Nice to meet you

Diverse city
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  February 4, 2009

Hello, I'm Black America, and I just wanted to introduce myself. You'll be seeing a lot of me now that the Obama family is in the White House.

I understand. You thought you had already met me. But music videos, buffoonish sitcoms, and crime reports on the news don't count. They gave you a skewed view of me. The black folks you might encounter at work, shops, and restaurants don't count either. You can really learn what it means to live life like a Jew from your Jewish neighbor, or what it means to be Indian from your college roommate. But those briefer other encounters with Black America were just snapshots taken out of context.

The last time you got a long look at a loving, normal, solid, middle-class Black family, it was The Cosby Show in the '80s. And they were fictional. Now you're seeing the real thing. And some of it confuses you. That's OK, because we'll take it as a chance to learn.

A lot of people have been commenting on how affectionate and loving Barack and Michelle Obama seem. Well, aren't you affectionate to the love of your life? Just because you've been electing a bunch of stiff guys to the presidency doesn't mean they represent how loving couples interact in White America.

Or the fist-bump that folks on Fox News were calling a "terrorist fist jab." That hurt me, White America. Me, Black America — I don't make comments about how athletes slap each other's bottoms or how White America sometimes hugs a lot or does those air kisses. We have different greetings, but the same intent is behind them. You'll get used to it.

And I know some of you have been looking at me and saying, "Dang, that Black America seems lazy. Living off the public dollars." I have my poor folks, to be sure, but I have a lot more working class and middle-class folks than I do poor people and imprisoned ones. Heck, I even have rich folks. And there are people like the Obamas, who represent that American ideal I thought you respected so much: coming from lean or hard-scrabble working-class roots and rising to do something more broadly successful. And yet I hear some people saying Michelle is too "common" or "rough" to be First Lady. A loving mother with a successful career and good education who helped support the family as her husband built his career — not worthy? Sheesh!

Now, some people are mad that Obama starts his work day at 9 and tells the White House staff to take those jackets and ties off while they're working, saying it shows a lack of respect for the office, as if he's thrown out White America's rules. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a guy who takes time for breakfast with his family and then rolls up his sleeves and works — including coming back late at night — than one who seemed to be on vacation or in Texas all the time but offered the image of professionalism when he was around simply by dressing up and coming in early.

Look, I'm not mad at you. I realize that you have been raised to see me in a certain way. Baggy pants, mean to dogs, my kids in jail, my mouth full of nothing but motherf***** this and that, and so on.

But I'm Black America, and I'm telling you, you're about to see a lot more of what I'm really like through the Obamas than you will from MTV or BET. I look forward to getting to know each other better.

Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached at

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  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Special Interest Groups, African-American Issues,  More more >
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