barack and michelle

Waxing poetic over the marital love displayed on The Cosby Show has been done so much since the show’s cancellation in 1992 that any attempt to refresh sentiments always seems so banal. But it can’t be denied that the Huxtables were tailored-made for television audiences in the 1980s, as the black upward mobility was the myth that everyone bought, even if reality suggested quite the opposite for most black Americans.

Now fast forward thru two decades with the absence of a truly transcendent black married couple on television, there is no wonder why a new study conducted by the conservative newspaper, The Washington Examiner, provocatively proclaimed that Barack and Michelle Obama have supplanted Cliff and Clair Huxtable as the ideal of romantic love and marriage for a new generation of black Americans.

And there is no reason not to love the IMAGE of the Obama marriage. Barack and Michelle seem to complement one another well, a sign of strong communication and well-defined yet malleable roles, which are not easily susceptible to outside criticism or praise but stem from a deep foundation of friendship and co-dependence.

“The Obamas picked up where the Huxtables left off, except this is no act,” according to the study in the scholarly journal “Ethnicities” and conducted by experts from Louisiana State University and Norfolk State University.

But it’s interesting to note where exactly did The First Family pick up. According to recent U.S. Census data, in 2007, a year before Obama’s election, 45% of the nearly 8.5 million black identified households were married couples. In comparison, in 1980, four years before the debut of The Cosby Show, marriage rates hovered around 55%.

But in between this roughly quarter-century gap, black Americans have been directly targeted by some of America’s ownership class’ most ruthless policies. It truly baffles me when folks discuss the declining rates of marriage without any broader context, especially when blacks still overwhelmingly support many of the traditional views of marriage and religion.

So why don’t we take an abbreviated look at the past 29 years since The Cosby Show debuted and Obama’s presidency:

On the behest of military despots and rapacious Wall Street stalwarts, Congress cut major social programs in order fund covert, illegal contra wars and cement the financialization of economic markets during the Regan and Bush I administrations in the 1980s and 90s. And to add insult to injury, Bill Clinton ramped up the incarceration of black men and severely cut Welfare to single mothers, all the while raising the military budget at the expense of the working poor’s living wage. And not to mention, Clinton’s full-scale deregulation of banking industry — which started the ball rolling towards our mortgage collapse of 2008 — only emboldened the most malfeasant American president to date, George W. Bush, to disregard The Constitution in order to secure Middle East oil reserves, bankrupting the country and effectively wiping out the collective wealth of black America.

cosby showNow this huge shit-storm that black Americans still to this day have no umbrella for hopefully can provide context for what marriage “experts” claim is the problem with declining black marriage rates. They fully exclaimed in 2011 with support of the all the large media conglomerates that there was shortage of eligible black bachelors for a new generation of black women who were equipped with multiple degrees, access to class mobility, and had an earning potential that outpaced most black men. So now the question that remains with many black women is “where is my Obama?”

According to recent propaganda-busting reports, the Ivy-League or HBCU-educated Obama or Cliff Huxtable does exist, but he just doesn’t want to marry right away. A study published in 2011 suggested that black men (and women), educated or not, tended to wait until a later age to wed, which seemed to point towards stability as one of most important factors in wanting to enter into matrimony (Barack and Michelle married at 31 and 28-years-old, respectively). But the pressure is always on the woman to find her a man.

Although purely speculative but keeping with the theme of age and maturity, most of the frustration that we as black women feel may — anecdotally speaking — originate from the fact that humans live longer, allowing mothers, grandparents and, in some cases, great-grandparents to reminisce fondly during family gatherings about the good ole’ days when 70-80% of black identified households were sanctified in marriage.

Although black family reunions have waned in recent decades, the reverence for elders in black families still holds weight in the consciousness of younger generations. Most of us have had an elder family member(s) inquiry about our singleness, strongly suggesting that we need to find someone to marry and mate with before we are barren.

All this leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to stress, and stress eventually leads to what Demetria L. Lucas asked this morning on Clutch, “Do You Fear Being Single?”  I don’t fear being single, but I do fear not experiencing lasting love, whether in marriage or not.

And that circles us all the way back to the original study, which presents a false premise: the Obamas are somehow real and the Huxtable aren’t. Both are fake! The Obamas are as real as the Huxtables — every move, utterance, and seemingly genuine moment is scripted by arguably the most influential industry in world, public relations. Seriously, until I was old enough to reason and use logic, no one could tell me that Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashād didn’t have a little something on the side precisely because they were such phenomenal actors.

My parents, who are still married after 35 years, aren’t great actors, but they can surely put on a game face in public when needed. But the nuts and bolts of their union were built on fidelity, friendship, lots of arguing, and tons of making up. Not many are privileged to see what goes on behind the White House doors, and until we have any access to the realness, there is no reason to put the Obamas on a pedestal.

I don’t question Barack’s love and affection towards Michelle as a wife or Michelle’s love and devotion to her man’s dreams and goals, but this version that we witness on the national stage is a charade, a grand revival of traditional patriarchal gender roles with new language to disarm folks into compliance with what they’re meant to observe, a new albeit antiquated normal. Hopefully, in a few years, we’ll see Michelle’s true personality, and the Obama’s relationship, but until then, it’s all pure speculation.

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  • Wanda

    The Obama marriage is a “charade”?

    That is incredibly harsh and condescendingly speculative, don’t you think?

  • Superman is not REAL

    Yes, I totally agree that people invest too much into images. People look for role models and don’t get the root of the word. Role + Model = Acting + Fake/Not Real.

    To a degree EVERYONE plays some role that she has created for herself, which we call loosely a personality. I agree though, at this high of a stage, c’mon you’d have to incredibly naive to think that most of what one sees from the Obamas or any other Presidential couple is not carefully planned out by marketers and pr execs. It’s the name of the game. Cool piece and thanks for the history of US in a paragraph!

    • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

      I understand what you are trying to say much but you are born with your personality, it is a part of your spirit, not surface level imagery. Your personality is somewhat like an interface not an image, its more of mirror of the spirit/soul reflecting outward and allowing for interaction with you (or not.)

  • Their union is only a fairy tale if you believe in fairy tales. If one only focuses on how things look and not the effort that goes into something then yes, a good solid nurturing relationship will be out of your reach. Too many of us have internalized the belief that a good solid relationship is organic, its just suppose to flow, I am the ying and they are the yang of each other’s existence. Bullshit!!

    Even if you love that other person with every essence of your being, you will need to still roll up your sleeves and put in the work to maintain your relationship. There are going to be tears, there will be frustration and sometimes it will feel like work. But we do this because in teh immortal words of Joseph Campbell:
    “Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship of pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable , it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you are not married.”

    If you only want to do the things you are good at and avoid your weaknesses then this thing is not for you.

  • MommieDearest

    I see nothing wrong with observing a real life black couple- who happen to be one of the most powerful couples in the world- who have a stable marriage and wanting to emulate them. As mentioned upthread- they’ve been through rough times (Michelle has repeatedly told the story of how Barack’s car was so raggedy you could see the street through the floor board), and impending divorce, but they stuck it out and came through it TOGETHER. They had, and HAVE, each other’s backs. Really, isn’t that what marriage is all about?

    I think it’s sad that some black people have become so cynical and brain-washed by the anti-marriage hype that we don’t believe true love and stablility in a black marriage when we see it. *smh*