Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Michelle Obama: One Classy, Resilient, Intelligent First Lady

By Elwood Watson

elwoodwatsonFrom the moment her husband became a serious contender for the Democratic nomination, Michelle Obama has been a perennial figure in the media spotlight. With this level of exposure has also come a significant amount of controversy. Unlike previous first ladies such as Rosalyn Carter, the late former first lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, Pat Nixon and others, Mrs. Obama seems to evoke rabid passion among her supporters and detractors alike. There is no middle ground or indifference in their feelings toward her. Her proponents see her as intelligent, classy, elegant, no-nonsense, charismatic and socially conscious. Her opponents denounce her as being arrogant, aloof, unpatriotic, and racially bigoted and harboring a socialist agenda.

For her critics, the already high level of suspicion toward both Obamas reached a fever pitch in the 2008 presidential campaign when the then-future first lady stated first_lady_michelle_obama_official_portrait_2009-redthat for the first time in her adult life she was really proud of America. While many reasonable and rational people totally understood what she meant (even Laura Bush later in the same year in an interview stated that she did) and were well aware of the fact that there was not one hint of unpatriotic rhetoric in her comments, the political right led by Cindy McCain and company wasted no time in perversely exploiting a sincere statement, misconstruing it to imply that Mrs. Obama was an anti-American who harbored Black nationalist sentiments.

Sensing a possible campaign issue, the Republican right seized on Mrs. Obama making her the target of vicious assaults. She was accused of hating Whites and using the term “whitey” on tape. Terms such as “baby mama,” “angry Black woman,” “jezebel,” “Black Lady Macbeth,” “Ms. Grievance,” “bitch” (in many cases preceded by the word Black), “uppity” and other derogatory and disrespectful labels were ascribed to her. In fact, on some far right wing websites, the language used to describe both her and her husband was so inflammatory and intolerant that some website moderators decided to shut down for a few days to reissue stricter guidelines for bloggers. I could not even repeat such incendiary rhetoric here.

Not content enough to just take a quote grossly out of context, the anti-Michelle crowd posted copies of her Princeton undergraduate thesis on anti-Obama websites in an effort to demonstrate that she was obsessed with being Black, attacked her University of Chicago administrative job as a “diversity position,” spread false rumors that she only wanted Black and other non-whites at campaign rallies, that she was on tape yelling anti-American statements and other such nonsense. A couple of talk show hosts referred to Michelle Obama by invoking the term “lynching party.” YES INDEED! THINGS WERE GETTING UGLY! The McCain campaign fall rallies demonstrated the vile, seething anti-Obama paranoia and hatred that was evident. But that’s another story that has been effectively covered.

In regards to the tapes, the interesting thing is that none of them ever surfaced. This is probably due to the fact that no such tapes ever existed. The Republican architects of such sinister schemes were well aware of this; however, they knew that it was not necessary for them to produce any concrete evidence. For their jingoistic, wild-eyed, racist, sexist, xenophobic right-winged supporters, just the thought of such images was enough to whip them into an anti-Michelle Obama frenzy.

Some people argue that there have been other first ladies like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan who have undergone critical and hostile scrutiny. While true, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mrs. Reagan were subjected to acerbic racial overtones. They were criticized for certain excesses, but never were the attacks, especially in the case of Nancy Reagan, so racially charged or personal. Race has undoubtedly been a factor in such treatment. However, like many strong, radiant and viable Black women before her, Mrs. Obama has managed to admirably shrug off such criticism and resentment and focus on the goals that are important to her, such as speaking to young girls in elementary and middle schools and meeting with military families.

More recently, the current first lady has charmed the world demonstrated with her impeccable fashion sense. She warmly embraced Queen Elizabeth (the queen reciprocated). She demonstrated that she is just as elegant as any European leader’s wife and endeared herself into the minds and hearts of millions of people all over the world. In fact, many people have compared her to a previous first lady, Jackie Kennedy.

Whether this deep admiration for her will last remains to be seen. Nonetheless, for the present moment, it seems that many individuals see her diverse, flexible, sincere personality as one that is refreshing to them. Recently, even her most strident, bigoted critics, a number of whom would rather have her cleaning their houses as opposed to living in the White House, have been unable to demonize her. One thing is probably for certain and that is Michelle Obama will remain true to herself and to her constituencies. She is indeed one classy, resilient, intelligent first lady.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)




African American boys can learn something from President Obama

By James Ewers

jewers1President Barack Obama’s victory is meaningful to a cross-section of Americans. His candidacy resulted in more new registered voters than at any other time in American history. As we reflect now on his journey, especially his Democratic primary battle with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, it is safe to say that this country was energized by seeing a woman and an African American compete for the highest office in the land. I believe that women everywhere hailed the accomplishments of Clinton, now the U.S. Secretary of State. Young girls are now thinking that they could someday become president of the United States of America. It is in that same vein that I think young African American boys have also been buoyed by President Obama’s achievement. To my mind, I hope that that the bar has been raised for African American boys.

There are many aspects of President Obama’s demeanor that can serve as a road map for young African American boys. Obviously he has seen and unseen traits. At or near the top is self-respect. His self-respect did not just begin when he became successful. He had it as a child. As we all know, he was raised primarily by his mother and his grandparents. He also developed goals, had dreams at an early age and factored in the need for an education in order to achieve his goals. His respect for other people is tied to his own self-respect. All throughout his march to the presidency, we saw that people of all races/ethnicities, young and old, were attracted to him. One of my old expressions is that in order to get respect, you must first be willing to give respect. I have long held the opinion that respect is earned and is not an entitlement. Obama has been able to move effortlessly through environments where the vast majority of people, at times, have not looked like him but they have respected him.

Another character trait that has endeared President Obama to the American electorate is his grace under fire. He had the ability throughout to deal with pressure-packed moments and not show his agitation or frustration. As he said early, on folks were examining his kindergarten papers yet he remained unruffled. His critics attacked the fact that he was black, yet he was undaunted. One of the most defining moments for me was the speech that he gave on race in Philadelphia. It was thoughtful and eloquent yet it is unfortunate that in 2009 race is still at the windowsill of our discontent. But he made his enemies that day his footstool and did it in such a respectable manner that he won over even more supporters. His inner qualities and his outward appearance was simply a winning combination. His adroitness when it came to his communication skills certainly gave him a clear and distinct advantage. The naysayers, of course, said that “anybody” can give a good speech. Of course when you are losing you tend to make those kinds of statements. His appearance was always presidential, with or without a suit and his trademark white shirt and stripped tie. His level of confidence transcended whatever he wore.

During this two-year process that led Barack Obama to become this nation’s 44th president have black boys paid attention and have they learned anything? Do they see him as a role model? If the answer is yes then self-respect and character must become more important in their lives. African American parents and love providers must become more proactive, and we must raise our own level of expectation about what we expect and more importantly what we are willing to do. It is exciting that he is in the White House but it also means that we must take care of our house too. While some will call it “uppity” it is imperative that our young men learn to speak correctly. We still have far too many African American boys who don’t see the advantage in speaking well. If young African American males want to enjoy the many fruits of success they will first have to learn how to master the English language. Not all black boys will go to Harvard Law School like Obama but at a bare minimum they must graduate from high school and get a job with a training component and advancement to it. Having at least an associate degree is now being seen as a means to achieve a decent quality of life. Wearing droopy pants and oversized jackets thinking that you will get a job much less respect is only fooling yourself. African American males can’t see President Barack Obama saying “yes we can” when they are standing at the corner of despair and disappointment lamenting the system.

As African American males, we all have choices. I was young once and I, too, had some choices to make. Many of us as older black men had the good sense to listen to our elders and followed their rules for success. Young African American males can now see someone who looks like them as president of the United States of America. But in all of their jubilation and exhilaration they must remember one thing and that is success won’t grab them, they must grab it.