Food for thought of the role of our First Lady.

From The Nation:

Michelle Obama, Mom-in-Chief
posted by Melissa Harris-Lacewell
05/05/2009 @ 1:46pm

With Mother’s Day approaching I want to think about Michelle Obama’s assertion that her primary role as First Lady is “Mom-in-Chief.”

Many progressive feminists were distressed with Michelle’s assertion of motherhood as her primary role. They hoped she would seek a more aggressive policy agenda. After all Michelle Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She spent her career as an effective advocate for urban communities in their fraught relationship with powerful institutions. She is smart, capable, and independent. She maintained her own career and ambitions throughout Barack’s early political career and even during his election to the U.S. Senate.


Over the past several months I have received many press inquiries from reporters and scholars who are anxious about the ascendance of this kinder, gentler Michelle Obama. They worry that Michelle is being manufactured and handled in a way that thwarts her authenticity and undermines the efforts of feminist movements committed to the notion that women can and should have both family and career.

This is a potentially fair criticism, but I want to complicate this easy narrative a bit by encouraging us to remember that as an African American woman the stereotypes against which Michelle is struggling are distinct from those that seek to limit and inhibit white women.

White, middle-class, gender norms in the United States have generally asserted that women belong in the domestic sphere. These norms have limited white women’s opportunities for education and employment. But the story has been different for women of color and women from poor and working class origins. These women have faced the requirement of employment and the shouldered the extreme burden of attempting to effectively parent while providing financially for their families. Black women were full participants in agricultural labor during slavery, the backbreaking work of sharecropping, and the domestic services of Jim Crow. Even middle class and elite black women have typically worked as teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and professionals. At every level of household income and at every point in American history, black women have been much more likely to engage in paid labor than their white counterparts. Even Claire Huxtable worked full time!

So when Michelle Obama makes a choice to focus on supporting her daughters through their school transition and providing companionship to her husband as he governs she is not really conforming to norms. She is surprisingly thwarting expectations of black women’s role in the family and representing a different image of black women than we are used to encountering in this country.

As mom-in-chief Michelle Obama also subverts a deep, powerful, and old public discourse on black women as bad mothers. Enslaved black women had no control over their own children. Their sons and daughters could be sold away from them without their consent, or brutally disciplined without their protection. So when a black woman claims public ownership of her children she helps rewrite that ugly history.

Rest of article at link above.


Related Posts with Thumbnails