Michelle Obama: Politics of Race & Gender

Michelle ObamaIt must be hard to be Michelle Obama. When she and her husband Barack Obama, the Illinois Sentator and presidential hopeful appeared on Oprah in 2006, she was very clear that she had no interest in being a public figure, or raising her children under such public scrutiny. It seemed as even Barack’s celebrity as a very popular Senator–and only the third Black senator since Reconstruction–was more than she wanted to be bothered with.

There also the concern for their physical safety. Just two weeks ago the Obamas got security detail unlike any other Presidential candidate at this point in the campaign. But the Obamas had been receiving death threats.

But here she is, in essence, running as First Lady (or perhaps First Spouse, as formerPresident Bill Clinton could become the first man to be spouse to a sitting President). In today’s New York Times, there is a story and accompanying video about what Michelle Obama brings to the table.

What’s wierd aout this story, and that will undoubtedly become an issue in the campaign, is how she will be able to balance the media portrayals and public opinion. Inevitably, racialized/gendered language of her are already just underneath the surface of most of the coverage of her. In many cases, she’s portrayed as the  sassy “take no shit from her man” kind of black woman. The story defers this portrayal to a family member:

Craig Robinson, her brother and the Brown University men’s basketball coach, said his sister did not enjoy organized sports when she was younger because she so hated defeat and even now pouts when a board game does not go her way. His sister is brainy and warm, he said, but also a force to be reckoned with.

“Everyone in the family is afraid of her,” he said with a smile. Asked if Mr. Obama used a nicotine patch to quit smoking, Mr. Robinson cracked up. “Michelle Obama!” he said. “That’s one hell of a patch right there!””

The media also talksabout her being a straight-shooter, which I think is true to some extent. She seems to answer questions pretty directly, and doesn’t just say what seems to be the most convenient. However, I am beginning to wonder if one of her political functions for this campaign will be one of racial interpreter.

For Black Americans, her role is about making him seem Black enough for those of us who don’t think he is,or atleast doesn’t “deserve”to be our first Black president (but I guess it’s OK for Bill Clinton to be considered Black. Ugh.). The NYT states…

“…she serves as roaming ambassador. For African-American audiences, Mrs. Obama is one of their own, with a more familiar background than that of her husband. At a black church in Cincinnati last week, the audience mmm-hmmm-ed approval throughout her speech.”

At the same time, Michelle Obama, an African-American, makes him less threatening to white Americans. Remember all of the anti-Islam baiting the Right has been doing where he’s concerned– highlighting that he grew up in a madrasa praying to Allah, “mistakingly” placing his photo next to a story about Osama bin Laden, and directly linking his middle, Hussein, to Saddam? You’ll notice in this story (and see it in the video) while speaking toa group of (white) voters in New England, Michelle Obama tells this story about meeting Barack, and upon hearing his name, thought that he must be “wierd.” Her comments about him being wierd, seem to be saying “I know. I am an American too. It’s OK if you thought it too.” The audience laughs at her joke.

She is in a vary precarious position that I do not envy, but this campaign, for many different reasons, will be one to watch…

3 thoughts on “Michelle Obama: Politics of Race & Gender

  1. Yes, for myself, this will be a campaign to watch; if for no other reason than the intrinsic social-theatre component… A “popular” Black candidate running for the presidency, and all the inevitable media bumbling around the great American quagmire of race…

    I thoroughly expect to be entertained at occasional intervals for next year or so…

    Aww, man…is my cynicism with the great American “experiment” showin’?…

  2. lol … I think that’s the first time anybody’s ever told me my cynicism was sexy… But hey, I’ll take it. 🙂

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