Thursday, May 07, 2009

Michelle Obama, Mom-In-Chief


Food for thought of the role of our First Lady.

From The Nation:

Michelle Obama, Mom-in-Chief
posted by Melissa Harris-Lacewell
05/05/2009 @ 1:46pm

With Mother's Day approaching I want to think about Michelle Obama's assertion that her primary role as First Lady is "Mom-in-Chief."

Many progressive feminists were distressed with Michelle's assertion of motherhood as her primary role. They hoped she would seek a more aggressive policy agenda. After all Michelle Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She spent her career as an effective advocate for urban communities in their fraught relationship with powerful institutions. She is smart, capable, and independent. She maintained her own career and ambitions throughout Barack's early political career and even during his election to the U.S. Senate.


Over the past several months I have received many press inquiries from reporters and scholars who are anxious about the ascendance of this kinder, gentler Michelle Obama. They worry that Michelle is being manufactured and handled in a way that thwarts her authenticity and undermines the efforts of feminist movements committed to the notion that women can and should have both family and career.

This is a potentially fair criticism, but I want to complicate this easy narrative a bit by encouraging us to remember that as an African American woman the stereotypes against which Michelle is struggling are distinct from those that seek to limit and inhibit white women.

White, middle-class, gender norms in the United States have generally asserted that women belong in the domestic sphere. These norms have limited white women's opportunities for education and employment. But the story has been different for women of color and women from poor and working class origins. These women have faced the requirement of employment and the shouldered the extreme burden of attempting to effectively parent while providing financially for their families. Black women were full participants in agricultural labor during slavery, the backbreaking work of sharecropping, and the domestic services of Jim Crow. Even middle class and elite black women have typically worked as teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and professionals. At every level of household income and at every point in American history, black women have been much more likely to engage in paid labor than their white counterparts. Even Claire Huxtable worked full time!

So when Michelle Obama makes a choice to focus on supporting her daughters through their school transition and providing companionship to her husband as he governs she is not really conforming to norms. She is surprisingly thwarting expectations of black women's role in the family and representing a different image of black women than we are used to encountering in this country.

As mom-in-chief Michelle Obama also subverts a deep, powerful, and old public discourse on black women as bad mothers. Enslaved black women had no control over their own children. Their sons and daughters could be sold away from them without their consent, or brutally disciplined without their protection. So when a black woman claims public ownership of her children she helps rewrite that ugly history.

Rest of article at link above.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading what you wrote. Many years ago I was looked down upon for making the choice to not return back to work after having a child, while my husand went to work to provide for us. The black or African American community has a tendency to think if you are giving up your career, your lazy and that is so beneath what we as as people should never do. What be a homemaker? I personaly applaud Mrs. Obama in her decision. Michelle Obama is confident about who she is, those degrees do not define the woman she is. There is so much to her I see and I do not think she feels that she is missing out on anything. Her husband is the president of the United States, she loves him and she wants to support him without distractions. President Obama even has said, that if Michelle did not approve him running for the office of president he was not going to run.

So, you mean to tell me that it took Michelle Obama a Ivy League graduate to show black people, that staying with your kids and giving up you career is douable? If more us did just that put our homes and children first some of those high statistics in our community will go down. Michelle had and still does, a beautiful example in her mom who raised her while being at home and she showed her what it means to be a woman and a mom. May God continue to be with her.

Tracy-not regretting the move.