The entire Obama candidacy is about what I call a Racial Rorschach Test. The first phase were those idiotic articles about whether Obama was ' Black enough' for Black folks, which was insane, and off the point. Once that dog didn't hunt, we finally got around to whom the 'Black enough' test was really about, and that was White folk. While they're still mulling around this question and deciding whether to deal with it or not, we've got a new angle to this test.
Having been behind the scenes, within the last six weeks, Mrs. Obama has begun to step out into the spotlight, and she's definitely causing some reactions.
We have a nice hit piece by Maureen Dowd, who wrote:
I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal -- a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god.
Has Dowd BEEN to an Obama function/rally? I have, ever since he was running for Senate. I chose specifically to go to events where I would be one of the few specs of pepper in a sea of salt, and while I would listen to the Senator, I was watching the faces of others, and I'm leaning towards Michelle's presumption.
The tweaking takes place at fundraisers, where Michelle wants to lift the veil on their home life a bit and give the folks their money's worth.
At the big Hollywood fund-raiser for Senator Obama in February, Michelle came on strong.
''I am always a little amazed at the response that people get when they hear from Barack,'' she told the crowd at the Beverly Hilton, as her husband stood by looking like a puppy being scolded, reported Hud Morgan of Men's Vogue. ''A great man, a wonderful man. But still a man.
''I have some difficulty reconciling the two images I have of Barack Obama. There's Barack Obama the phenomenon. He's an amazing orator, Harvard Law Review, or whatever it was, law professor, best-selling author, Grammy winner. Pretty amazing, right?
''And then there's the Barack Obama that lives with me in my house, and that guy's a little less impressive. For some reason this guy still can't manage to put the butter up when he makes toast, secure the bread so that it doesn't get stale, and his 5-year-old is still better at making the bed than he is.''
She said that the TV version of Barack Obama sounded really interesting and that she'd like to meet him sometime.
Many people I talked to afterward found Michelle wondrous. But others worried that her chiding was emasculating, casting her husband -- under fire for lacking experience -- as an undisciplined child.
I have absolutely no doubt that Michelle is one of the reasons that Barack Obama has come as far as he has. One of the things I respect about Barack Obama is that he seems to have a strong sense of self-confidence. You'd have to in order to run for President. I think a nice chunk of that self-confidence is that he is loved by his wife, that she is secure in who she is, and he knows that she has his back. Nothing like going into battle and knowing that you have someone ALWAYS on your side.
And, on the flip side of that, I have no doubt that Michelle Obama totally adores her husband, even as she teases him. She is what keeps him grounded, and that has nothing to do with ' emasculating' him. It has to do with 'keeping it real'. It has to do being the ' real world' to everyone's fantasy. For Barack Obama to do what he has to do, he has to hear the unvarnished truth from someone in his life, and that's Michelle.
Michelle is just telling people that Barack is NOT the 'Magic Negro'. He's a very smart and talented 'Negro'(sigh) - he's just not the ' Magic' one, so don't put that upon him when we're trying to tell you the truth.
I believe that there are many people who are simply uncomfortable with Michelle Obama, because she seems to be as comfortable in her skin as Barack Obama is in his. If Michelle had some downtrodden story, the 'acceptable' story for Black folk, then possibly they could handle it. But, Mrs. Obama grew up in a loving, two-parent home. Her parents instilled in her and her brother the sense that they just had to apply themselves, and they could achieve and succeed, and that she did, first at Princeton, then Harvard Law.
I think Michelle Obama is intimidating for some people. I mean, no matter how 'brilliant' Condi Rice is, there's still a part of society that says, ' yes, she's been able to rise and succeed, BUT..what did she have to give up in order to do it? A husband and family.' Though Elizabeth Edwards was as smart as John Edwards, and had the career, marriage, and the kids, she STILL sort of looked like a 'hot mess' as the phrase goes. And, though Hillary Clinton was definitely as smart as Bill Clinton, and they had the marriage, and the perfect child, there was that burden of Bill's ' extracurriculars'.
Michelle Obama is a pretty, slim, well educated smart woman, who went after her own career, all the while marrying, producing children, and doing it well - from the outside. Why wouldn't she be intimidating? Michelle Obama is an actual real life Clair Huxtable - Lawyer wife, high powered job, kids, home -without the help of a nanny. Doing the Black middle-class 'Strivers' juggle. No, I'm not putting Michelle into the ' Strong Black Woman' stereotype; she just doesn't seem much different from other educated Black women that I know.
Debra Dickerson, wrote in her recent (hit) piece on Mrs. Obama - Michelle's Sacrifice -
I'm in a feminist fury about Michelle (I'll use her first name to avoid confusion with her husband) feeling forced to quit, but make no mistake: I'm not blaming her. Few could stand up to the pressure she's facing, especially from blacks, to sacrifice herself on the altar of her husband's ambition. He could be the first black president, you know! Also, she must be beside herself trying to hold things together for her daughters. I'm blaming the world and every man, woman, child and border collie in it who helps send the message that women's lives must be subordinate to everyone else's.
No doubt her modern, progressive husband assured her she didn't have to quit -- probably even tried to dissuade her. It's also quite likely she's making this sacrifice so her children will have at least one parent available. But the result is the same. Our daughters grow up knowing that their freedom to work at hard-won, beloved careers hinges on the doings of their husbands.
Still, there's an opportunity in this setback. Now is the time for feminism to reach out to black women via the contingent of Obama-esque overachievers out there who ought to be chilled to the bone by Michelle's retirement from work of her own.
Black women invented feminism, IMO. It was forced upon us by the system of slavery when we were brought to this country. Black women have always worked and dealt with the balances of work, relationships and family. That isn't new to Black women. Each of us can look back into our families that have a tradition of the woman being financially independent of her husband - 'having her own', as they used to say. My grandmother, born in 1885, by the time she married and had her first child, in 1905, was a college graduate. She went on to birth 15 children, between her first, and her last - my mother- in 1930. While only one of my Uncles went to college, ALL my grandmother's daughters went to college and each of them got a graduate degree. Look at the dates; it's definitely pre-modern feminism. Yet, my family is not unique. There were others, but mainstream society has chosen to ignore them.
Michelle Obama is a graduate of two Ivy League schools. She WILL be able to find employment.
Michelle Obama is doing what a good LIFE PARTNER/WIFE does.
Her husband has a shot at the Democratic nomination for President of the United States of America.
That's the Big One, Ms. Dickerson.
He needs all hands on deck, and he needs her hands above all else. She is his best surrogate. She's as good as he is, in a different way and manner, but she's terrific on the campaign trail.
She loves her husband. He's going after the Presidency. If she didn't do everything in her power to help him, there will always be the ' what if?' question.
As for their daughters, what they will learn by watching their parents is how a successful relationship is run, and it will be the foundation for what they will expect for their own lives.
Something had to give. Running for President is a 24/7 job for the entire family, and her family is what's most important to her - I believe that. She did what she had to do for her FAMILY, and I don't think she has to explain, let alone apologize, to anyone for her decision. I thought feminism was all about 'choices'. And as Mrs. Obama said, if she had wanted dinner at 6 every night, she should have married someone else. She made the choice to marry Barack Obama, and she accepts the life that goes with that.
I think Michelle Obama knows that she'd damned if she does, and damned if she doesn't, so she's decided to be herself. That honesty is the only way they can take the battle to the people and possibly succeed. For me, her ' Midwestern Sensibilities' are what I appreciate most about her. If she didn't remind me of so many of my "Sistafriends" in her manner and the way that she carries herself, I think I'd have issues with her and Barack Obama.
Frank Rich was on Tavis Smiley's PBS show a few weeks ago and he asked Frank Rich if he thought that White America was ready for a Black FAMILY in the White House. For a Black First Lady, and two little Black kids running around the White House. Frank Rich looked surprised by the question and admitted that he hadn't thought about it in that way. I thought it was a terrific question.
I wonder if America IS ready for a BLACK First Lady. No Halle Berry or Vanessa Williams here with Michelle Obama. She's Angela Bassett. Can America handle that? I don't know the answer; I only know that I want the answer to the question.
Articles for reference:
Michelle Obama for President
Why Michelle Obama Just Can't Be Herself
The White Lady Just Doesn’t Get It: A Response to Maureen Dowd’s “Critique’ of Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama's Sacrifice