The black family in America: Not gone the way of the dodo bird yet

by Tami Winfrey Harris, editor

I am a Barack Obama supporter. If you are not, I apologize, but please indulge me for a moment. I am not about to become a political proselytizer. This post isn’t about policies and platforms. I’ll save that stuff for my own blog. But there is one thing that I know for sure Barack Obama can help do that his opponent cannot: “normalize” the black family in America’s eyes.

Last night, viewers of the Democratic National Convention spotted what is the rarest of things, according to media and statistics: a traditional, loving, black family. Wait…wait…I know that families come in all different varieties, and that families comprised of a single parent, same-sex parents, parents of different races and groups of extended relations, are as loving and valuable as the traditional model we insist on calling “the all-American family.” It’s just that I rarely see families like mine and the ones my husband and I grew up in on TV and in pop culture. (Clair and Cliff, where did you go?) It has been decided that relations between black men and women are dysfunctional, that all black women are unmarried and unmarriageable, that black children don’t have fathers. (Related note: When my husband and I lived in Chicago, in a condo between downtown and the South Side, we noticed something odd about the card selection in the nearest Walgreen’s, situated in the historic black neighborhood of Bronzeville. The selection for Father’s Day cards, and birthday and seasonal cards for dad, was freakishly small. It was as if the store manager had decided “why bother,” what with all those stories of absent daddies and dire predictions about the extinction of the black family.) So, forgive me if I get a little thrill when I see Sasha and Malia Obama become excited at their father’s visage on a big, convention center screen. And pardon if I cheer a bit when the Democratic candidate and his wife bump fists, when she affectionately ribs him on the campaign trail, or when he rests his palm lovingly on the small of her back. Yes, Virginia, there are happy, black families.

I also appreciate how having a black family constantly in the news spotlights little cultural flourishes that are black and American, but invisible to the mainstream–like the Obama kids’ “girlpie” hair that is sometimes “pressed,” sometimes in twists, sometimes in cornrows, sometimes fuzzy in the way that black girl hair gets fuzzy. I worry about those little ones, who may have to experience adolescence in the public eye, but maybe, by watching them grow, it will be harder to “otherize” black women into “nappy-headed hoes.”

I probably shouldn’t need validation of normalcy from the culture at large, but sometimes that validation makes me feel good in spite of myself. It’s hard being invisible. The Obamas show the world that black families are still here. I am here.

And the Obamas provide another example for the black children who I love that, contrary to popular belief, marriage and family is one of many life choices available to them. They don’t have to want it, but have a right to try for it, if that’s what they believe will make them happy.  


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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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