Tonight we say a public goodbye to our First Family. I have much more to say and think and feel about President Obama as the sun sets on his presidency, but tonight, watching him address his public, and more intimately, his family, I am struck by him and the First Lady as parents. Watching this young family grow up in the White House has been a historical backdrop for my own family and what I wanted to be as a parent: engaged, in love, ambitious, balanced, principled, fun. And this young family had a grandmother in tow. They were five, doing their best to produce good kids with all the resources they had, against the (much) larger backdrop of what the parents wanted to achieve. They were primetime dramedy characters I identified with and rooted for, in a world utterly unlike mine but made relatable to me.
Tonight, watching them leave the stage, I wept. So tall, so warm, so fine. Three (minus one responsible kid at home to take an exam the next day) plus one grandmother. I cried like I was watching an ending.
Then I flinched with new understanding: five black people. Living in the White House. As a white woman, I didn’t (and don’t) know what this visual meant to many people in circumstances other than mine. As Eugene Robinson said tonight, “It rearranges the furniture inside our heads.”
This dramedy, their narrative in our news and on our minds, had mattered even more than I knew. I am unprepared to write on race with any nuance, except to say that I love the Obamas and they have been such good, human examples. The profound importance of their presence as a black family in the White House was not complete to me until the image of them walking offstage. The image — and their legacy — will endure. And we will miss them so.