Wednesday, November 5, 2008

OUR FIRST FAMILY




By DENENE MILLNER

He never talked about it much, my dad. But he’s a 70-something black man, born and raised in the seat of the confederacy—Virginia. He’s got stories. And last night, when I called Daddy all giddy, heart full with the joy of watching Barack Obama be named President-elect, my father brought home the import of an African-American man winning the highest office in the land.

“You’re too young to know what it was like, doll,” he said simply. “How humiliating it was to be hungry and want to spend your hard-earned money on a sandwich and be forced to go to the back door at the restaurant to collect it because you weren’t allowed in the front. How it felt to have to avoid looking a white man in the eye; if he talked to you, you had to hang your head—hang it like a dog. Step off the curb while he walked past you.

“I never thought I would see this day,” he said quietly. “A black man is president. A black man.”

And I could not stop my tears. Martin paid the price for our freedom with his life, but many more black folks invested in President-elect Obama’s new gig by bowing their heads and doing what they had to do to get by, all-the-while hoping and praying that their children would live in a better America—live to see this day when heads could be held high, without repercussion. With conviction. And a high step.

Still, as my father remembers the past, my husband and I look to the future—imagine what this iconic, indelible image of Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha standing on the steps of the White House means for our beautiful brown babies. Just the other day, before we had confirmed what we knew in our hearts was to be for the Obamas, Mari looked me in my eyes as I tucked her into bed and told me she thought maybe it would be cool to be president. “But maybe,” she added, “it would be just as cool to be the first black woman on the Supreme Court.”

“You can be either one of those, baby—whichever one you want,” I told her. And this time, I knew that those words, which I and many other parents of color like me say over and over again to our kids, were true.

Know that my 9-year-old truly can see this for herself because there’ll soon be two fresh, fly little brown girls in the White House who wear twists in their hair just like her…

And who like to play sports, and read books, and do well in school, just like her…

And who have a fresh, fly chocolate mom who is every bit as brilliant and ambitious a mother and wife in her home as she is an executive on the job, much like her mom…

And a father who believes in hard work, and love, and family, and is beautiful and thoughtful and stunningly intelligent and seems strong enough to move mountains—just like her dad.

In other words, my babies see for the first time in a presidential family a bit of themselves. The White House, built by the hands of slaves, will be the home of black folks. Two little brown girls will play out on the White House lawn, and suck on popsicles in the hot Washington, D.C. sun, and chase after their new puppy—twists flying behind them, giggles filling the air. And their parents will stand there, heads held high, sleeves rolled up, runnin’ thangs—working hard to make this place better for all of us.

This image, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted last night, “will do things to the gray matter inside our heads.” No truer words could ever be said. Perhaps the most poignant message to come from the Obama presidency will be that this black family isn’t so different from a lot of other families—that at their core, they want the same things most American families want, whether black or white, Asian or Latino, Gentile or Jew or Muslim, rich or poor, two-parent or single-parent, straight or gay. Indeed, the Obamas do the same things most American families do, and dream the same dream most American families dream. President-elect Obama (don’t you just love the way that sounds?!) reminded us of this in his acceptance speech last night:

This is our time to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

No more bowed heads, Daddy.

Look to the steps of The White House.

This country belongs to us.

All of us.



post signature

65 comments:

  1. What a touching post. You have expressed everything that I feel inside.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You said it more eloquently than I ever could. Today is a new day for this nation. I am proud to be a black woman, and I was proud to see my husband literally fall to his knees in tears listening to Obama's acceptance speech. Because this means SO much more than we could ever understand.

    I just love the sound of the phrase: "President Obama."

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a brilliant, thought provoking post, thanks for sharing your father's story.

    I really resonate with the discussion shared with your daughter. It is beyond words, the level of excitement I feel in the new possibilities surrounding our children's dreams. Brown babies doing big things!

    ReplyDelete
  4. True indeed,Denene! Our beautiful brown girls (along with the countless others) will have a constant symbol of hope in D.C., and physical proof, outside their own home and family, of what a working black family can accomplish in America, and anywhere for that matter!

    ReplyDelete
  5. That was a wonderful post. My brown baby was born in Guatemala. It's important for her to see people of all colors and backgrounds in roles of leadership. It's important for all of us to see that. Thanks for sharing your perspective. It's valuable.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You said what I was thinking. I was so proud to share this moment with my children. I don't feel like I am lying when I tell them that they could grow up to be anything that they want to be.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes it does.

    I completely broke down at the sight of the Obamas standing on that stage as the first family. With beautifully golden skin that looked like mine... with two little excited girls just like mine (one of which who would share the name of my little one if we replaced the J with an M).

    It was in that moment that I truly became a firm believer.

    ReplyDelete
  8. my daddy--also a son of virginia--died in january 2007. my excitement and joy about the obamas in the white house (bumped to 220 electoral college votes by virginia and i knew it was a done deal! yay!) was tempered only by the knowledge that daddy didn't live to see this day. but i know he's dancing in heaven!

    thanx for your beautiful post.

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a beautiful picture of the First Family! What a Beautiful post!

    On my way to work this morning, our radio station played "aint no stopping us now" I could not stop crying. I've heard this song many times, but this morning I understood the true meaning! We are on the move!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for always expressing my thoughts so eloquently. Now my two brown-skinned sons can truly believe that they too could be president of the United States if they so desired.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Absolutely beautiful! Your writing is amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank you. Well said/written. Thanks for the picture. They are a stunning and inspiring family.

    ReplyDelete
  13. The first family look good don't they?!

    When we heard that our nations next president is Barack Obama...me and the fam put on The Wiz soundtrack and played "Can You Feel a Brand New Day" We put it on repeat and danced around this house all night!!! It is truly a brand new day!

    ReplyDelete
  14. alas...you beat me to the punch. lol (and i see you watch MSNBC, that's where Eugene was.)

    as i was driving home from work today, it hit me. this image of the Obamas in the white house will do SO MUCH for the pride of our children. my students were so excited today. i asked them all, as a warm-up, what they think this election means to American. many students--black and latino--said that his win meant that anyone could be president. and for once, i think they believe it.

    i was thinking about the image of the Obamas in contrast to so many images we see in the media about black folks. it brought me back to the fact that there aren't many positive images on TV, which our kids watch a lot of, of our people. the last show that made me feel that anything was possible, that black families were normal, and beautiful, and full of possibility was "The Cosby Show." and while the tv shouldn't be raising our kids, so much can be said about positive images of ourselves on tv. i see the Obamas as the extension of so many dreams. i see them as an extension of the Cosby Show reality that so many doubted as a "true" depiction of black life. We need more Obamas. We need more Cosbys. we need more parents to step up to the plate...i think this historic event will push us a little closer to all of those things coming to fruition.

    ReplyDelete
  15. What a wonderfully inspiring post. I truly believe in this man as our President. And we have shown the world that America is moving forward, maybe not as forward as I would like (as a gay man who has seen some gay rights squashed in this election) but moving forward none-the-same. Here's to a better future for ALL.

    ReplyDelete
  16. A beautiful post that left me in tears. Thanks for the valuable perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  17. it seems that every time i come to your blog lately, i end up crying! :)

    that was so wonderfully written, denene.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Absolutely gorgeous post. So well-written and poignant; it really touched me. I can't even imagine what this election could be like for people of color, but I am so incredibly proud that our country has finally opened its eyes and realized what so many of us have known for a long time--we are all EQUAL and we DO all want the same things. We love our families, we love our country and we want respect and peace.

    Thank you for sharing this. It made my heart swell.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Beautiful post and written from the heart as always Denene. I love your writing and point of view. Gorgeous portrait of our new first family!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hey, I just gave you the Superior Scribble Award. Check it out at my blog!

    ReplyDelete
  21. A very poignant and thoughful post. This historic event of the Obamas in the white house is one that will cetainly mean a lot to our brown babies who will be our future. Thanks for your words..they mean a lot to us...all of us

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thanks for this powerful post, Sister.

    Yes, we did!

    Eisa

    ReplyDelete
  23. I didn't think I'd see the day until my son had children of his own. The future looks bright indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Another incredible post Denene--you're such a gifted writer. And you expressed all the pride I've been holding in my heart, pride I can't even begin to express to my kids because I get choked up. Every time I see Obama's family, I want to hold mine even closer. Finally we get to see ourselves represented with poise, grace, sophistication. It's overwhelming.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Here's to bringing our children up in a world where colour no long determines your future! Amen to that!

    ReplyDelete
  26. What a heartfelt and lovely post.

    ReplyDelete
  27. My Dad isn't prone to tears at all, but I actually saw tears in his eyes the day President Obama was sworn in. All he could say to me, over and over again, was "Now when I tell your son, my beautiful Black Grandbaby, that he can be President of the United States, I won't just be talking outta my ass". LOL. Gotta love him.

    ReplyDelete
  28. So beautifully worded. Thank you for a wonderful perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I am Canadian and couldn't and still can't vote, however I was a student in Michigan when the election took place and it was pretty impressive. Obama actually came and spoke on our campus. I got goosebumps reading this because really, we are all in this crazy thing called life; together. Well done. Loved ready your posts today!

    ReplyDelete
  30. You said it. Loved this post. I feel so proud to have such an intelligent, THINKING President in the White House. What a nice change.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Lovely and inspiring. You reminded me of how my heart broke wide open the day Obama was elected. We finally have class, intelligence in the White House and can start to hold our heads up high to the rest of the world as he reestablishes us as a nation of character. And we did this - with this nation's bigoted history, we still were able to do this. I couldn't be more proud. Thank you for your great post and reminder.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Moving... I still get choked up when I think of that incredible family as our first. I've never admired a partnership like I do theirs. I've never been so proud to hear a man or woman speak as when I hear them. And for the first time I truly identify with the leader of my country and his partner.

    Sure, I don't have the Ivy League educations and I'll never run for office (lo, I couldn't - too many skeletons), but there's something wholly relatable about them that you captured in your post. It really does't matter what your background is... you just have to have heart and soul.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Thank you... thank you for sharing this with us.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Well said! I love how you write!

    ReplyDelete
  35. I am former journalist and remembering what I loved what I did - to read great writing ( and write it myself once in awhile). You got it going on! Love this post, though, for what it means. Gives me the chillbumps all over again. Thanks for sharing your perspective with us!

    ReplyDelete
  36. That was a very touching and thought provoking.

    ReplyDelete
  37. What a spectacularly special image that was. I will never forget it. I have not felt it the way your father and those of his time did either, but as a white South African who has witnessed Apartheid in action, it was an incredibly meaningful and joyful day for me, and I know for Africans everywhere. Beautiful post!

    ReplyDelete
  38. I will never forget what I was doing on January 20, 2009! You would have thought I was there, in D.C. Dressed in my Sunday Best with my white pearls in a front row seat in my living room. So proud to be Black, and to be an American at that! Excellent post!

    ReplyDelete
  39. Thanks for sharing your Dad's story.
    I hope this Presidency will heal many past wrongs.
    Congratulations on your Sits Day!

    ReplyDelete
  40. Thank you for another wonderful post! We are all one human family;we are all the same in many ways and it is our diversity that makes us each unique.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Beautifully written on an historic event.
    Happy SITS day.

    ReplyDelete
  42. It's crazy to think how much society has changed in a few decades. There is still a lot of racism out there but we have made amazing progress. I am really proud of our First Family. They embody "family values" for me. In a really strange way, too (since I'm white, Jewish, vegetarian, Californian, and in many ways very different from the Obamas) I feel very well-represented by them.

    Great post and I love your blog! (Discovered you via SITS but I had definitely heard of you before that, just never actually read your blog before. Now I'm adding you to my blogroll.)

    ReplyDelete
  43. I have tears in my eyes. That was beautifully written and it truly is a monumental step. What those "who have gone on before" must think?

    ReplyDelete
  44. I love that your father was able to see the change that many brave women and men suffered to bring about. I think it is wonderful and miraculous that the world is becoming so much less prejudice and more accepting. I hope your daughter's dreams come true.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I love reading stories like this. It makes me feel that for the first time my vote REALLY did matter.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Beautiful post. Brings back emotions I felt when those results came in.

    ReplyDelete
  47. That was a very powerful post. Chills.

    ReplyDelete
  48. That day was probably the most special, important day I have EVER witnessed in my lifetime, and probably will always be.

    ReplyDelete
  49. I don't think I'll ever forget that day. I was sitting in a waiting room for my mom because she had just had some minor surgery. There were people sitting in the room all around me, most of whom were caucasian. When he gave that speech, they yelled and screamed for joy louder than even I did! It gave me a new perspective on this America we live in.

    ReplyDelete
  50. I am so sorry for what your father went through. I have never understand people who discriminate, even though my step father was the king of prejudice. I hope your girls will always remember the day we nominated President Obama.

    ReplyDelete
  51. What a wonderful post, great picture of the first family as well. Perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Thank you for sharing. Very touching.

    ReplyDelete
  53. I went to bed election night wishing that Abraham Lincoln could have witnessed this moment. He suffered much for a well worthy cause; "All men are created equal." It took his bravery then; it takes Obama's now - may he be blessed with great wisdom and discernment as he guides our country.

    I absolutely love that photo of the First Family - I don't believe I have seen it before.

    ReplyDelete
  54. I just don't think a lot of people embraced or understood how powerful and meaningful that moment was when he became our president. I'm so happy to be a part of this history!

    ReplyDelete
  55. I'm not a woman of color, but I too was SO pleased that Obama won. Election night and inauguration night were major celebrations in my house, at least for my sons and I (my Republican hubby was sulking). I am just so happy that we got the SMART guy for once! And he is busy fixing things and filling the government posts with other smart people instead of political cronies. I just love that! I hadn't realized how hurtful it was to have a President who didn't seem to listen to us or care about us. What a huge difference!

    ReplyDelete
  56. I don't think I've ever seen that photo of the First Family. It's gorgeous.

    This piece was so moving and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your father's story as well.

    Oh and congrats on your SITS day!

    ReplyDelete
  57. Cute picture of the First Family! Thank you for your story!

    ReplyDelete
  58. WOW. that was beautiful and had me in tears. No matter what you think of Obama and his politics...that was a momentous day...one not soon forgotten.

    ReplyDelete

Speak Your Mind Here

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin

wibiya widget