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My First Family Is Black
Before the winning of the 2008 Presidential election, it hadn’t crossed my mind one way or the other whether Barack Obama would win. He, like Jesse Jackson in 1984 (yes, I’m that old), and talks of Al Sharpton (uhmmm…) and even the speculation over Colin Powell running for president have all just been symbols to me.
Nine years old. That’s how old I was when Jesse Jackson was running for president in full afro’d glory. Knowing next to nothing about politics but a whole lot about what still was and wasn’t possible for Black people at the time, I saw it as a step toward recognition, and not an actual possibility. Even in 1984, twenty-one short years post the Jim Crow Laws, there were still conversations about the first Black this and the first Black that, letting me know we still hadn’t made some regular moves and the presidency was a little lofty when we still couldn’t play a round of golf in the south.
I, like most people who looked like me, was proud of Jesse Jackson and this interesting idea of a Rainbow Coalition, despite my annoyance with comments like, “I don’t care if a person is (insert color wheel)…” Fast forward twenty-four more years and a smooth guy from a place that I call distant home was a real contender. And I didn’t care. Let me clarify. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited, but my lack of faith in politics didn’t allow me to see Barack Obama as the second coming of the Constitution and somehow swoop in to save the Black day. This, after all, is still the [Dis]United States of America. Remembering my civics lessons, I knew that Congress would largely determine what would and wouldn’t go down and I knew many of them weren’t feeling him. The opportunities to thumb noses and turn asses up were just too many and it looked like it could become more popular than organized sports.
So what did all this Black man running for office mean for me? What would it change in my life? When I looked more closely at it, I realized the man himself was neither here nor there for me, but his family was of the utmost importance. At the time I was a teacher, dealing with little brown girls who wanted to be Hannah Montana or idolized the next best beige thing via Beyoncé. I had little brown boys who were swooning over the same women that my girls wanted to be, perpetuating this sickening cycle of the invalidation of the beauty of Black folks. Most of my brown children came from single parent households, run by mothers with little support and few clues—an observation, not an indictment—though doing the best they knew to do. Their battles with “baby daddies” made public in my classroom by adults with no discretion. I realized I didn’t care about Barack Obama the man, but the Obamas as a family.
Who were these people who looked all like they not only love each other but also, like each other? And where did they get these head-held-high daughters? And is that a Black woman’s Black mother supporting in the foreground? I needed my babies to see THAT and regularly. I needed someone to change the landscape for what Black families are and remind folks, everyone, that not all of us are out here in the “unfortunate situations” that the media is portraying as the reality of Black relationships.
Those were my second grade babies that made me want the Obamas as the face of the American family. It was my sixth grade babies that made me realize how right I was. During an assignment requiring students to project their futures based on their then current goals and desires, I was reminded how dire things were. In a majority Black class (grade and school) I listened to girl-child after girl-child outline her life by graduating high school, getting a job and having some kids. There were very few dreamers in the mix, who seized the opportunity to craft their lives as big as their imaginations would allow. The sadness set in. That WAS the reach of their imaginations as far as their futures were concerned. One of my three young white students took the front of the room, ready to share her life’s forecast. She confidently spoke of not only going to college but what she would study. She was certain that she would meet the love of her life in college—how very retro—and marry him. They would have three children and when the youngest was school age, she would get her master’s in… She even went on to where they would retire and the places they would travel.
HOLY SHIT!! My brownins want love, they express it to me all the time, but they didn’t believe in it as a possibility. The natural patterns of relationships? As foreign as the broads and cars 2 Chainz “raps” about. I wanted to weep but dealt with it with teacher aplomb.
Four years is a long time. It’s the amount of time from giving birth to a child to having one school age. It’s the number of years it takes to get an undergraduate degree if fortunate to go full time. It’s just shy of the number of years it takes to be vested with your employer. It’s a little less than the time it takes to pay off a car. It’s the length of a presidential term. And yet, it isn’t enough to undo countless years of psychological damage, the kind of damage that has darkened the imaginations of my children.
So here we have decided again who our president should be. You have no idea how VERY THANKFUL I am that Mitt Romney did not win the 2012 election. I really want to be finished my master’s program before having to toss around whether or not it is necessary to become an expatriate. But again, more than wanting to be one of the kool kids and quoting “My President Is Black,” I’m so very thankful that My First Family Is Black because my children need to see them for four more years.