Friday, November 21, 2008
Wait. Do you hear that? The blogosphere is cacophonous, buzzing about Michelle Obama. Article after expounding article analyzes her every outfit, her every offhand remark, her every moment of smiling stillness. My ears ring from the drone.
Enquiring bloggers want to know: Did Michelle wear J. Crew on The Tonight Show to appease or appeal to white voters? Is her round booty a conspiratorially defiant stance against her husband’s political message of biracialism, unity and inclusion? Is her proposed “Mom-in-Chief” position feminist enough? Was she concealing her power in the 60 Minutes post-election interview? Does she secretly envy her husband’s success? Was Claire Huxtable a better Black Super Woman?
As a womanist of color who grew up working class, I sense an underlying (internalized) racism/sexism/classism sneaking its way into our collective discourse about Mrs. Obama. I want to know: Why is it suspect for Michelle to wear J. Crew? Are we surprised she can afford it? Do white women have some special, impenetrable claim on catalog shopping? What is she supposed to wear? A dashiki? Would that make her look more bold or authentically black enough? What is black? Is it how you dress? Your proximity to the ghetto? Where you went to school? How you do your hair? Would you find the First Lady more attractive if she rocked braids or an afro? Is it important to find her attractive?
So what if she makes white people comfortable? Doesn’t she also make black people comfortable? Doesn’t her persona/power/potential challenge people from both groups? Isn’t her family made up of black, white and Asian people ― and more? Mine is.
Can we talk about black women and beauty and power without talking about their butts? Is the Michelle Obama image/icon challenging us to think outside the music-video-vixen box? Do we resist that challenge or embrace it?
Why are some feminists so uncomfortable with femininity? Have we learned nothing from the Third Wave Movement? Do we still think women who wear expensive skirts are weak? Do we still think a strong, educated, accomplished, ambitious woman who chooses a man isn't living up to her full human potential? Isn’t feminism about having the freedom to choose? Do we still think a full-time mother isn’t really working? Is our collective imagination so limited? Do we devalue parenting that much?
What about love in the face of politics? If my partner was met with the enormous task of leading the so-called free world, you best believe I'd put something down and be available to emotionally support her. Can you imagine a more high-pressure job than being the President of the United States? I can: Being the first biracial President’s black wife. Being the mother of America’s Newest Symbol of Change’s small children. If I were Michelle, I'd do everything I could to keep my family life in tact. If Malia and Sasha were mine ― the first little brown-skinned girls to live in the White House ― I'd work mother-lion hard to protect their childhoods, answer their questions, foster their budding grace and maintain their sense of normalcy ― if only so I could triumphantly re-surface after four (hopefully eight) years and still recognize my children!
And I would hold onto my spouse, the President, so fiercely ― if only to look back with pride and say, “Our love survived the weight of this world, all its criticizing tongues, all its evil eyes."
Do you know how radical it is for a woman of color to prioritize her family in this country? Just 150 years ago, enslaved black women and men weren’t allowed to marry or keep their children. What bonds they built or birthed could be ripped from them to go serve someone else. I believe Michelle Obama has the right to be Mom-in-Chief.
We have to be careful, my people. We have to be weary of putting all our righteous, revolutionary dreams in one, tiny Obama basket. They are ours, but they are not ours. They can’t be everything we want them to be. Let them first be their own.
I know we’re sick of glass ceilings. I know we want to witness a woman putting her feet up on a desk in the Oval Office ― like dozens of dead white dudes, the Bushes, Bill and beautiful, living Barack will have done before her. I know we hope to recite “Madame President” in our lifetimes. But it is not up to Michelle Obama (or Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, for that matter) to be the change we wish to see in the world. It is up to us to imagine social justice, to keep working for it and to manifest something like it in our own everydays.
In the meantime, I am challenging my stubborn self to remember that all powerful people ― even presidents’ wives ― live complicated lives, not pristine ideologies.