Point of View Columns

The Obamas – A Real Class Act

As the Obama Administration heads into the final lap of its eight year term, it is time for retrospectives to begin. And we can begin with the fact that, even after all the mudslinging and flaming arrows aimed at the President and Mrs. Obama; they have Stayed Strong and continue to Be Great. They have epitomized the concept of “grace under fire” – one more thing for which little credit is given to Barack and Michelle Obama.

Consider the First Lady’s remarks at the recent Jackson State University commencement ceremonies:

“When I hear words like dignity and excellence, I think about my husband … As I’ve walked this journey with Barack, I’ve gotten a pretty good look at what it means to rise above the fray, what it means to set your eyes on the horizon, to devote your life to making things better for those who will come after you. I have seen how, no matter what kind of ugliness is going on at any particular moment, Barack always stays the course …”

Much has been written about the substantive and institutional accomplishments of President Obama – the Affordable Healthcare Act and the introduction of a national health care system – the Dodd Frank Act and the initiation of the most ambitious reformation of the financial services system in almost ninety years and, of course, the salvation of the American economy in 2009. These items are historic and undeniable.

More subtle, and perhaps more important, has been the ability of President and Mrs. Obama exhibiting grace and class under the most intense pressure imaginable. Being called a “liar” from the floor of Congress or doubt being cast on the patriotism and Christianity of the President has been bad enough. Being called “shiftless” by the Sarah Palin, the Wicked Witch of the West must have been galling.

Being assailed on the “birther” issue by a carnival barker like Donald Trump might have been laughable for the first week or so, but after the first year the racist fumes of this noxious assault must have been revolting. But Barack and Michelle Obama stayed the course.

And for those who would say that in the 21st century the Obamas do not have any particular responsibility to establish respect for black America or represent black dignity in America I would suggest that they should take a closer look the next time they go shopping. Aunt Jemima is still on that pancake box, Uncle Ben is still on that box of rice and the Gold Dust Twins are still selling flour in the next aisle.

The sordid reality is that in the 21st century relics of black minstrelsy and slavery are still acceptable in the marketplace and so it should come as no shock that dignity and respect for black Americans are goals that have yet to be achieved. The First Family did not seek the responsibility of countering these charmless images, but just by being they have done so.

And so it is important that Barack and Michelle Obama have been able to maintain a stable marriage and raise two teenage daughters in the pressure cooker that is the American presidency, giving many white Americans (and some black Americans), a vision that they can only imagine. Given all the negative statistics regarding the pathologies attendant to black families, this First Family opens the door to the truth that stable and positive black families can and do exist in these days and times.

There will always be the black naysayers who want Barack Obama to “act more like a brother”. But history will show that what was important was that he and his wife acted like a man and woman with class and charm and dignity.

And that says a lot in these days and times.

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