Throughout his campaign, de Blasio campaigned on a progressive platform: more jobs, better schools, affordable housing and inclusive city politics. But what kept his platform from being rhetoric per usual was the undeniable strikingly visual proof that de Blasio was different in a very modern and appealing way.
De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, is black; their two children, Chiara and Dante, are biracial. Throughout the race, the de Blasio family unit was at the forefront, making frequent campaign appearances, starring in TV ads, choreographing a bizarre but charming dance and otherwise creating many adorable moments, from their family embrace and quirky wardrobe choices on the cover of New York magazine right up to Chiara’s surprise Election Day visit home from her California college to vote.
Direct mail pieces introduced “Bill & Chirlane,” the “Brooklyn family who’s fighting to change New York,” with a picture of the foursome drinking juice and playing Trivial Pursuit. It was a picture so very ordinary and yet not: Where some other boring white guy’s white wife might sit is Chirlane, her hair in locs; next to her is Chiara with an eyebrow piercing and gauged earlobes. Sixteen-year-old Dante’s 6-inch Afro became a favorite topic among the media.
On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart donned a bushy wig and asked the de Blasio family to consider adopting him; President Obama told Dante he had the same hairstyle in 1978. The hair eventually earned its own hashtag on Twitter, embodying the power it came to symbolize: #fromentum.
Opponent Joe Lhota, meanwhile, kept his family largely out of the spotlight, saying they prefer privacy and suggesting on “Good Day New York” that de Blasio was “using his family because he has no policies.” Even if that assertion had been true, what Lhota discounted was the enduring importance of family in politics and the power of the promise of change and diversity. Although de Blasio’s family might have made him unique in such a major political race, it is far less so when you look at America as whole.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, interracial and interethnic married couples grew by 28% over the past decade, from 7% in 2000 to 10% in 2010. Among unmarried couples, the numbers rise still: Eighteen percent of opposite-sex unmarried couples, and 21% of unmarried couples, are interracial. Among American children, the multiracial population has increased almost 50%, to 4.2 million, since 2000, while the number of people of all ages who identified themselves as both white and black climbed a whopping 134% since 2000 to 1.8 million people, growing faster as a group than those who identified as a single race.
De Blasio’s election doesn’t necessarily symbolize a universal or even New York City-wide acceptance of interracial marriage. But mixed-ethnicity pairings have served other candidates well. Consider Jeb Bush’s marriage to Mexican-born Columba Gallo and, of course, President Obama’s own racially mixed background.
At the same time, it was only a few months ago that a commercial for Cheerios featuring an interracial couple and their daughter caused such intense backlash on YouTube that the comments section had to be closed. Still, studies have showed that showing affection for family of any color or makeup helps humanize, and differentiate, a political candidate. A 2007 Gallup poll found that three in four Americans view “family values” — which they identify in the context of a political campaign as the family unit, family structure or strong families — as extremely important in determining their vote.
This, of course, is the reason the overwhelming majority of elected officials are married with children. De Blasio was smart to call on his family, interracial or not. Was it a political move? Perhaps. And the fact that it worked ultimately says far more about the voters than it does the candidate.
Editor’s note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.