During my college years I fancied myself a theater critic for my campus newspaper, the (Clark Atlanta University) Panther. To my then boyfriend’s chagrin, I enthusiastically enlisted myself to review any and every play that snagged a stage in Atlanta. Once, I naively volunteered to review a production that could be characterized as nothing less than a “Chitlin’ Circuit” revival. So much for a night of quality theater. The play was called “Whatever Happened To Black Love” and let’s just say that my final review started out something like “if you don’t know, this play won’t tell you!” Who knew that a future President and First Lady would help me answer that question many moons later. Thank God that Barack & Michelle Obama have finally happened to Black love.
Sure we’ve had glimpses of high-profile Black romance over the years. Who among us didn’t privately (and publicly) gush when Claire and Cliff Huxtable famously cuddled on their couch at the end of our fave “Cosby Show” episodes? And, of course, there is the real Cosby love of Bill and Camille. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, hands down, personified soul mates ‘till death did they part. Heck, even Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have demonstrated that marital bliss and a familial harmony can exist. Still, on this day of the first presidential debate of election 2012, news that this also marks the Obamas 20th wedding anniversary can’t help but inspire me to reflect on the magnanimous magnificence of their love. It’s as special as it is a much-needed image in our American culture. At a time when our collective brains are inundated with reality show images of Black women competing in “drop-it-like-it’s-hot” contests in an effort to gain the affections of a has-been and highly unattractive rapper (yes, Flava Flav) and the on-again-off-again tumultuous affairs highlighted on various television series like Love & Hip-Hop, Basketball Wives and For The Love of Ray J, Barack & Michelle’s love is about as refreshing as a liter of Evian after a long trek across the Sahara.
Statistics show that African-American marriages face greater challenges compared to couples from other racial groups. Of all the races, African Americans are least likely to marry. Less than one-third of African-American adults were married in 2010, compared with 64 percent of whites, according to recent estimates from the Census Bureau. African-Americans who do marry, report being less satisfied in their relationships and are more likely to divorce than Whites. Seventeen percent of White marriages end within 15 years, while nearly half of African-American marriages end within that time frame.
For the record, current and former University of Georgia marital researchers Steven Beach and Tera Hurt insist that all racial groups have seen a decline in marriage in recent years. The trend toward less marriage among African American couples, says Hurt, is more pronounced because of documented strain between men and women relative to communication and gender roles, as well as “persistent inequalities in employment, education, incarceration, and the sex ratio.” Those factors, says Hurt, now on faculty at Iowa State University, “continue to challenge the longevity and stability of marriages.”
The troubling statistics inspired Beach and Hurt’s former work with UGA’s ProSAAM (Program for Strong African American Marriages) effort, which focuses on cultivating communication and problem-solving skills to help improve marital quality and stability for African American couples (find more information at http://prosaam.uga.edu/publications/index.htm). Hopefully some scientific intervention will help improve the state of our unions.
I, too, am tired of hearing the negative about our community, but we can’t ignore that those stats underscore the dire need for more positive examples of Black love and marriage in pop culture and American society in general. I, for one, will never forget the romantic fist-bump the Obamas exchanged onstage after one of his electrifying campaign speeches in 2008; or when Michelle once introduced him years ago as her “babies’ daddy.” The fact that they seem so very much in love and that they still giggle and grin all googley-eyed at each other is heartwarming to say the least. The fact that the “leader of the free world” insists on making a valiant effort to get home for dinner with his family every day is admirable. Sure he has the power of Air Force One to make that happen, but doesn’t that make us all want to do more to make our relationships work?
As someone who is still very much a newlywed, Barack and Michelle’s love inspires me to work harder at being a better wife and mother; and to be more supportive, understanding and patient with my mate. I know that our president makes my husband, and legions of other men, want to be a better, better half and father too. Let’s face it; the man makes matrimony look fun!
My late grandparents, Mildred and Elmo Williams of New Orleans, almost made it to 50 years and I also had many other living examples of strong marriages in my lifetime. The Obamas love, however, serves as a shining example to the millions among us who have not been so blessed to witness a healthy marriage firsthand. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. President for doing that for us!
Duty calls October 3, the night of the Obamas 20th wedding anniversary and the evening of the first Presidential debate. President Obama has to work the debate to improve his shot at a second term. I’m sure Michelle (and possibly their girls) will be cheering him on from the front row. Hopefully after he, as my husband quips about his courtroom opponents, “hands Mitt Romney his lunch,” tonight maybe, just maybe, he can briefly serenade his beautiful bride over a quiet dinner and candlelight before heading off to the next campaign stop. I’m pulling for you too, Michelle!