General

Change has already started to come; the White House ain’t that ‘white’ anymore, is it?

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A family to herald diversity

by Jodi Kantor

Published on IHT.com on January 20th, 2009

The president’s elderly Kenyan step-grandmother came, bearing a gift of an oxtail fly whisk. Cousins journeyed from the South Carolina town where the first lady’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery, while the rabbi in the family came from the synagogue where he had been commemorating Martin Luther King’s birthday. The president and first lady’s siblings were there, too, of course: his Indonesian-American half-sister, who brought her Chinese-Canadian husband, and her brother, a black man with a white wife.

When President Barack Obama was sworn in Tuesday, he was surrounded by an extended clan that would have shocked past generations of Americans and has redrawn the image of a first family for future ones.

As they convened to take their family’s final step in its journey from Africa through slavery to the slave-built White House, the group seemed like they had stepped right out of the pages of Obama’s memoir – no longer the disparate kin of a young man wondering how he fit in, but the embodiment of a new president’s promise of change.

For well over two centuries, the United States has been vastly more diverse than its governing families. Now the Obama family has flipped that around, with a cast that looks almost nothing like their overwhelmingly white, Protestant predecessors in the role. The family that produced Obama and his wife Michelle is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. They speak English, Indonesian, French, Cantonese, German, Hebrew, African languages like Swahili, Luo and Igbo, and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole language of the South Carolina lowcountry. Very few are wealthy, and some – like Sarah Obama, the step-grandmother who only recently got electricity in her metal-roofed shack – are quite poor.

“Our family is new in terms of the White House, but I don’t think it’s new in terms of the country,” said Maya Soetoro, the president’s younger half-sister, in an interview last week. “I don’t think the White House has always reflected the textures and flavors of this country.”

Read the rest of this great post here.

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