Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is Michelle Obama "Angry"?

The marker of being "angry" is one of the most enduring accusations hurled at Black people who irritate or contest the dominion and privilege(s) of whiteness.

There is a troubled history behind the label of Black and "angry" in American race relations.

In all, the label is about gatekeeping and its interest in influx control.

Controlling the movement of Blacks and indigenous folk in white settler dominated states is essential if whiteness is to survive and flourish.

In the US, Black folk have had to learn to navigate the outcomes of being marked as "angry" by whiteness. The label carries with it treacherous consequences that range from being lynched to being fired from a job.

Michelle Obama is very aware that her husband's bid for the White House, and her electoral role, must be balanced against this history.

It is not surprising then that she has opened herself to public scrutiniy to ward off the noise by conservatives and others that she is "angry" and, therefore, not suitable to be the first lady.

The noise about Mrs. Obama begun somewhere in February when she said that, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country."

Conservative detractors were quick to point out that she exuded an "angry" militancy that was worrying and even unpatriotic.

The noise was as unfair as it was historically predictable.

Mrs. Obama's entire speech reflected her belief that America was "hungry" for change and, therefore, she was "proud" of her "country".

If anything, her statement was a quintessential affirmation of her husband's delusional vision of an integrated and multi-racial country. She was not seeking to offend whites or the pervasive sensibilities of whiteness.

However, white conservatives and others who are sweating the prospect of a Black president, are eager to spin Mrs. Obama's words to show she is at odds with America's foundational myths.

Mrs. Obama has reacted swiftly to deny the accusations. She has taken on a pro-Clinton blogger who claimed to have a tape where she speaks in front of her church about the evils of "whitey".

She called the allegation a blatant lie. And she is right.

The alledged tape is nowhere to be found but some damage has been done nontheless.

It is the kind of damage that is steeped in racism and it evokes an inflammatory warning that recalls the division between field negroes and house negroes.

Is Michelle Obama enough of a house Negro to be trusted in the White House?

This question, in variations, is one that will be key to pressing the historical racism that an "angry" Black person cannot be trusted.

But there is more.

Mrs. Obama is also a Black woman and hers is a double jeopardy that is often overlooked. The focus on her goes beyond crass conservative white men who guard the gates.

What about white women, particularly white feminists? Why are they so silent and absent from this round of attacks on the person of Michelle Obama?

Mary C. Curtis, a Black feminist journalist, raises these important questions in today's Washington Post. Curtis pokes her finger at the silence of white feminists wondering why Gloria Steinem and Geraldine Ferraro have not stood to contest the accustations against Mrs. Obama.

Why would they though? A cursory reading of Black feminist thought will evidence the struggle that Black women, and other women of color, have had with white feminists and their movement(s).

In fact, a very big part of Black feminist thought is an outright contestation that there is one feminist movement defined by unchallenged gender unity.

A big blind spot for many white feminists has been the intersection of race and gender. In this context, the old stalwarts who are still licking their nomination wounds are very unlikely to be contesting the racist attacks that are being hurled at Michelle Obama.

They should be standing up for her but it seems that they must be shamed into doing so.

So where are they now that Fox News has called her Barack Obama's "baby's mama" and then apologized?

Do white feminists not see the label of "angry" and "baby's mama" as stereotypical racism intended to work the gate-keeping mechanisms of whiteness.

Retracted or not, these racist labels have put into motion a tired but effective politics that has historically defined Black women as less than white women and less than full citizens of the US.

If the conservatives and others are successful in these terms, Barack Obama's presidential bid will fall like a black apple in the Garden of Eden and the blame will have been 'fortold', twice over.


Picture Credit


Rent Party said...

I think the prohibition on "anger" is one of the important characteristics of white culture or at least what I call "Anglo" culture. I *really* don't see what's wrong with anger, me.

Ridwan said...

Thanks for your comment Rent Party. Good to read you here again :0)

Best wishes and peace to you,