Update: Michelle Obama As Racial Rorshach Test

by: rikyrah

Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 22:26

(The latest post in our mutual guest-blogging series, from rikyrah from Jack and Jill Politics.  Thanks once again to all our guest-bloggers! - promoted by JonPincus)

Cross posted at Jack and Jill Politics and Mirror On America

One of the first posts I blogged was entitled:

Michelle Obama - The Latest Racial Rorschach Test
I have believed from the moment Barack Obama announced his candidacy that his very running would be a test for America. I stated over a year ago, when Michelle Obama was first put out there by the campaign:

The entire Obama candidacy is about what I call a Racial Rorschach Test. The first phase were those idiotic articles about whether Obama was ' Black enough' for Black folks, which was insane, and off the point. Once that dog didn't hunt, we finally got around to whom the 'Black enough' test was really about, and that was White folk. While they're still mulling around this question and deciding whether to deal with it or not, we've got a new angle to this test- Michelle Obama.

I'm back to report as to how I see the Racial Rorschach Test is going, specifically as it concerns Michelle Obama.

The attacks have been coming fast and furious against Michelle Obama, with a depth of viciousness that is unwarranted, but deserves study.


What is it about this woman that evokes this vehemence against her?

rikyrah :: Update: Michelle Obama As Racial Rorshach Test
We have very bright posters at JJP who often crystalize thoughts with their comments.

Miranda wrote in the comments section:

I have a theory that as hard as it is to accept a black president, it's even harder to accept a black first lady. First Lady has always held a beloved sentimental mother/wife of the nation symbolism. Conservatives are not ready to have to look at this very BLACK woman with her degrees and her fierceness and see her as the epitome of the American mother/wife. Black people have never had an emotional connection to the First Lady to worry about losing. Laura Bush is just another white woman to us. This will be a first for white people. I hadn't thought about the separation anxiety of them not having their mother-in-chief.

To piggyback on that, in the comments section about the racist New Yorker cover, ms. martin challenged me:

I've just come to the conclusion that this is about Michelle. They do not want this black woman in the Whitehouse as their first lady. This cartoon is about Michelle - she is the focal point of the cartoon.....

Of course it's about Obama's presidency, but I think the cartoon is about Michelle. Look closely rikyrah, the look on her face and his agreeing eyes lead me to believe that she is the leader, the one starting the "revolution" they want you to imagine............

If you read the comments on pages of Obama supporters, during the toughest times of the primary season, you would see folks speaking on behalf his whiteness (it makes him more tolerable to some). Trust, there are many who if they could, would love to have him without her......

Accomplished with her whole black in tact and non-apologetic for it. Raising beautiful bright children who no doubt will also be accomplished strong black women who won't need to apologize for who they are................................

MSNBC's Chris Matthews said, in the course of covering the Obama candidacy, and I'm paraphrasing,
" He (Barack Obama) brings none of the ' bad stuff', you know?"

By 'Bad Stuff', he meant the legacy of enslaving Africans in this country and then keeping them as second-class citizens until 1965, a mere 11 years before this country celebrated its 200th anniversary. So, for 189 years from its official founding as a country, and tack on another 150 years pre-Revolutionary War, and you've got the ' Bad Stuff' done to people of African descent. You know, 'the original sin', or ' the birth defect', as Condi Rice called it.

But, guess what.....despite being ' oh so smart' by supporting Barack Obama,  the 'Bad Stuff' smacked White America in the face.

First, with the revelation that his White Side was still involved in 'the bad stuff' (slavery), only as SLAVEOWNERS.

I had a good chuckle on that.

But, also, he comes home every chance he can, to 'the bad stuff'.

To the ' Bad stuff' wife and ' Bad stuff' children he had with said wife.

And there it is: the 400 years of ' Bad stuff', wrapped up in Michelle Obama.

When that came to me on the elliptical machine this morning, it all made sense.

Michelle Obama is a direct threat and lightening bolt against White Superiority.

Because, she's Black...


But, does not, in any way, shape, or form, contour to the acceptable Black Pathologies that enable White Supremacy to sigh with relief.

One of the many reasons why I am thankful for the blog - Michelle Obama Watch - is the diligence of the Administrators to gather any and all writings about Michelle Obama. Having it catalogued in one place, it's a great reference site.  From a recent article  in  London,

Michelle's pitch is far from sophisticated, playing heavily on her humble beginnings and traditional values: "I was raised in a working-class family on the south Side of Chicago. That's how I identify myself, a working-class girl," she has told the voters, time after time.
It helps that she cuts a fine figure on the stump, tall and slender with a hair 'flip' reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy. And it does no harm that, while Barack, 46, comes from mixed Kenyan and white parentage, Michelle, 44, is authentically (sic) African-American, giving the Obamas an unmatched breadth of appeal. [...]
Yet even they have failed to scrutinise her seemingly remarkable story, or question how her homely rhetoric, full of jokes about Barack's domestic failings, squares with the reality.
When The Mail on Sunday went back to the gritty district of Chicago where Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was raised, we found a rather different picture from the one so single-mindedly promoted by Camp Obama.
Instead of the one-room tenement that now appears in most accounts of her upbringing, we found a well-kept neighbourhood of red-brick Arts and Craft-style houses which have long been home to respectable [sic] black families.

Ain't that a bitch?

Michelle wasn't POOR ENOUGH.

Yes, she wasn't 'poor enough'.

See, if Michelle was from:
a) Da Projects
b) Her mother with a handful of children
c) One of them at least revolving in and out of jail
d) Of course, no father to be found
e) Working some demeaning job (maid, janitress, cook, washerwoman, MAMMY)

Then Michelle would be acceptable.

But, Michelle was raised in a neighborhood. In a home. With TWO parents. No child revolving in and out of jail. Raised by a Black man who not only provided for his family, but did so, WITH A DISABILITY. Her mother had a working class job - secretary- but it was taken ONLY after she had seen her youngest child settle into HIGH SCHOOL.

Michelle Obama's poise, her confidence, her aura - that was created by that humble Black man, who by all accounts, adored her. He told her that she worthy, and so, when you have that told to you by the first man who loves and protects you, you seek that validation of that in your choice of the mate, because you'll settle for nothing less, and Michelle hasn't.

You see, Michelle Obama, doesn't fit any of the acceptable Black pathologies. And when you don't fit the acceptable Black pathologies, then you must be destroyed.  John Edwards' parents only graduated high school. I don't remember one story about whether Edwards' parents were 'poor enough' to shape his narrative.

For clarification against the article: Her mother and father graduated from high school, and that's it. He got a city job, like a lot of White working class men whose wives stayed at home. Rolling in the dough, they were not. They don't fool me. They don't know one iota of the differences between Black neighborhoods in the least. I know those bungalows; I grew up in one of those bungalows. If you're a family of four living UPSTAIRS in one of them, it's no mansion. It's an apartment. Period.

They're mad that Michelle's not from ' Da Projects', which is all they would qualify as ' typical Black housing'. If you had running water, then suddenly you were rich.

I know the area where Michelle Obama grew up - wasn't no White folks there. No ' integration'. It was called ' White flight'. Remember, Chicago has long been one of THE most segregated cities in the USA. When she was growing up, there was ONE 'integrated' area - it's where she currently lives - Hyde Park. Black folk and White folk don't live side by side in Chicago....not when she was growing up. 'White professionals in the area'....BS.

Michelle Obama is perfectly honest when she says that there's nothing extraordinary about her. She's right on the money with that.

Michelle doesn't have some 'White family' that raised her.
Michelle didn't go to an expensive private school for her education.

She was raised by two Black, average high school graduates, who impressed upon her the importance of education, and that the only way she and her brother wouldn't have to have their parents' lives was to work hard, educated themselves, using the Public School System and whatever extras they could get from it.

Guess what? She, her brother, and scores of other Black folk had the same set of parents - the names were different, they lived in different cities, but they said the same things to THEIR children who also listened to them, and guess what, they were able to take advantage of opportunities that their parents could not have dreamed of when they were young.

These folks were in the shadows; ignored by the MSM, who has only wanted to focus on Black pathology, and never Black success, UNLESS it could be quantified in the category of EXTRAORDINARY. But, these folks were ALWAYS there.

Michelle Obama has become the face of the Black America whose very existence has been denied by this country.

Think about it.

In ONE generation, the Invisible America would have gone from living on the top floor of a bungalow, to living, possibly in The White House.

And, when you have, in your face, an example in Michelle Obama, who refuses to say " I'm special", and thus give you your security blanket, what should be done?

Beat it down and into submission.

Well, I say no.

And Michelle Obama Watch says no.

And Michelle Obama Fan #1, The Black Snob says no.

The Black Progressive Blogosphere  says no.

And, why do we say no?

I found this in a reply at Michelle Obama Watch, and thought it was so on the money:


I love Michelle Obama because she represents the African American woman and everything we want our daughters to be. When we as African American women stand up for her we stand up for ourselves. No other women in the world are more neglected and abused as African women period. She looks like my daughter, her daughters look like my daughter and therefore I see my daughter and all that I want her to be. I love the way Barack looks at her and looks at his daughters. The Obamas are the hope for many of us that we can be loved by our men and they will support us in whatever we do. You can tell she is a loved woman and her daughters are loved and we should not only defend her as African American women, but her husband who is the "hope" of this country and little African American girls who need a vision and dream of what it would be like to be loved by a man who looks just like them. Michelle Obama I got your back girl! If we can say no to the Don Imus' of this world we can say no to anybody calling us outside of who we are as women. We are the ones we have been waiting for....

Jul 6th, 2008

This is why we say no.

Michelle Obama doesn't seem to be ' worthy' enough of defense by the Feminist Establishment, thus their silence on the attacks against the Double Ivy League Degree Professional Woman, Loving Wife and Mother.

So, it's up to us to make that line in the sand. To be the retaining wall against those who would want to wash away everything that makes up the core of Michelle. AS IF there's something wrong with her, and by extension, US - that Invisible Black America.

I conclude this post with a quote by yogo over at Skeptical Brotha. The moment I read it, in May 2007, it touched me to the core. And, seeing as it seems how the attacks on Michelle Obama seem to be escalating, it seems more appropriate now than ever:

I joke a lot about these two, but something sticks out at me about the whole campaign, especially after seeing this interview:

I like her. And not because of any strong this and that, she just seems genuine.

Is America ready for a First Lady who looks like her? A regular black woman? Not a passable biracial curly girl that they call black, but a regular black woman from the south side of Chicago? With dark skin?

Is she going to be the face of The Woman on the largest pedestal in the country? A self-confessled "loud-mouth" black woman?

If they succeed, it turns white supremacy upside down. And not, in my opinion, because a black man is in the White House; it's because a black woman is in there. And she didn't have to come in the back door to lie in bed with the president.

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If part of Obama's bi-racial appeal (4.00 / 1)
(to white folks) is that he's not one of "those" black folks ("He doesn't seem so angry! I like they way he talks about responsibility!"), it follows that Michelle is threatening because she is one of "those" black folks, or at least hasn't gone to any extraordinary lengths to prove that she isn't one of "those" black folks.

(Exactly who "those" black folks are is in the eye of the white beholder-- they could be reminders of American history, of the person Grandpa made ugly jokes about, or the parts of American cities you are too scared to go to... or the just-as-threatening successful black men and women who managed to succeed without your family connections, your inheritance, your dominant culture upbringing, etc... proving that they might actually be smarter than you.)

White people, we have a lot we can attach our fears to.  

The right-wing neaderthal boneheads drone on and on about how Black people need to "pull themselves up by their bootstras"... (0.00 / 0)
or some similar moniker. Then when they encounter a black person (or entire family in this case) who has done just that, they are terrified of them. Even moreso if they happen to be female. And god forbid they be an outspoken educated black woman who will unabashedly discuss topics such as politics and race, the fear, hate, and downright irrational fixation becomes multiplied exponentially. Other women in the past (think Oprah) have gotten passes either by not being controversial or by not being threatening (in a position to take power).

Michelle Obama is the American story. Born into a very humble working class family, she and her siblings both went on to receive Ivy League educations and create very respectful careers. In Michelle's case, her Ivy League credentials actually surpass those of even Bill Clinton, graduating cum laude from Princeton University and going on to receive her J.D. from Harvard Law School. On top of all of this, she is also also very confident and downright beautiful.

She will become the favorite aspect of Obama's candidacy to attack from all the racist wingnut talk-show hosts. Of course they will always pretend like these attacks have nothing to do with her race and instead are because of her "patriotism" (or supposed lack therof)  

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

[ Parent ]
It's simpler than that... (4.00 / 1)
...Obama is a light-skinned black... Michelle is dark skinned... trust me, that's enough to make a difference for many people.  Sad, but true.

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

[ Parent ]
I would agree with you. (0.00 / 0)
Being a light skinned AA is viewed by many whites and AAs as better than or preferential to being a dark skinned AA. There is also something about Michelle Obama's posture when she stands that is distracting.  I can't exactly explain it, but it draws my eye away from her eyes/face to her overall stance, which disrupts that "personal" connection.  

[ Parent ]
Haven't had a chance to read your whole post. But here are some quick links about this: (0.00 / 0)
(Can't wait to finish reading later bit GTG)

This guy over here has an interesting taste on the whole Rorshach Test thing over at Too Sense.

He links to

Ezra Klein

Terry Ellis


End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

In Short, Her LACK of Pathology (4.00 / 1)
is what seems to be so disturbing to the chattering ones.  This seems to be one core theme of what you're saying, rikyrah.  And it makes perfect sense to me, since pathology is all they know.  

Which, of course, means they can't get a handle on her, can't figure her out.

Ergo she must be conning them.  Misleading, at the very least.  There has to be another story.

Such losers.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Plus she is a strong woman and mother (0.00 / 0)
I take your well argued points about Michelle Obama and racism in this country. But  it's also true that her confidence, competence, and accomplishments frighten a lot of men, much like the response to Hillary Clinton.

That's precisely what makes me root for both women. I want my daughter to grow up seeing that it is okay to succeed, to make things happen, to make a difference in this world and to have your gender and/ or skin color not hold you back.

In February this year, on Super Tuesday, I found myself helping out in my son's fourth grade classroom surrounded by girls who all wanted to talk about Hillary Clinton. It was magical. Some agreed with her politics, others hated them. But all these girls were excited to see someone like them, like their moms, taken seriously. It's too bad a lot of men are threatened by that. Hopefully Michelle Obama as First Lady will do much to turn that around.

approval (4.00 / 2)
Karen Tumulty had an interesting Swampland post today about a NYT article that said only 28% of whites approved of Michelle Obama, whereas a goodly majority (I forget the number) of blacks approved of her.

However, what the article didn't say and the polling data did was that only 20% of whites (and 9% of blacks) approved of Cindy McCain. So everybody likes Michelle better than Cindy, contrary to what we're supposed to believe.

feminists support Michelle Obama (4.00 / 1)
Michelle Obama doesn't seem to be 'worthy' enough of defense by the Feminist Establishment, thus their silence on the attacks against the Double Ivy League Degree Professional Woman, Loving Wife and Mother.

Gotta take a wee bit of exception to this.  Melissa McEwen over at Shakesville has a running list of sexist and racist slams against Mrs. Obama.  I guess Ms. M. might not count (for you?) as part of the Feminist Establishment, but she's a feminist and she's calling out bs whenever and wherever she finds it.


Should more feminists be doing more on this?  Absolutely.  The way this criticism of feminists reads, tho, it seems you think what should make Mrs. Obama worth defending by feminists is that she's got all those tokens of (supposedly) white priviledge attached to her -- Ivy League x 2 plus happily heterosexually married with children.  But everywhere else you're real clear that what makes her herself and what makes her important is not how she's different from lots of black women (there's only one in the universe who's currently married to the man leading in the polls in the race for the Presidency, after all), but how she's the same.

I'm a white feminist and I think Michelle Obama would be worth defending against racist and sexist smears whether she went to college or not.  I also think she'd be worth defending if she went to the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle instead of Priceton.  Don't you?  I guess I just don't get what one's educational status has to do with one's right to be treated with dignity and the obligation of others to object when one is not.

I agree with you (0.00 / 0)
But I also think it's relevant that Michelle Obama was silent about the vicious misogyny directed toward Hillary Clinton during the primaries.

I suspect that is partly why the feminist establishment is not jumping to defend Michelle Obama.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
Re: (4.00 / 3)
I think it's relevant that Hillary Clinton was silent about the vicious misogyny directed toward Michelle Obama during the primaries.

[ Parent ]
what does this have to do with.... (4.00 / 1)
What does this have to do with the ostensible subject of this series of guests posts, i.e. the topic is "feminist and womanist perspectives on Hillary Clinton's withdrawal from the race -- and why this matters to progressives":

After a brilliant start with McEwan's explanation of how a feminist/womanist perspective is resulting in FWs withholding their support from Obama, the subsequent three posts have simply swept the question of feminism under the rug, and given us lectures on race from three Obama supporters who happen to be women.  

This piece on Michelle Obama was (because of its topic) especially disappointing -- and tells us that there is still a very large "blind spot" among Obama's most ardent supporters when it comes to even discussing (let alone, understanding) the gender dynamics of the primary season.  Instead of a discussion of how sexism informed MO's treatment by the media in a way that recapitulated the treatment of Hillary Clinton in the 1992 campaign, we get a discussion that is almost entirely about the fact that MO is black.  

The complete failure of rikyrah to address the issue of MO from a feminist perspective (the word 'mother' appears six times in the post, the words 'lawyer' and 'attorney' appear not at all, the word 'professional' as a descriptor of MO appears only once) suggests that Obama's supporters are still not ready to acknowledge the extent to which Obama exploited/benefitted from sexism and misogyny.  

McEwan's post was a brilliant start -- and was 'flawed' only in the sense that it presented the feminist/womanist perspective as an isolated phenomenon.  From McEwan's post, this discussion could have gone in other directions, like how the feminist/womanist perspective has informed/contributed to the perception of Obama; i.e. how the FW perspective aided in the crystalization of opposition to Obama based on a host of factors including those unrelated to F/W specific issues.  

Instead, those of us who share a feminist perspective on Obama are simply being told to 'get over it'... that the F/W perspective has to take a back seat to the "racial" critique, even when the subject is supposed to be the "feminist and womanist perspectives on Hillary Clinton's withdrawal from the race -- and why this matters to progressives"

I take your point (4.00 / 1)
This is an interesting post, but it has little to do with feminist and womanist perspectives on Hillary's defeat.

I am still glad rikyrah posted it here.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
two separate issues... (4.00 / 1)
the issue isn't whether rikyrah's perspective is worth discussing.

what bothers me is the idea that Jon and OpenLeft think that they are actually acoomplishing anything close to their stated purpose of including a feminist/womanist perspective on the primary campaign.  Neither Sara, nor Pam, nor rikyrah have atttempted to do more than give lip service to the concerns of FWs.  

Sara's bottom line was to tell feminists to 'get over it' -- that its 'not your turn' because progress in women's rights always comes after progress for black men.  And while this may be true in terms of legislative solutions to questions of inequality, in terms of social/economic/political progress, the opposite is true.  IIRC, the Senate has never had more than one or two black members at any given point -- but I can name at least nine sitting female senators off the top of my head-- and much the same holds true for governors.  And while there has been more 'progress' in the House in terms of black representation, the overwhelming majority come from predominately African American congressional districts.  Women do not, have not, and should not wait until "black men" make progress before they can break the 'glass ceiling'.

This point is even more offensive to feminists because of the question of 'qualifications' -- a lot of Clinton progressive supporters chose her over Obama as the 'lesser of two evils', not because they were feminists, but because they are Americans.  The feminist critique evolved as a means of achieving understanding of how a far more qualified woman was passed over for the nomination.  

Pam gave lip service to the idea of feminism, but then went off into 'racial' subjects having nothing to do with the primary season at all --- instead, it was all about 'the politics of (black) hair', Cynthia McKinney, and the New Yorker cover (as if the Obamas had been white, Michelle would not have been pictured as the most famous 'white female domestic terrorist', Patty Hearst.)  The 'politics of (black) hair' is also an interesting subject, but isn't related to feminism per se.

And rikyrah asks the question "What is it about this woman that evokes this vehemence against her?", and the answer is 'because she's black'.  Uh, sorry, but while her race may inform the criticism that Michelle Obama has received, there is little question that as a woman who is both accomplished and has her own mind, she'd be getting slammed by the same people who are slamming her now regardless of her race.

Indeed, given the overt sexism that goes unadressed at Jack and Jill, I'm kinda offended that rikyrah is being represented as providing any kind of "feminist/womanist" perspective at all.  For instance, while she did address numerous comments over at Jack and Jill when this was crossposted, this comment remain unanswered...

I love this post Rikyrah. Michelle is actually responsible for me getting behind Barack.
After she made the comment about Hillary not being able to manage her own household,
I knew she was a strong Black woman and I decided to really listen to Barack. I have been sold ever since.

Michelle Obama was roundly criticized by feminists, and rightly so, for that "manage your own house" comment, and never repeated it.  If rikyrah had any feminist consciousness at all, she would have responded to that comment from a feminist perspective.  Instead, it just sits there.

Simply because someone is a women doesn't qualify them to speak from a feminist perspective -- and indeed, neither Pam's House Blend, nor Orcinus, nor Jack and Jill are known for their concentration on feminist issues (indeed, all three are well known for their concentration on racial issues).   And while all three of those blogs provide important perspectives, the simple fact is that what was supposed to be a series on feminist/womanist perspectives has been dominated by discussions of race.  

Thus, if anything, this series simply confirms the impression that neither Obama, nor his (so-called) progressive supporters really care about women's issues and the feminist/womanist perspective.  

But if we're going to discuss racism and feminism in the same breath, then perhaps everyone should read "reclusive leftists" brilliant post positing what would have happened if the shoe was on the other foot (i.e. overt and 'dog-whistle' racism was all over the place, and consistently ingored).  http://www.reclusiveleftist.co...

here's a taste...

The shoe is on the other foot, and Obama, not Hillary, is the punching bag of the media - a media that is blatantly and unapologetically racist. And I do mean blatant. Jokes every night on the cable news shows about Obama's hair and his fondness for fried chicken. Pundits laughing about what a problem uppity Negroes are.

Across the country, racists openly ridicule Obama and his candidacy. In mainstream stores there are gag gifts playing on racist themes: maybe a (water)Melon Baller with Obama's head on the handle, maybe a Barack Obama Shoeshine Set - you get the picture. 501c groups invoke the most grotesque racist slurs with their advertising; T-shirts say "Quit Running for President and Shine My Shoes!" Anybody who protests is branded a fool and a spoilsport.

[ Parent ]
i agree with a lot of what you say (0.00 / 0)
but i have to object to what I think is a subtle either/or tone that runs through both of your comments and rikyrah's post itself.

And rikyrah asks the question "What is it about this woman that evokes this vehemence against her?", and the answer is 'because she's black'.  Uh, sorry, but while her race may inform the criticism that Michelle Obama has received, there is little question that as a woman who is both accomplished and has her own mind, she'd be getting slammed by the same people who are slamming her now regardless of her race.

The truth is that Michelle Obama is a Black Woman (among many other things).  The question of whether there is "more" gender or "more" race is really difficult (for me) to evaluate if it's possible at all.  But I also think it misses the point, which is that race and gender intersect with each other and other things.  So really, for me, the question is not whether gender or race were primarily responsible but HOW each of them impacted the way she was viewed, discussed, portrayed, etc. and how the two intersected, how they didn't.

In contrast, the "gender vs. race" dynamic recapitulates the dynamic of the primary--and a much larger set of issues that are involved in both race-based civil rights and feminism) but uses Michelle Obama's representation and body as the site of the contest!   Anti-racist and anti-feminist critiques of the primary process should be especially concerned with this because this is one of the things that lies at the bottom of both racial and gender-based hierarchies- the objectification and construction of a person on the basis of social systems of hierarchy to "put them in their place."

Also, where do Michelle Obama's politics interesct with this?  What would be the actual as opposed to symbolic problem if Michelle Obama had been a "militant Black radical", as she is so routinely portrayed in one way or another (i.e. if she had gone outside the interests of both the Democratic and Republcian parties?)?

[ Parent ]
response (0.00 / 0)
Also, where do Michelle Obama's politics interesct with this?  What would be the actual as opposed to symbolic problem if Michelle Obama had been a "militant Black radical", as she is so routinely portrayed in one way or another (i.e. if she had gone outside the interests of both the Democratic and Republcian parties?)?

you mean if she'd been like Ayres and Dohrn?  ;)

I'd like to suggest that there was very likely a time in her life when "Michelle Robinson" was a 'militant black radical' -- not a "revolutionary" per se like Davis, Ayres, and Dohrn, but nevertheless someone who adopted the "radical" black critique of "white America" during her college years -- and for at least some time after that.  

(I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't MO play a significant role in BO's decision to join TUCC?   And while her senior thesis is certainly not as "radical" as some have portrayed it in the media, neither is it "post-racial")

The fact that people are now firmly esconsed system does not mean that they do not have 'radical' pasts (see Tom Hayden, not to mention Ayres and Dohrn) and maintain the same essential critique of American society -- and the critique itself doesn't change, what changes is the perceived most-effective means of achieving change.  Questions about MO's true perspective on American society are likely to remain unanswered, because even if she did have a "radical black militant" perspective, its clear that she has chosen to hitch her star to BO's political career, and isn't about to offer any kind of radical critique as 'the candidate's wife'.

which gets us back to the topic at hand... the inability of Obama supporters in general, and rikyrah specifically, to understand/acknowledge the feminist/womanist perspective on the election.

Ultimately, the answer to the question "What is it about this woman that evokes this vehemence against her?" is "because she's wife of a Democratic presidential aspirant."   (And, it should be noted, that 'the left' has been just as 'vehement' -- and, IMHO, far uglier -- in their attacks on Cindy McCain because she is the wife of the GOP candidate.)  

Michelle Obama is attacked because she is going to be the First Lady of the United States -- she is going to represent to the world women in American society.   Thus, first and foremost any understanding of the perception/portrayal of MO must start from an understanding of the role of women in this culture, an a progressive perspective on that necssitates a feminist/womanist perspective.  

Its the fact that rikyrah ignores this feminist perspective -- that she identifies the reason for the attacks on MO as entirely racial in nature -- that is so disturbing.  This is especially true given her claims that the "Feminist establishment" have supposedly ignored the gender-based attacks on MO -- those attacks have not been ignored by the "Feminist establishment", rather, the entire feminist critique of this campaign has been ignored.  As I noted above, MO herself has been guilty of making sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton -- attacks that apparently meet with the approval of rikyrah.   And given her apparent complete lack of any kind of feminist perspective at all -- her willingness to not respond to the sexism of her own commenters -- its difficult to take rikyrah's criticism of the "feminist establishment" seriously.  

[ Parent ]
I agree with you that there aren't enough feminist perspectives present... (4.00 / 1)
on this or any other issue in American politics today.  But critiquing the post is in my opinion inadequate in terms of providing a response to what I wrote, which was a critique of the discourse as a whole that (re)started with this post.  To state it again, we have consider to gender, race, AND power, among other things, in understanding the position of Michelle Obama in society/politics/the election.  This endless back and forth about "you're not taking account of feminism" and "you're not taking account of race" inevitably has to end with "let's take into account feminism and race and their intersections and their absences" or else we're going to get nowhere.  

Moreover, the way the dialogue conducted can be deeply disturbing.  We're talking about someone onto whose person all kinds of beliefs and ideas are being written by observers of all varieties (like the New Yorker cover), and I don't think anti-racists and feminists should participate along these lines.  Our bodies are not for sale.

[ Parent ]
Time and place... (0.00 / 0)
while I agree with you that a comprehensive critique of the campaign needs to address far more issues than gender, the fact is that most of the other perspectives have been part and parcel of the so-called "progressive" blogosphere (i.e. what devolved into the Obamasphere).  The feminist/womanist perspective has not played a significant role, and in fact attempts to present the FW perspective have been consistently degraded, mocked, and vilified throughout the Obamasphere.  

The fact is that the impact of race and racism have received more than adequate attention for progressives to include them in a comprehensive critique (indeed, that was part of the reason I cited the 'reclusive leftist' post above; it presents a counter-reality in which the questions of race and racism are simply ignored or 'played for laughs).  

And class/power issues, because they are intrinsic to any true progressive perspective, have also been included by default.

But, if a comprehensive progressive critique/understanding of what happened during the primary season is ever going to be formulated, it is going to have to include an FW perspective -- and one that is taken seriously.  And what we've been getting is a series that pretends to address the FW perspective, but except for the original post by Melissa, essentially ignores that perspective.

As I think i noted earlier, as brilliant as I think that Melissa's original post was, I think it missed the main point --- while it does a great job of explaining why FWs have such a hard time with Obama, the real relevance that the FW perspective brings is to the process as a whole.  Only by understanding the FW perspective can you have a true understanding of the dynamics of the primary season -- and the impact of that dynamic on the election in November, and the progressive movement as a whole.

The fact remains that that the Obotosphere (of which OpenLeft is part) remains resistant to incorporating an FW perspective into a comprehensive critique of the primaries -- and the "progression" of the posts in this "guestpost" series is an example of that.  And unless and until the Obotosphere understands and accepts that the FW perspective is as just as valid as the purely "racial" perspective of people like rikyrah, no truly "comprehensive" progressive understanding of what has happened is possible.

A 'racial' perspective on the FW perspective is perfectly valid and important (just as an FW perspective on the racial perspective is -- or would be if we ever get that far).... but IMHO people at least understand and accept the FW perspective as important before we get three straight posts that are supposedly about the FW perspective, but ignore it in favor of racial perspectives?

[ Parent ]
well (0.00 / 0)
i agree with this:

The fact remains that that the Obotosphere (of which OpenLeft is part) remains resistant to incorporating an FW perspective into a comprehensive critique of the primaries -- and the "progression" of the posts in this "guestpost" series is an example of that.  And unless and until the Obotosphere understands and accepts that the FW perspective is as just as valid as the purely "racial" perspective of people like rikyrah, no truly "comprehensive" progressive understanding of what has happened is possible.

I disagree with the idea that there's a single feminist perspective, even if this post and this series or this whole blog don't fall within that set of perspectives one might call feminist at all (which is the argument that I think you're making).  

and again, this is why: in this case, a race perspective needs to be informed by gender analysis and a gender analysis needs to be informed by race analysis  - or else you can't make sense of what we're nominally talking about, which is Michelle Obama, and this argument will continue endlessly, much like the Nader/Gore argument.  And the people who are going to be the ones who are treated most badly throughout the process and at the end are the ones who fall in the intersection that's being disputed- in this case Black Women (and really anyone who's intersectional), who are AGAIN being asked to "choose."

I'm not saying that your comments began this polarization and they're a useful intervention, but I want to move forward rather than rehashing again what we've agreed upon - which is that yes, there are not enough feminist perspectives being presented on these issues in this space, among many others.

On an aside, I vehemently disagree with this:

And class/power issues, because they are intrinsic to any true progressive perspective, have also been included by default.

Class and power issues are not identical; and the lack of attention to which classes Obama's and McCain's agendas serve and where their support comes from is inadequate in my opinion.

[ Parent ]
Given the attacks on MO significantly ramped up (0.00 / 0)
once HRC had left the race, I would love to hear more about the interplay between gender and race there. Although the post-primary attacks that I have seen come on MO have been probably primarily racial in character, it does seem as if HRC was serving as  some sort of buffer.

   I'd be very interested to hear an examination of how gender attacks segued into racial and gender attacks, and while this post was wonderful, I do hope we get that examination at some point in this series.

[ Parent ]
Interesting points, sb. (0.00 / 0)
Did HRC serve as a buffer for MO? If so, how? How does the interplay between gender and race play out?  What more can we (unfortunately) expect?

John McCain thinks we haven't spent enough time in Iraq

[ Parent ]
The Simple Answer Is (0.00 / 0)
That what we originally planned to do changed over the course of outreach to different bloggers.  We originally envisioned this happening much more quickly, for one thing.  So part of it is just a matter of how ideas always take some time to work out in practice.  This is the real-life, nitty-gritty reason for the progression of posts.

While I share your desire for the kind of trajectory of discussion you'd like to see, rikyrah is reminding us of some very basic home truths that are all too easily forgotten.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"home truths" (0.00 / 0)
sorry, but I didn't see a lot of 'home truths' expressed by rikyrah.   While her perspective is certainly worthy of discussion, the fact that she is obsessed with a race-based critique of the campaign -- to the point of exclusion of all other factors -- makes it difficult to find "truth" in anything she says.

rikyrah seems incapable of accepting the fact that oppostion to Obama has any basis other than race -- that people like myself wound up supporting Clinton because we were incapable of seeing beyond Obama's race, and don't see Obama as either qualified or suited to the Presidency at this point in time.

And quite frankly, I find it difficult to believe, given that its been almost a month since your original 'invitations' went out, you have been incapable of finding other women who can presenta feminist perspective on the primary campaign.   Instead, it seems like your 'search' has been restricted on a purely partisan (as opposed to progressive) basis -- the simple fact that riverdaughter from the Confluence was not among those you listed as invitees suggests that any perspective that is NOT consistent with support for Obama must be excluded -- AFAIK, even Melissa intends to vote for Obama, and her post was merely an attempt to explain why many feminists/womenists find themselves unwilling to support Obama.

OpenLeft claims to be about promoting progressism -- and I hate to break it to you, but the Democratic Party is NOT a "progressive" organization, nor is Barack Obama a "progressive" candidate.   If the blog -- and the guest post series -- is going to be restricted to advancing the cause of Obama and the DNC, then it should just say so, and stop pretending to be about 'progressivsm'.

[ Parent ]
In fact, Riverdaughter was among the second round of nominees, (0.00 / 0)
of whom was held a vote. I can't dismiss much of your argument here; I also would like to see more of an emphasis on FW perspectives and would think it could segue nicely into a second round of discussions on Michelle Obama. But the mundane fact remains: you didn't vote for Riverdaughter, nor did anyone else.

[ Parent ]
Look Again (0.00 / 0)
Rikyrah is writing about Michelle Obama in the context of something very fundamental, the way in which the very existence of the black working class, and role of women within it, has been repeatedly erased from our national consciousness, the better to be able to demonize blacks, and sleep well with our history of genocide.

I understand that this is not what you wanted to hear discussed. It does not fit your pre-approved "progessive discussion agenda."

But I think it's precisely the impossibility of creating a single such agenda that's the most fundamental point here.  We are not operating under ideal conditions here.  We are operating in the face of multiple constraints, and struggling to move foreward in ways that aren't always clear to one another.  So the effort to clarify why we are moving the way we are moving seems like a pretty fundamental place to start.

While you seem to think that this necessarily involves a shutting down of other lines of questioning, that is simply not the case.

Indeed, I think that Rikyrah's diary opens up a very poignant question--how does the reality of who Michelle Obama is, and the family she came from square with Barack's repeated tendency to embrace rightwing tropes attacking black fatherhood as deficient?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Feminist perspective (0.00 / 0)
Instead, those of us who share a feminist perspective on Obama are simply being told to 'get over it'... that the F/W perspective has to take a back seat to the "racial" critique, even when the subject is supposed to be the "feminist and womanist perspectives on Hillary Clinton's withdrawal from the race -- and why this matters to progressives"

So Paul, as a fellow guy (I assume from your name), perhaps you can enlighten me as to why Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollit, Molly Ivins, Kate Michelman and many other people a naive person like me might consider to be "feminists" are not.
All of them either endorsed Obama or strongly opposed his "feminist" opponent.

And perhaps you could further enlighten me about what happened to black feminists? Don't they exist? Does their perspective on Obama not count?

[ Parent ]
It's a Republican attack thing -- don't take it personally, Michelle (4.00 / 3)
The right wing media helped turn Hillary Clinton into a "monster" -- they villified her all the time. Now they're doing the same to Michelle.

If Cindy McCain were the Democratic candidate's wife, they'd be tearing her apart too.

It comes with the territory. It's disgusting. But I think Michelle can handle it. She's a smart, tough lady. The attacks just make the attackers look like imbeciles. So keep reporting what they're doing.  

you beat me to it (0.00 / 0)
My memory from 1992 suggests that the media were much more vicious toward Hillary than they have been toward Michelle.

At the same time, I totally agree with the JJP commenter who argued that Michelle was meant to be the focal point of that New Yorker cartoon. She clearly is depicted as dominating Barack, and she appears more threatening than Barack.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
I saw Michelle Obama speak (4.00 / 1)
at a Polk County Democratic women's event last August in the Des Moines suburbs. I wrote about the event here:


The audience probably had as many Hillary supporters as Obama supporters, with a significant number of women backing other presidential candidates too.

Michelle Obama went out of her way to ask the rhetorical question of why women should support her husband when there was a talented woman running for president. The short answer was that we need real change, which Barack Obama can bring. It won't be enough just to change the administration.

The speech was well-received by the crowd. The more people hear her directly, rather than filtered through the right-wing noise machine, the more they will like her.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

my biggest disappointment with Michelle (0.00 / 0)
was when she said this in January:


"We had a miraculous victory in Iowa," Michelle Obama said. "Ain't no black people in Iowa! Something big, something new is happening. Let's build the future we all know is possible. Let's show our kids that America is ready for Barack Obama right now."

Obviously, Iowa is a predominantly white state, but there are 50 majority-black precincts (out of just under 1,800 total), and many more precincts with significant black populations. Certainly thousands of black Iowans, not only in those urban precincts, caucused for Obama and contributed to his victory in Iowa.

I felt like her comments were trying to discount the importance of black Democrats in Iowa, and also trying to manipulate white liberals into voting for Obama to prove that America is ready for a black man as president.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

How about (4.00 / 1)
Iowa is 94.9 percent Caucasian. It is  3.7 percent Hispanic-American, 2.3 percent Afro-American, 1.4 percent Asian-American.

Mrs. Obama could have been more technically accurate by saying "few" black people instead of none ... but what she said is basically correct from a political viewpoint. I disagree there was any manipulation by Mrs. Obama.


[ Parent ]
those statistics are misleading (0.00 / 0)
In a Democratic primary or caucus in Iowa, the percentage of black voters is significantly higher than 2.3 percent.

I haven't seen any hard numbers, but it's quite likely that black Iowans comprised between 5 and 8 percent of the Democratic caucus-goers, and they overwhelmingly supported Obama.

Take away 5 percent of the delegates from Obama and add them to Clinton's total (she would been the next most likely candidate to have substantial support among black Iowans), and then Obama's convincing victory in Iowa becomes a narrow victory for Hillary.

I would argue that while black Iowans were not a sufficient base of support for Obama to win Iowa, they were a necessary base of support. Which Michelle Obama negated when she said there "ain't no black people in Iowa."

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
Iowa entrance polls (0.00 / 0)
Iowa entrance polls (see http://election.cbsnews.com/ca... say that 4% of Iowa's caucus goers were African American.

However, my guess is that your 5-8% number is probably more accurate.  

[ Parent ]
Great post! (0.00 / 0)
Neither African-American nor a woman, but I love Michelle Obama.  

And it is ironic that she epitomizes the sort of person who played by the rules and did everything right, and some seem to hate her all the more because of it.

But I think more of us love her.

M. Obama (0.00 / 0)
This is a really rich post on which we could add so many comments.  I think I will just state how impressed I am with the M. Obama's intellect and character.

As for the "other" side's desire to caricature M. Obama, my personal favorite ninnies reside at No Quarter.  I love to lurk there sometimes just to bone up on how the crazy people think, and I particularly enjoyed the wildly misinterpreted (by them) senior thesis M. Obama wrote during her senior year at Princeton.  When I read the paper, I was struck by the very professional process she employed(as a college student!) and the personal observations and conclusions.  I felt that I understood the "African American experience" a little bit better.  Of course, few of the posters there had actually read the paper, and the ones that did promptly interpreted it in a way that fit their world view, i.e. she is racist.  Reading the thesis was made even more poignant because of the news story at the time of the freshman roommate that changed rooms because of the racist views of her mother.

I think she will be a wonderful First Lady.

Michelle Obama is my preferred Obama (4.00 / 1)
But after all, I'm just a DFH. She got that status with me when she said her husband's success finally made her proud of her country. I'm not that far gone yet (to be able to be proud yet), but I sure understand wishing I saw more to be proud of in this country's impact on our world.

Can it happen here?

I'm glad you enjoyed that comment (0.00 / 0)
because no doubt we'll see a lot more of it this fall in tv ads paid for by Republicans.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
sometimes we need a little frankness to sustain us... (0.00 / 0)
especially if you're going to win the election anyway and it's not going to matter :)

[ Parent ]
"What is it about this woman that evokes this vehemence against her?" (0.00 / 0)
I have no clue.

Even after reading your interesting post and all the comments.

Personally, I'll feel better represented by Michelle Obama than by Laura Bush.  I think its an age thing, the Obama's are, like me, at the edge of the Boomer Generation and just before Gen. X (or whatever its called today).  We don't quite fit and are pretty much always misunderstood. Too young to be a hippy, too old to be a punk.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


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