Like many of the other folks here at JJP, I was mad proud of Michelle Obama last night. But part of me was ambivalent about the idea that she should have to bear the burden of “humanizing” both herself and Barack to those folks who seem terribly vulnerable to believing what they see and hear about black folks on television. This was the subject of my latest piece for the American Prospect this week:

Many people were moved by Michelle Obama’s speech last night, in which she exhorted Americans to work toward “the world as it should be.” Watching the first potential black first lady address the country, it’s hard not to imagine that we are a universe closer than we once were. The genius of the Obama style lies in its ability to make the black experience universal. Despite the fact that black people and white people doubtlessly feel something different when they hear Michelle say that the American Dream is “a blessing hard won by those who came before me,” it is no less meaningful to both. This is about more than campaign rhetoric. It is a political agenda where black and white interests are not seen as antithetical to one another, where disagreements are about ideas, not identity.


In some ways, Michelle Obama’s speech was typical. It was the kind of political tribute wives of politicians are expected to make. But this speech was likely crafted with an eye toward the distorted portrait of black womanhood painted by people whose experience with black people is limited to what they’ve seen on television. People like Cal Thomas, who once remarked that black women are “on the local news at night in cities all over the country” because “they’ve had a son who has been shot in a drive-by shooting.” Last night, Michelle faced the dual dilemma of humanizing herself to a society that has appropriated the image of “the angry black woman,” and of presenting her husband as a typical caring father.

The rest is available at TAP.

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