Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was a slang term we applied to the more refined, upper-class young ladies of our community — BAPS. The letters of this acronym stood for Black American Princesses.
While sometimes a slight, the label also denoted pride and respect, applied on a more public level to the character Whitley from the ‘80s TV sitcom “A Different World” or to Halle Berry’s character in Robert Townsend’s 1997 film, “BAPS.”
Today, we are fortunate enough to have real, live, Black American princesses. They are Malia and Sasha Obama.
On television screens and social media timelines, we are treated to beautiful, professional pictures of our nation’s “first daughters” – Malia and Sasha in Cuba, Malia and Sasha in designer gowns at their first state dinner, Sasha and her classmates strolling across the tarmac with Air Force One in the background like, “Just me and my girlfriends!”
We are seeing images we never thought we’d see – little brown girls internationally adored and adorned.
When Barack Obama’s Black critics question, what has Obama done for us, specifically, this is what I sometimes point to. The Obamas have publicly provided us — and others — a social, cultural and political family model simply by them being them.
They were picture-perfect from that moment that a pudgy-faced Natasha (Sasha) and pretty Malia Ann appeared on the stage of Chicago’s Grant Park for the 2008 victory party. Moved from their life in Chicago, one filled with “soccer, dance and drama for Malia, gymnastics and tap for Sasha, piano and tennis for both” wrote the Associated Press, they came to 1600 Pennsylvania Boulevard and began literally growing up in front of our eyes.
Even as the girls’ parents worked to keep their girls out of the mean spotlight, we were treated to peaks of their charmed lives. Off to school at the selective Sidwell Friends School, trips to Europe, Africa and Asia, playing with Bo and Sunny on the White House lawn. And, even when they were seen being petulant teens – like being forced to attend the annual Presidential Turkey Pardon for Thanksgiving and rolling their eyes at Dad’s corny joke — they were being perfectly petulant teenagers.
They also exhibit a grounded-ness that is likely the result of having someone like Michelle Obama for a mother. When the first lady learned Time magazine had named daughters among “The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014,” mama Michelle’s response was, “They are not influential. They just live here. They have done nothing to gain any influence.”
But that’s not true. Watching the girls cross the milestones of their lives likely influences many families. We get to see a Black girl examining NYU’s film school and touring Ivy League campuses. And on the topic of college selection, this is what Michelle Obama shared with a group of students as part of the first lady’s “Reach Higher” initiative, at Howard County Community College one day:
“We are talking about this in my household every night, every night,” she said. “And, there’s really no magic formula. It is a very individual decision.”
Every lesson has been exquisite – as has been the experience of witnessing the growth of our own Black American princesses.