Many of us were still on a post-Inaugural high even after King Day. Took me a minute to snap out of the euphoria. President Barack Obama’s speech was on point. He honed in on things that as an activist I work every day to protect: key civil rights like the right to vote, the right to immigrate to America and be treated equally, and the right to equal education for all.
And while I have never been a complete romantic, I admit I got warm and fuzzy inside when I saw President Obama and the First Lady share a dance at the Inaugural Ball. My girls — some of whom swear up and down that romance is dead – called me to say how touched they were by the love and affection between the First Couple. I, too, was touched mainly because of the refreshing message being shown to our young people, so many of whom don’t see images of strong Black marriages that much any more.
My parents have been married more than 40 years, and I grew up with both of them in my life 24/7. They showed me the power of Black love and multi-parenting, but I’m starting to see this is an anomaly.
Watching the First Couple was invigorating because of the powerful message being sent to young people of color who have been raised in an America where nuclear families have tragically become a rarity.
People will give all sorts of analysis as to why so many are growing up in single-family homes, but the truth is, we cannot even begin to have this conversation without looking at the prison industrial system that has locked up so many of our men (and increasingly, so many of our women).
And unless we begin to alter this harsh reality, marriage may just be a fairy tale for many.
I first noticed the lack of Black nuclear families as a child when I was growing up. While I was raised in a two-parent home and blessed with unconditional love, I saw many of my peers who weren’t as lucky. Now to be fair, I’m not saying that single-parent homes don’t provide love, care, protection, and guidance; of course they do.
But the truth is, when the overall structure of marriage is broken down in a community, that community suffers – and there’s no denying that.
With more and more of our young men shot or in jail because of an unjust system, Black women are faced with fewer and fewer options. We have to start dealing holistically with gun violence and “gangsterism,” as well as a prison system that does more damage than provide actual rehabilitation.
I’d be the first one to say that I LOVE the relationship the Obamas have and how proud we all are to have this beautiful Black family in the White House. They represent countless other loving Black families out here today.
But I can appreciate positive messages from them and others while still acknowledging the huge task we have in front of us.
When young Black men are specifically profiled, harassed, stopped, and frisked on our streets, they are already receiving the message that they are criminals. When there are no jobs, no after-school programs and no options, these young men and women are easily pushed or coerced in to negative activities.
When our boys are seeking the affection of a Father that isn’t there, they can wind up with the wrong crowd. When they are busy trying to prove their “manhood,” they can be too quick to pick up a gun. When our youth have nobody to talk to after witnessing trauma on our streets consistently, we’re failing them. When our kids are visiting parents in prison as if it were a normal activity, they’re already behind others.
These are harsh realities, but accepting them and working toward altering them is the only way in which we can move forward. Improving our schools, mentoring young people, and providing counseling are immediate steps we should be implementing.
And on a larger level, we need to tackle high unemployment and a prison industrial complex that would rather lock us up than watch us produce more couples like the Obamas.
As much as Black women may say they’re through with dating, the truth is, they are just frustrated. With fewer and fewer options out there, what are they to do??? Start dating outside of our race? Date other women? It’s great that we have so many strong, independent Black women (I pride myself on being one of them!), but independent and strong doesn’t mean you don’t need someone to grow with and raise a family with.
Watching the Obamas dance on Monday touched most of the people I know. As President Obama embarks on this second term, we need to look at the First Family as examples of how we can help the community around us. And we need to address many of these lingering issues in a holistic manner so that we can save two-parent homes, save Black relationships, and save the Black family. After all, that’s where it all begins: at home.