So here is a frame that is increasingly annoying and troubling. The idea that presence of the Obama family in the White House presents a new face to America about what black families are.
I agree, wholeheartedly, that the images presented over generations of what black people and black families are have been severely limited and problematic. The article slants the piece in such a way, though, that focuses on pathologies in the black community as the only reality. It sets the Obama family up as the ones who will not only correct that notion, but also the ones that will straighten out black America. And yeah, I get that there is some of that going on and that it is good. I don’t want all the “role models” out there to be involved in sports or music. However, it has never been the case that that is where all the role models are, where all the successful black people are. The images that are chosen to portray us are drawn either from that stream – sports or music, or from the stream that shows us the poverty stricken criminals, you know, the ones that Bill Bennett wants to abort.
As one of the women quoted in the article says, “We don’t get to see black love.” She is right – we don’t get to see it. That does not mean it isn’t there, hasn’t been there, and won’t be there in the future. We don’t get to see it in the media because it is not shown. What passes for black love is too often fetishized and pathologized. We are not used to seeing black love, not because it does not exist, but because it does not fit into the narrow frame of who black people are, according to those who shape the images we see. And yes, I am well aware that sometimes those images are shaped by us – black people.
The black first family does not change everything, as the CNN headline asserts. Yes, I am glad – so glad to see them there. But what will change everything is not just the image of this successful, loving black family in the white house. What will begin to change some things, and then more things, and maybe work towards changing everything is making sure more people have the opportunity to achieve the things this family has achieved is to assure the basics of life that provide stability to every citizen. Things like health care, decent educational institutions that are adequately funded and serve all children well, and living wages. Supporting families so that they are able to get what they need to survive physically will go a long way in maintaining good psychological, emotional and spiritual health. And no, it’s not just about throwing money at problems. It is about building a national – no, a global consciousness that understands that within a society, individuals and individual family units are connected to one another and it is within the best interests of us all to tend to that interconnectedness. If a society decides to throw away a segment of their population (whether designated by race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, whatever) by first not acknowledging their humanity and from that denying them the rights and benefits of the society, then yes, things will go horribly wrong. Rugged individualism does not a healthy society make.
It is not until the very tail end of the article that we are given a glimpse of another reality:
Barbara McKinzie, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, says she grew up in a small town in Oklahoma surrounded by black couples and an extended family of teachers and neighbors, who were knit together like the new first family.
She didn’t need to look at the Inauguration Day festivities to see a vibrant black family.
“It’s not new, but it appears new,” she says. “The president and his wife and children are not a novelty in the African-American community.
“It’s the only family I’ve known in my life.”
h/t Rachel’s Tavern