Monday, December 19, 2011

A Black Family in the White House

This post is not about politics.  For this post, I don't care if you like Obama or think he's the worst president in 100 years.  If you can, just for a few minutes, try to put that aside and hear what I'm saying - something about the First Family that is not political:

There is a black family in the White House.

This makes me so happy in so many ways.  Some of you right now are thinking that this is another form of racism - that I should only judge the First Family on their character, not on their skin color.  You're right and wrong.  That, of course, would be ideal, and I think that is a well-meaning position, but if that was your first thought, I'm going to venture a guess that you have never personally had to deal with racism. 

I am pretty fortunate as well.  I'm a middle-class educated white person and I've never suffered from racial profiling or racial discrimination.  In fact, I've probably benefited from racism in more ways than I'm comfortable thinking about, as have most white people in this country.  However, I have been able to learn from my students, and that is why I am able to rejoice in the fact that there is a black family in the White House.

When Obama was first elected, I tried to explain this. It is incredibly discouraging to hear 8-year olds say that the president will always be white, that white people will always have more money than black people, and that they're not even sure colleges let "people like us" in.  I could lecture the kids all I wanted about equal opportunities, but it just doesn't ring true without examples.

If I were more cynical about this, I could, of course, point out that the Obamas have very little in common with my students.  They were a powerful upper-class family - the elite - even before coming to the White House.  Most of my students receive welfare and won't graduate from high school.  But it's a step.  Because visuals are important and do inspire.  And for kids who are so incredibly removed from power and success, it can make a big difference to look at a picture and see kids who at least look just like them. 

A black family in the White House makes me so happy.

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