Saturday, May 26, 2007

Michelle Obama - the latest Racial Rorschach Test

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.

Michelle Obama

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 disagree.

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


Julia said...

Sadly, I think the issue for Maureen Dowd is that Michelle Obama is an intelligent, ambitious career woman who is married to an intelligent, powerful, ambitious man.

Part of Ms. Dowd's personal mythology is that she's missed out on pairbonding because men who are in what she imagines to be her league are put off by women of achievement. She regularly freaks out when a power couple (particularly a Democratic public couple - she doesn't seem to be threatened by Maria Schwarzenegger) forces her to consider whether there might be another explanation.

rikyrah said...

Sadly, I think the issue for Maureen Dowd is that Michelle Obama is an intelligent, ambitious career woman who is married to an intelligent, powerful, ambitious man.

You might be right.

Part of Ms. Dowd's personal mythology is that she's missed out on pairbonding because men who are in what she imagines to be her league are put off by women of achievement.

I absolutely believe that. She reeks of it.

Anonymous said...

great commentary, Rikyrah.

What I admire most about Mrs. Obama does not appear to be thing character that I personally DESPISE in some "black achievers":
The black version of "Hyacinth" on the PBS Brit com , "Keeping Up Appearances"...

"Hellooooooooooooooooooooooooo... How are Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu... How are the kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiids...hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo (fake ass version of laughter)"

UGH! :: shivers ::

Any word on whether she is a member of any sorority? I'm just curious.

g-e-m2001 said...

I read the article whining about Michelle giving up her job and board positions because of her husband's ambitions. That assumes that those aren't Michelle's ambitions as well.

I actually don't think this is about race as much as it is about single career women vs. those who married. Quite frankly Michelle isn't warm and cuddly and non threatening like her husband. And she isn't trying to be.

For goodness sakes, Hillary moved to ARKANSAS to be with her man.

rikyrah said...

Any word on whether she is a member of any sorority? I'm just curious.

She's an AKA

MartiniCocoa said...

To me, Maureen Dowd can't wrap her had around the fact that she has not find her soulmate a la so many of her smart, brilliant, privileged and accomplished contemporaries.

She needs to get over it.

Also her article on Michelle reeked of a never married woman's myopic view of what happens in a marriage and/or long term committed relationship.

I get the feeling that Maureen was writing from a place of ignorance but is too stubborn to acknowledge that.

I'm so glad that Tavis asked Frank Rich that question. Poor's been a long time since his worldview has been challenged in such a fundamental way.

Ha Ha Ha!

Anonymous said...

AKA, huh?

Good for her! I chose not to pledge, but I am certainly not hating on anyone who did.

Did Obama pledge? (I'm sure I already know the answer to this one, but it sho' don't hurt to ask).

rikyrah said...

Did Obama pledge? (I'm sure I already know the answer to this one, but it sho' don't hurt to ask).


Anonymous said...


I am glad you wrote this piece. I was mulling over tackling it and decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Your insights were right on.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why anyone would compare Michelle to Condi. Yes, there both black women. But these two women have nothing in common. Well, there both smart... But the major difference for me is that Michelle has a personality. Condi... Um... I think that my desk has more personality than she does.

I love the commentary. However, I think that Michelle should inch off from teasing her husband just a little bit. I don't think that little game of making her husband appear to be "real" is going to help in the long run. Now, don't get me wrong... I like Sister Michelle. I just think for the purpose of campaigning, she should scratch that play out the game book.

Of course, we can't pay too close attention to Tucker. But yesterday on MSNBC, Tucker made a big deal about how Michelle seems to make her husband look like a wimp with her little comments. He went on and on talking about how Bill supports Hil. Liz supports John, even though she's dying. However, Michelle seems to imply that she doesn't believe her husband is cut out for the job. He said that he doesn't understand why she is trying to come off like that.

Here's the thing... I think a lot of America agrees with Tucker. Yes, I know that Michelle is damned if she does, and damned if she don't. But I think that it would be wise to limit those type of comments. Not because they are so bad... But because how they can be twisted and misinterpreted...

I'm sure the AKA's will be tripping over themselves trying to vote for Obama to get the candidacy. An AKA in the White House... LOL Rikyrah, do you know if she actually pledge, or is she one of AKA's honorary members? Just wondering...


Anonymous said...

I think it's safe to say that ALL of the black Greek organizations will try to show her some love.


I'm not feeling her husband's candidacy, but I'm not hating, either.

Anonymous said...

It always amazes me when so-called feminists decide to critique the life choices of other women. We always have to keep remembering that feminism has always been about being able to make choices for yourself, for your family and living with those choices. A woman married to a man who is running for CEO of the Free World faces choices and decisions and burdens that most of could never imagine. Last cycle, Howard Dean's wife came under attack from Maureen Dowd for doing what Ms. Dickerson wishes Ms. Obama would do. Dr. Dean did not give up her practice to help her husband run, and did not leave her family at home to help her husband run and Dowd found that to be a critical flaw.

Let these women make their choices and save your commentary for when one of them decides to complain about those choices.

rikyrah said...

I'm sure the AKA's will be tripping over themselves trying to vote for Obama to get the candidacy. An AKA in the White House... LOL Rikyrah, do you know if she actually pledge, or is she one of AKA's honorary members? Just wondering...


You know, I don't know if it was an honorary invite, or if she pledged the graduate chapter, because I know for sure that Fraternities and Sororities aren't allowed at Princeton; they have eating clubs.

I don't know if they have a general undergraduate pledging class in the general city of Princeton, because they do that in Boston, so that the Boston colleges that don't allow fraternities and sororities can get around that, and they can get those undergraduates that want to pledge.

Anonymous said...

Princeton U. indeed has black sororities, chapters are Princeton exclusive and not citywide. I don't know if the chapters were present when Michelle attended but currently Delta, Zeta, and AKA have active chapters there.

Anonymous said...

Michelle Obama is not an Honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She, may however, be a Soror (which would not be at all surprising). In the event, however, that Barack is successful in his bid for the White House and if Mrs. Obama is in fact an AKA,she would actually be the 2nd first lady to wear 20 pearls. The first being Soror Eleanor Rooselvelt

Anonymous said...


When will this country realize that African-American women invented "feminism" as a response to the reality that was their everyday lives.

My ancestors; my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mom and I are all "feminists". Not because we choose to believe and support some specific ideology. It is because for generations we have lived its principles out of NECESSITY, to ensure the well-being of our families. We invented feminism, we just called it "How to survive if you're black and female in America".

Michelle Obama is nothing but brilliant, amazing, inspiring. She is a threat to many because she represents to this country, the media, and the world the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they've been told a black woman is. She disrupts not only racial stereotypes but gender norms as well. In addition, she lives the dream of "having it all" which few women of any race or background can claim.

Debra said...

Intersting article and comments. I was having a hard time finding "real people's opinion" on Michelle Obama and I also did not know that she was an AKA...anyone know a link where that info is confirmed? Thanks

Anonymous said...

You are really a racist.
Just because someone dares to question Michelle Obama, you put it off as a 'hit' by 'white folk' and always racially movitated. it is possible not to like or agree with the obamas, and for you to put it in purely racist terms (which you are) is pathetic, cheap, immature, and irresponsible.

missdiscretion said...

I am an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Michelle Obama is NOT an AKA. If Mrs. Obama is an AKA then it's one of the best kept secrets to AKA members. Don't get me wrong, she would be an asset to any of the sororities but she is NOT an AKA; honorary or otherwise. And to co-sign on what Anonymous said, if Mrs. Obama had been a Soror, she would NOT be the first 1st. Lady in the White House. That honor is already bestowed upon Soror Eleanor Roosevelt who is an honorary AKA. Thus, Ms. Angela, AKA's will not and never will be tripping over ourselves; no Ma'am!

Iota Nu - FA96
Currently Rho Zeta Omega Member

Anonymous said...

Also...whoever posted this

"You know, I don't know if it was an honorary invite, or if she pledged the graduate chapter, because I know for sure that Fraternities and Sororities aren't allowed at Princeton; they have eating clubs.

Princeton University is host to chapters of greek organizations, possibly all city-wide, but I know my Sorors of DST are there.

Anonymous said...

Good evening... Just to clarify on the misconceptions of Michelle Obama's greek affiliations... she is an Honorary member of the illustrious Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Inc. She became a honorary member during Centennial Boule. Mr. Obama received an award as well. She did not plege in college or anything like that. She just accepted the invitation today.

Anonymous said...

Yes it is so true and we are so happy!!! Our President Barbara A. McKinzie announced it yesterday!!!! Congrads to our 100 years and also to Soror Michelle Obama!!!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

This link above is proof that Michelle Obama is now a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority :)

M. Naomi said...

Michelle Obama has not become a member of AKA, yet. She accepted the invitation, however she has not been inducted. The official start of the Boule was Sunday and it was announced at the Public Meeting that she accepted the invitation. If you aren't inducted, then you aren't a member. Once she is inducted, it's official. I call it opportunism at it's best. I can't believe she didn't see through the invitation.

Anonymous said...

Opportunism??? I wouldn't go that far. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. has been a support system for future Soror Obama since the beginning of her husbands campaign. From denouncing comments and ads to sending letters and gifts of encouragement only because we Love to celebrate Women and their accomplishments. I believe that future Soror Obama did see through the invitation... she saw through our encouragement, reputation, our status, and our service to the world...she saw herself within our organization and follow the light!!!!!! Skee Wee to my future Soror Obama!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tmoco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I just wanted to make one correction to a couple earlier posts, Eleanor Roosevelt was not inducted until 1949, which was after her completion of her last term as first lady. So if Michelle is indeed inducted this week, that would make her the first 1st Lady in the White House since Eleanor was already a former first lady at the time of her induction.

DuEwa Frazier said...

I am just now finding this blog post. I love everything you have stated here. Michelle Obama represents so much of what many are not ready to deal with (I sens that there is a genuine jealousy or "how dare" Michelle Obama "have it all" attitude in some of our female journalists, media outlets and "feminist" thinkers". Our society needs to stop trying to find a box or label for the Obamas and women like Michelle who achieved and are supporting their mates. Some people have too much of a harsh and one-sided view of what it means to be a feminist. Michelle chose to marry her husband and create a family with him. She wasn't forced. We shouldn't look at their situation as her having to "defer" to his career; how about looking at it as helping one's mate to achieve their purpose and make the most of their God given talents and abilities. As far as some of his personal failings that Michelle talked about earlier on in the media, perhaps it was to really communicated that they are not "perfect" people. Anyone in a marriage and/or a long term relationship will tell you that it's not always easy and there are things about the person you wish you could change. Michelle Obama has made it quite clear that if her husband becomes President, she will work to bring issues that affect working mothers and families to the forefront. Her work and career is by no means, over. Thank you for writing so eloquently about this and even for citing scme of the harsher views presented by so-called feminists.

Anonymous said...

Michelle Obama is a Soror, and has officially become one as of Sunday for the Centennial celebration. I would not think that it would matter if an "AKA" is in the White House, or how or where she pledged. Be happy that she might get in there. We have too many things that divide us already...stop picking people apart.

Anonymous said...

Wow!! I had no idea that the possibility of Mrs. Obama being a member of a greek organization would cause such chaos. Yes, I do have the honor, only as of this 2008 Centennial Celebration Boule, to call Mrs. Obama Soror. To call this opportunism is an insult. I'm sure that many other people of other organizations had the idea as well. Yes, we did take advantage of the opportunity to invite a woman who is a GOOD example of a black woman. Sorry, if you haven't noticed, black woman aren't exactly showcased in the best light. Even with Mrs. Obama, they try to paint her as an "angry black woman." But I do have much respect for her for standing on her own ground and being who she is, a loving mother and wife, a woman with her own career, and an educated black woman. I am a member of the wonderful sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. However, if she had been inducted into Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, or Sigma Gamma Rho I would have been excited as well to have her as a member in the black greek family.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is an opportunistic move on the aka organization. It seems to me AND others that you guys have slowly bated/supported Mrs. Obama knowing that down the line you would invite her into your fold and she fell for it. Don't get me wrong because at the end of the day, it is a high-light for the aka sorority. But many people are questioning the timing and wondering why she didn't select your sorority years ago,...especially on a graduate level. Well, I guess you learned after Hillary Clinton. I admire your tenacity; very strategic indeed.

Anonymous said...

I posted above:

For the record, my sorority already considered her but felt that it was rather tacky to extend an invite to her after she has been in media overload exposures.

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
Prissy- Poodle
Fall 98

Anonymous said...

I extend a heartfelt thank you to the Rhos who may have thought about her, but Soror Michelle stated that while she was in school, she was fascinated with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She wouldn't have went any other way. I'm am overjoyed that she picked such a classy and sophisticated organization. I am also proud that she has an strong African by her side.

Anonymous said...

I just realized these posts are pretty old, but I just wanted to put my $19.13 in because I didn't want you sweet little AKAs to get so excited from drinking all of that tea, but Michelle Obama is NOT an AKA. She decided to turn down the invitation. She instead accepted a non-exclusive membership. I am not sure what that mean. I think she took a step back and realized all the great and wonderful things Delta Sigma Theta was doing and decided she really want to belong to a "service" organization. LOL. Seriously, I think it was more a political decision for her to remain neutral.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Ms. Rice gave up a husband for a career. I'm pretty sure she has very little interest in men as partners.

Anonymous said...

"...Mrs. Obama was interested as an undergrad but no chapter was on the campus." Are you a member of AKA? If so, I'd assume you are aware that people who are not able to pursue membership as an undergrad may do so after graduation via an grad chapter. Do you see the faulty reasoning or weak validity in your comment? The only person I have seen quoted with this hypothesis is Lawrence Otis Graham and it was not based on her words (I find him questionable but that's another blog). Besides, if she was previously interested, I would think she would know better than to believe that a "non-exclusive" membership is possible. That is, unless McKinzie is so desperate to save face and willing to approve something like this. Besides, I'm sure she would have to go through a mass sea of pink and green protesters before she can make this happen. Perhaps members need to focus on the work so they don't fall into the trap of having the legacy left them defined by a list of barely involved notables...

Anonymous said...

Michelle Obama did see through that invitation to become a member of AKA. She is Delta material!

GirlieGirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.