“Michelle LaVaughn Robison, girl of the South Side…” so began President Obama’s tearful address to his wife during Tuesday night’s farewell address. As the most visible Black man on the planet stood before the world bidding us adieu, there sat his brown, statuesque, unmistakably Black wife blushing as her husband of 25 years stood at the podium raving over her. If you asked me to define Black love, I’d point you to that video.
Nearly 13 years ago when a young, Black Illinois Senator first entered Black America’s radar, I was looking for the great woman proverbially at the side every great man. Controversial as it may be, I always appreciate seeing a powerful Black man married to a Black woman, since too often, non-Black wives, especially White women, are used as a tool to bargain for proximate Whiteness. So when I found out that Barack Obama’s wife was Black, and not the kind of rigid, palatable, ambiguous Black woman that America loves to hold up as proof of its diversity but an unambiguously Black, thicker-than-cold-grits, abundantly-melanated sister from the South Side, I melted.
In the decade plus since Obama shot to political superstardom, I have been less than a fanatic of his policies, vocally critical even. But my disappointment in his performance as president has been in stark contrast to his performance as a family man and husband. I expect any man to adore his wife, but Obama’s unabashed adoration and gushing over the woman he referred to as the “brilliant, funny, generous woman who, for whatever reason, agreed to marry” him is the wildest dream of my wildest dreams of love.
The unimaginable sacrifice Michelle Obama made in allowing her entire life to be scrutinized, demonized, judged and laid bare for a public largely relentless in its brutal racism and misogynoir has been repaid by her husband with the dreamiest intimate gazes from a podium before millions. The man she met nearly 30 years ago when she was assigned to mentor him as a summer associate at the law firm where she practiced has shown his appreciation for her unwavering loyalty by reminding us all that Michelle Obama agreeing to be his wife made him “the luckiest man on earth.” The grueling schedule and impossible demands made of her in her capacity as First Lady of the United States have no doubt been made easier to bare by the fact that she has a husband who centers, upholds and is unwilling to mask his absolute awe of her.
What’s most humbling and inspiring about this epic portrait of a Black couple though, is that this is the kind of love story Black women are told we don’t deserve. Yet, here we have a man, arguably in the most powerful position on earth, not only married to a Black woman but hopelessly in love with her. He is entranced by her beauty. He realizes the jewel he has found. He has cemented the pedestal on which she stands with a foundation of respect, protection, undying love and burning passion.
And he never allows us to lose sight of the fact that despite the honor it must be to be chosen as a wife by a man who catapulted to the position of leader of the free world, she is the prize. She is the treasure. She is more than worthy of all the praise he heaps upon her. She is deserving of the enviable, gentle, pure love with which her husband continues to gift her.
So each time we watch them dance, staring lovingly into each other’s eyes as if they are alone and not on a stage where the curtains never close, they teach us what intimacy means. When Obama clinched the nomination in 2008, and we watched this Black couple fist bump, we all heard, “I got you, boo.” And when we are given glimpses of their public displays of affection — even subtle ones like her fixing his bowtie, them sharing a laugh or Michelle standing draped in his jacket at a State dinner — we are moved to love our own partners deeper, more wholly and more publicly.
Obama has shown Black men what loving a Black woman completely and correctly looks like. He has reminded Black women that the type of love we dream about is out there. And they have both restored our faith in the magic Black unions create.
They sing us the greatest love song. They rewrite the greatest love story ever told. They make us believe in the power of love. They make us believe that Black love, is still a revolutionary, necessary, precious and powerful thing. They give us a blueprint for a union that defies and innovates.
So as the first Black President takes his final bow to a polarized mix of boos and standing ovations, I hold tightly to the one accomplishment the polls could never measure and that history can never rewrite: a Black man utterly devoted to and fiercely in love with the first Black First Lady. Of all the highs and lows of Barack Obama’s time as president, the one indisputably flawless victory remains the performance of Black Love costarring the incomparable Michelle LaVaughn Robison. This is what a masterpiece looks like.
LaSha is a writer and blogger who is passionate about Black people. Find her on Twitter @knflkkollective.