Happy Mother’s Day, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.
Yes, we know that she is the First Lady of our nation. We got that.
She is also a corporate lawyer, with degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law. Understood.
She has become an international fashion icon. Check that box, too.
But, from what we can gather through the somewhat limited lens of public observation, she is most importantly a good mother, a supportive spouse and a respectful daughter. Her success is apparently attributed to a pattern of practical life choices that she has made.
Michelle Obama is basically “Claire Huxtable” on anabolic steroids.
Her exemplary motherhood is a symbol of power. Digesting the “with great power, comes great responsibility” notion, it is in fact Michelle Obama, not her husband, who may serve as the one figure capable of affecting prevailing attitudes and institutional processes as they relate to African-American families (and by logic and extension, all of the nation’s families).
According to a recent Child Trends DataBank report, 69.5% of African-American children are born to an unmarried mother, in comparison to 47.9% of Hispanic children, 25.4% of White children, and 16.2% of Asian/Pacific Islander children. Most Black families with children don’t break up – they never form to begin with.
So, how do we turn around this “Maury Povich” culture of ours? A culture where too many young mothers are encouraged to believe that a child support check isn’t so much a replacement for a husband: It IS a husband to them. And too many young men, facing cultural attitudes that reduce effective male co-parenting as optional to children, are marginalized to the point where their family presence is of little to no consequence. Paging Michelle Obama, Esq.
While the recent record of presidents appointing first ladies to head ambitious initiatives hasn’t been very good (although it may lead to a future Senate career and a competitive death-match for the big job), looking for someone to turn around the environment that has Black children, mothers, fathers and extended family members are now separated from each other at a rate not seen since slavery – Mrs. Obama could be “The One.”
Michelle Obama currently commands a respect from Black folks that has been generally reserved for cherished figures such as Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz. Not only did she evidence unflagging support for her husband, notwithstanding the rants of a few cable news loudmouths, she was critical to his success during the election (do we truly believe Barack dominated Black women’s vote during the primary because of his smooth jumper from 15 feet out?). Their daughters, Malia and Sasha conduct themselves with a grace and youthful dignity. She and her brother Craig were raised well on Chicago’s South Side by her parents, Marian and Fraser Robinson. According to a 2008 New York Times piece, Michelle loved her father so much “that she would curl up in his lap even as an adult.”
And how fantastic is it to have Grandma Marian around the White House today, for extended family support?
2010 will be the 45th Anniversary of the U.S. Department of Labor’s report “Crisis of the Negro Family.” In short, the federal government’s report focused on the historical devastation that so wrecked African-American family, and community structure:
At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family…It was by destroying the Negro family under slavery that white America broke the will of the Negro people. Although that will has reasserted itself in our time, it is a resurgence doomed to frustration unless the viability of the Negro family is restored.
President-Elect Obama should consider recruiting the First Lady-Elect to use her popularity by having her supervise a re-examination of the report’s findings, along with providing a current assessment of the critical issues that have so divided many families, such as the high out-of-wedlock birthrate, and radically fatherless African-American neighborhoods.
So on this Mother’s Day, I wish to thank my own mother, Estelle, for her lifetime dedication to being a wondrous parent and beautiful spirit; to my wife, Tanya, for her loving commitment to our children (as well as putting up with this writer…); and to Michelle Obama, for showing us that good motherhood is not about selfishly “having it all” — it is about a unflagging loyalty to family, to community, and to our nation, as a whole.
Bill Stephney head of Joseph Media, has previously run music companies Def Jam Recordings, SOUL Records and Stepsun Music. He has produced artists ranging from Public Enemy to Vanessa Williams and Paul Mooney. He has supervised music for films such as “Boomerang,” “Be Be’s Kids,” “CB4,” “Clockers” and “Shaft.” In 2006, he was elected to Minority Media & Telecommunications Hall of Fame. Currently, he is a featured essayist in the book “Be A Father To Your Child: Real Talk From Black Men On Family, Love and Fatherhood” (Soft Skull Press). He lives in New Jersey with his wife Tanya, and their three children. Stephney also serves as a member in that state’s division of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.