An Image Of Obama Family

Poet E. Ethelbert Miller reads an essay about love, respect and marriage and how the Obama family is portraying this.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Barack Obama - you can call him president, commander-in-chief, or leader of the free world. And the world now describes Michelle Obama as first lady. Poet and author E. Ethelbert Miller says we shouldn't forget that we can also call the first couple husband and wife, mom and dad, and heads of the family. He wrote this essay.

Mr. E. ETHELBERT MILLER (Poet and Author; Director, African-American Resources Center, Howard University): When I look at pictures of the first family, I want to merely turn the images into a new version of those Black is Beautiful posters from the 1960s. Elegance, grace and style have returned to the White House. What we are looking at are people in love, and loving on the world stage.

Much has been written about the marriage between Barack and Michelle Obama. I still tell everyone that I feel good every time I see them holding hands, husband and wife as true partners. But what does the Obama family reflect when it comes to the family image? First, I think we acknowledge Michelle Obama's mother, being invited to live in the White House and help take care of the grandchildren. It underscores the importance of the elder in the family. Many grandmothers are sweet but stern. There's no way the Obama girls are going to run around the White House without supervision. Maybe the White House will need one less Secret Service agent.

The Obama family presents itself before the American eye at a time when there is no real typical American family. Gay couples uphold strong family values, as do single-parent households. The problem with poster images is that posters sometime cover walls of reality.

Still, we like what we see in the Obama family. It tells us that our government and the economy might not be working well, but something still is. Cultural images don't pay bills but for a moment, they can provide warmth during this winter in America.

I do at times wonder how responsive the American public would be if the Obama girls were little black boys. Would they still be called adorable? How would they dress? And what will happen when the first family adopts their dog? How different will this family image be from the one in my old Dick and Jane readers that blessed my childhood?

Just the other day, I was talking to my daughter Jasmine Simone. She is thinking about getting married soon. She wanted to know what I thought made a marriage and family successful. I had been teasing her and her boyfriend by calling them Barack and Michelle. But as I stood looking into my daughter's eyes, I realized the idea of family came from my own mother and father, two people who never graced the cover of a magazine.

Barack and Michelle are today's first family, and I'm very happy about that. But I'm also happy for all the other American families across this nation. Count us. We are not first, but many.

HANSEN: E. Ethelbert Miller is board chairman of the Institute for Policy Studies, and director of the African-American Resources Center, at Howard University.

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