and perception of both black women, young women and young girls within this country.

in response to tami, i wholeheartedly agree with this post. yes!! to the fact that the nuclear black families that are in existence, were seen the night michelle obama spoke. as a college student, i too look up to the obama family from day one, because i want my black husband and children.

black love is by far: SO FLY & SO BEAUTIFUL.
so kudos to the obamas.

Lovepoetically said...

in addition, please read this article, entitled "michelle obama: democrats roll out the os x leopard of first ladies," by danielle crittenden. crittenden mainly focuses in on how michelle is a "post-feminist," who is sexy, intelligent, powerful and most importantly supportive of her husband and family, which she prioritizes just as much as her independence as a woman. i love this article:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/danielle-crittenden/michelle-obama-democrats_b_121430.html

the excerpt that was salient in my opinion:

"Michelle Obama: Democrats Roll Out the OS X Leopard of First Ladies"-Danielle Crittenden

"But from the moment Michelle Obama began to speak, I realized we were witnessing something historic -- and unrelated to the fact she is an African American. **Michelle Obama is the first woman to embrace/embody a post-feminist view of a presidential spouse.**

Think of it this way: When was the last time a nominee's wife stepped forward to assert her children and her marriage were more important and satisfying to her than her career? Indeed, to speak of the necessity of putting her career aside for her husband's political ambition--and to do so without a whiff of resentment? Heck, when was the last time you saw a candidate's wife- -any politician's wife! -- proclaim her love for her husband without that husband having been caught cheating on her first? And to do all this without driving the media into a hissy fit: "OMG she's setting women's rights back a generation!"

For neither is Michelle Obama some retro caricature of a "desperate housewife." How could she be, with her pumped figure, her confident, outspoken manner, and the way she sometimes looks, when goaded, like she's chewing on marbles? This is not a woman to be messed with. This is not a woman who feels inferior to her husband. This is not a woman without ambition or dreams. But she seems to possess the modern understanding that women's ambitions and dreams aren't always realized on a straight trajectory; that marriage and family are as much a part of those ambitions and dreams as a promotion or job title; **and that when a husband succeeds politically, it does not negate her importance but amplifies it.**

It was refreshing, too, to see a woman on the convention's stage wearing a soft, sexy dress. This is more post-feminism. Call it the "Sex and the City" effect. I've been struck by how many young career women today eschew the boxy suits and sensible heels of their female bosses for fitted dresses, high heels, and low necklines. **There seems to be no contradiction in their minds that they can be effective at what they do in their public lives, but still be feminine and unabashedly open about attracting male attention.**

We hear often of women shattering glass ceilings, but Michelle Obama has shattered a plaster mold: the mold that casts all female public figures -- and potential First Ladies -- into either/or figures. You are EITHER an independent career woman in your own right (Hillary Clinton) OR a traditionally minded woman in the background of an ambitious man, the shadow in pearls (Cindy McCain; Laura Bush). You are NOT this hot, buff mother at a lectern moving a crowd to tears with your force and passion."

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