When searching for those adjectives that best capture the inauguration of the nation’s first black president, old standards come to mind—“historic!” “momentous!” “unprecedented!”
Add to that venerable list “intellectual Freaknik” and “meet market for buppies,” because among the millions attending this weekend’s revelry are plenty of single, young black men and women looking to hook up while witnessing history.
The plans started to come together by midday on Nov. 5, 2008. Plane tickets were bought. Ball gowns were fitted. And hopes were pinned like wilted corsages to the big event ,where degreed and pedigreed black folks, raised on the impossible standard of The Cosby Show, might find their very own Barack or Michelle, real-life incarnations of every ‘80s baby’s fantasy.
One of my good friends, Bari, has ingeniously dubbed the days surrounding Barack Obama’s swearing-in “Freaknik for Folks with Degrees,” a nod to the massive gatherings of black college students that took place in 1990s Atlanta. Bari, who has a BA, MBA and JD behind her name and a “Mrs.” in front of it, sees the Obamas as “the standard-bearers for black love.” She wished everyone Godspeed this weekend.
Dru, another friend, said “If anything, Obama gives every dude an easy pick-up line this weekend.” We can only imagine what that might be, something like: “Hey, wanna take a look at my economic stimulus package?”
Thankfully, most are optimistic that “the ‘naug” will turn out to be more than just All-Star Weekend with graduates instead of groupies.
Leave it to my buddy, Faraji, who’s earning a master’s degree from MIT and fancies himself hilarious, to analyze the situation this way: “Many professional blacks are optimistic about the prospects of attending a mass event where they can network, meet potential mates and enjoy themselves unencumbered by street fights, shootings and packs of young hooligans in Coogi sweaters harassing women.”
Despite the fact that it was Cosby that made Coogi the sartorial symbol of black elite back in the ‘80s, for most the standard will be a little bit higher this coming weekend.
Andrea, an investment banker traveling from London, described this year’s inauguration as “the can’t-miss black networking event of the century.” Everybody who’s anybody—or those wishing to be somebody—will be there, she said.
“And if I’m honest with myself,” added Mitchell, “I’m attending because a tiny piece of the little angel sitting on my shoulder is hoping that in D.C. there is anybody, somebody… for me.”
Her friend, Naima, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Los Angeles, is preparing for the best. “I’m putting a little more effort into my outfits, a little more thought into what parties I go to and I am doing a few more sit-ups,” she said.
Count me among the throngs ready to grab a piece of the new black American dream, including a side of marriage and babies with that high-powered career.
Once it was clear that the next first lady would be Mrs. Obama, my own prospects seemed that much more promising. As my best friend, Gina, puts it “Michelle is making it super famous to be a black woman” with an advanced degree. Now it seems we have an Excel spreadsheet packed with potential opportunities—a happy hour here, a champagne brunch there.
And although the practice of using black professional mixers, conferences and conventions as a sort of dating voir dire is nothing new—at least in today’s climate of dipping marriage rates—the Obamas have raised the stakes considerably.
According to Andrea, “we are witnessing a sociological paradigm shift where a loving black nuclear family is the new definition of cool.”
The hope for Andrea and women like her is that the crowd of eligible and educated black men in Washington this weekend “will be reminded that smart, driven, nurturing black women have always been—and will always be—the business.”
Another, perhaps surprising, side effect of the search for one’s very own Barack Obama is the actual shrinking of expectations among black women. The 44th president of the United States, after all, started his political career as a community organizer. Today he’d be making around $30,000 a year, according to Salary.com.
“Michelle met Barack when he was ‘low’ on the totem pole,” said Naima. “He had a studio apartment and a beat-up car, but they clearly saw the potential in each other.”
If it’s potential that people are looking for this weekend, there will be plenty— finding it won’t be the problem, recognizing it might be.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root.