The new American first family

The extended Obama clan brings diversity, not just a single hue, into the White House

Largely unnoticed amid the pageantry of last week’s inauguration of President Barack Obama was something extraordinary about the new first family: its heterogeneity.

The biracial president’s elderly stepgrandmother was there from Kenya. She reportedly brought him an oxtail fly whisk, a mark of power in her country. There were several cousins from the South Carolina town where Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery. Her cousin Capers Funnye Jr., who was called to Judaism and became a rabbi, was there also, as was the first lady’s brother and his white wife. So too were the president’s Indonesian-American half-sister and her Chinese-Canadian husband.

This multicultural, multiracial extended clan was something entirely new for an American first family, but it was altogether representative of today’s America. “Our family is new in terms of the White House, but I don’t think it’s new in terms of the country,” Maya Soetoro-Ng, the president’s half-sister, told The New York Times.

Not only was this family notable for its blending of cultures and races, but also for the obvious joy its members took in each other. They didn’t see each other as representatives of ethnic or racial groups, but rather as uniquely beautiful individuals. It was as if they were saying, “Forget the notion that people of different backgrounds shouldn’t date, marry or have children. Look at us!”

There is nothing as powerful as family relationships, and when a family brings a diverse array of people together in a harmonious and loving way, it speaks to the fundamental ability of all people to get along. That’s why it’s so welcome in the White House.