Michelle Obama says she was treated differently because of her race

12 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

First lady uses Tuskegee’s story to inspire graduates.

First lady Michelle Obama addressed a crowd of graduates and their families at the 2015 commencement ceremony at Tuskegee University, in Alabama, describing her personal battle with racism as the first African American first lady in the White House. In her address to the graduates of Tuskegee University this weekend, it was remarkable that Michelle Obama would finally wade into the topic of race after seven years as First Lady of the United States.

Of course, any time the president or first lady gives a commencement speech, their words are carefully chosen for mass consumption, vetted for a world when anything said to a small crowd on a college campus is now heard on all of cable TV. The first lady, who gave the commencement address at the historically black university on Saturday, described how the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed first black pilots of World War II, endured humiliating slights as they shattered racial stereotypes about the capabilities of black men and how the university’s students in the 1800s made bricks by hand to construct campus buildings so future generations could study there. “Generation after generation, students here have shown that same grit, that same resilience to soar past obstacles and outrages — past the threat of countryside lynchings; past the humiliation of Jim Crow; past the turmoil of the Civil Rights era. What is perhaps more remarkable is what her remarks represent: a 30-year journey that began when she was a college student, and the realization that for her survival and sanity, defining herself was more important than allowing others to define her. And then they went on to become scientists, engineers, nurses and teachers in communities all across the country — and continued to lift others up along the way,” Obama said. “The defining story of Tuskegee is the story of rising hopes and fortunes for all African-Americans.

They won’t know how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed to make it to this day — the countless hours you spent studying to get this diploma, the multiple jobs you worked to pay for school, the times you had to drive home and take care of your grandma, the evenings you gave up to volunteer at a food bank or organize a campus fundraiser. Obama took the stage at Tuskegee—the historically black college founded by a former slave and site of the training ground for the nation’s first black Air Force pilots—in an atmosphere and a moment already thick with the weight of race, and also of the legacy of achievement in the face of long odds. The text reads like the kind of private talk the first black first lady would give a largely black audience about a shared burden beyond the frame of reference for many of the rest of us. “The road ahead is not going to be easy,” she told them. “It never is, especially for folks like you and me.” The world won’t always see you in those caps and gowns.

But in intertwining her personal journey with that of African Americans generally, she effectively raised this question: How much has America progressed on race relations and how can this generation prevent being defined by discrimination? Last week, as if to validate my opinion of him, he went after Michelle Obama for playing the “race card” at the dedication of a museum in New York City.

It made me wonder: ‘Just how are people seeing me?’” Mrs Obama then aired a laundry list of slights she said black Americans deal with on a regular basis: “We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives. And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.” Limbaugh cited the much-lauded speech as proof of his long-held belief the country’s first black President and first lady are dividing the country along racial lines. “I’ve been worried about it since before he was inaugurated,” Limbaugh told his listeners. “I have been worried that this is going to lead to racial strife unlike any that we who are alive today remember.” “She’s too well known — it’s absurd,” Limbaugh said. “But she wants it to be believed.

Official Army reports described the black soldiers as “shiftless,” “childlike,” and “unmoral and untruthful.” Even as highly educated individuals, these men faced an upward battle within their own country. “Just think about what that must have been like for those young men. In fact, she was talking out of experience. “I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum,” she said. “And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself.

Maybe she hasn’t and just thought she would be, or maybe they didn’t fawn enough and that’s why so she’s telling herself stories about what they think of her.” Obama said during her address. “Yet when they hit the ground, folks treated them like they were nobody — as if their very existence meant nothing.” “Now, those Airmen could easily have let that experience clip their wings. The way he looks at it, Obama is not entitled to her experiences, certainly not to talk about it. “I mean, even if you’re a committed liberal, you don’t want to hear this stuff all the time,” he said. “You’re here at a museum dedication and you want to hear an angry first lady stand up and start complaining about stuff like this?” Well, yes, Rush, I do. This is hardly the first time Michelle Obama has come under attack from white critics who infer — think about it — that she has no right being black.

But she’s also talking about a more pervasive kind of alienation that’s integral to our understanding of what’s happening with race relations in America today. She challenged students to do their part, mentoring children, volunteering at food banks and after-school programs and helping others achieve their college dreams.

This is the alienation that comes from people seeing “just a fraction of who you really are.” Some empathy for that feeling — or recognition of the power of it in frustrated black communities — seems like part of what we’re missing today. 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.

In her senior thesis, titled, “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community,” Obama wrote: “I have found that at Princeton no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my White professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don’t belong. She knew that many people would not always look at the graduates as the product of hard work. “Instead, they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world. Over four years, she had experienced the peculiar evolution of a black undergraduate thrust into a climate of extreme white privilege and emerged changed in ways that surprised and challenged her. But just as Eleanor Roosevelt articulated the experiences and plight of the poor as well as racial and ethnic minorities, so does Michelle Obama articulate the black experience.

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