Michelle Obama says her race generated questions ‘sometimes rooted in the …

11 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Listen to Michelle Obama’s brutally honest speech on the daily sting of racism.

What the Obamas have had to endure as the first African-American family in the White House is sad and an indication that this country is far from the post-racial period that conservatives want folks to believe. WASHINGTON – First Lady Michelle Obama has offered some candid assessments on the role of race in politics during a weekend graduation speech at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

Obama said she got all the questions typical for the spouse of presidential candidates — would she be “more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan?” But as “potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others.” Obama said a New Yorker magazine cover portraying her with a “huge Afro and a machine gun,” “knocked me back a bit,” even though she realized it was satire. “Or you might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a ‘terrorist fist jab.’ And over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. Speaking of her husband Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 to become President of the United States, Michelle said she was “knocked back” by how she was discussed in the media.

Speaking at the historic university that hosted the first flight school for black pilots in World War II, Obama transitioned from the school’s history to her own. Obama told graduates that she was subjected to a different set of expectations on the 2008 campaign trail than other candidates’ wives, The Hill reported. “Back in those days, I had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about what people thought of me,” the first lady said. “‘What kind of first lady would I be?

The people at formal events who assumed we were the help,” she said. “And those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country, and I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day. One said I exhibited ‘a little bit of uppity-ism.’ Another noted that I was one of my husband’s ‘cronies of color.’ Cable news once charmingly referred to me as ‘Obama’s Baby Mama.’” It is revealing and important that Obama gave the public more insight into what the first family has had go through. Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?” “Throughout this journey,” she continued, “I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. Michelle Obama also told about 4,000 people in the audience for the graduating class of the historically black university that they have to excel despite others’ assumptions of them.

It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter — that you’re like the invisible man that Tuskegee grad Ralph Ellison wrote about all those years ago. She told the Tuskegee grads that the racism-related barriers the students would face were “not an excuse,” saying: But, graduates, today, I want to be very clear that those feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up. Education, civic engagement and voting, she said, are the ways every new generation of black college graduates will help move this country beyond the chains of America’s past.

And the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today.” Referring to herself as mom in chief, she acknowledged that “that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league educated lawyer,” but “it is truly who I am.” She encouraged the students to follow the paths that felt true to themselves, to challenge themselves with similar complexities. But being lectured about personal responsibility, a value that’s clearly not lacking among people who are graduating from college (and who, the evidence would suggest, have not thrown their hands up and given up, and do not plan to), is just another addition to the list of small “daily slights” that come with being black.

That’s how we make progress for ourselves and for our country.” Young black Americans between 18 and 24 recently passed young whites in turnout — in presidential elections. It would be refreshing if the type of rare — and important — blunt honesty about prejudice that we heard in Obama’s speech didn’t always have to come with a side of race-specific condescension.

The next presidential election in which those students will vote, of course, will almost certainly feature another complex former first lady on the ballot. Because here is the truth — if you want to have a say in your community, if you truly want the power to control your own destiny, then you’ve got to be involved.

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