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September 2012
09

How I See Michelle Obama

I love the greatness of the full person that Michelle Obama is, as she shares herself with the public. However, where Michelle Obama is concerned, some choose to view her as fragments of a person versus a whole one.

Michelle isn’t “only” pretty.
Michelle isn’t “only” smart.
Michelle isn’t “only” strong.

There are people only concerned with her clothes, style and physical beauty.

There are people who are only concerned with her as a good wife in a heteronormative couple, and as a mom with two great children.

Some (amidst the Black community) use her as an “object” (in one of the most grandiose examples of false equalization) against other Black women, informing (advice that other races of women aren’t given, as their desires are deemed reasonable, yet Black women’s are not) us to accept any kind of men as romantic partners, since Michelle didn’t meet Barack Obama as President, and he wasn’t rich, as if whom we’re ordered to accept are even remotely like Obama, even 20 years ago Obama. (Who he was [I’ve read his books and others’ on his Columbia/Harvard through US Senate years] and is now [or who any person is] is MORE than income, so those who suggest any “poor” guy in his 20s/30s is automatically like young Obama [and should then be accepted no matter what he says, does or how he treats others]…is truly lost.)

Sometimes Black social media users and the Black blogosphere get into these “I’m more ‘conscious’ than you are because I only care about Michelle’s intellect” debates. They’re only concerned with her pre-White House resume, her degrees, or the possibility of her intelligence being superior to the President’s (Obama says she is smarter than he is, as he prefers the self-depreciating method to compliment her, as a sign of love for her and his humility. I view them as different from each other, but both of great intellect. Now my personal “liking” preference is for her over him.).

Some (often Whites…but some Blacks as well) resort to the word “strong” when thinking of her. You know…the way Serena Williams is automatically “powerful” versus “smart” in terms of her game? (I wrote about race and athletic perceptions before.)Strong” as a label for Black women can easily become a prison versus a positive thing to say. It’s used to justify our systematic dehumanization, deny us the expression of real emotions, justify mistreatment and abuse, and quickly becomes a label of “angry” whenever we express legitimate emotions that don’t involve giggles and smiles. ("Strong" vs. "angry" is a dangerous binary social construct for Black women in the way that "queen" vs. "females/bitch" is.) Black women know all too well how “strong” binds us to superhuman expectations and “angry” binds us to subhuman expectations. But, we…are…HUMAN. I think of the words “compassionate” and “charming” before I ever think of “strong” where Michelle is concerned. I personally know the burden of that word. (It was only four years ago that she was NOT as beloved as she is now, and was called “angry” all of the time.)

I don’t see why I have to view Michelle Obama in the “who cares how she looks, only brains matter” or the other fragmented ways that many people do. She’s not only pretty or only smart or only strong. Black women don’t have to live in the boxes of single words, especially when the rest of who we are is actively ignored, marginalized or erased.

She is not just intellect and mind; she’s stylish and beautiful and yes her beauty matters…especially to Black women. She is Black. Not “ambiguous.” Not “passing.” Not of mixed race identifying as “Black.” Not light skinned. None of these “preferred” versions of Black. Just Black. And beautiful. And in the public eye. And since beauty and style (google “beauty”…you won’t see Black women readily come up in any searches of that word or synonyms of the word) are perceptions rarely ascribed to Black women, YES, her physical appearance, beauty and style actually matters to many Black women, and seeing it is affirming. I know all too well how female actors who look like her or are darker than her have a challenging time getting quality acting work. I saw how colour politics impacted women running track in the Olympics. It would be a lie to pretend that the media perception and coverage among Lolo, Allyson, Sanya, Carmelita, Francena, Kellie and Dawn did not differ. Thus, those who expect Black women to ignore Michelle’s beautiful physical appearance in the public eye and write it off as irrelevant (since brains > beauty) obviously have not lived the life of a (“non-preferred”) Black woman.

However, she is not just her style, grace, appearance or beauty. I don’t have to ignore these attributes to know that she is well-educated, has a sharp mind, a great sense of humor, wit, is a deep thinker, and could be a great President her damn self, if she actually wanted to. (She doesn’t, and has said so repeatedly.)

I reject the binary that states that women are beautiful OR smart. This exists to trap all women and set women up as inherent enemies. And, since Black women are rarely associated with beauty, no matter how beautiful we actually are, and we are often insulted and shamed for being smart, educated or accomplished (being deemed not marriage material, ball busters or “too independent,” when we are smart) we are left BELOW this binary to start with. Below it. White women are placed above us, but still deal with the crap of this binary. Again, we are worse off, placed even below this already limiting binary.

So…Black “conscious” bloggers and Twitter users, White people, as well as anyone else who wants to view Michelle as only a wife, or only a mom, or only in terms of cool dresses or only as smart, are not acknowledging her full persona…the totality of who she is. I reject the fragments. I reject the binaries.

She’s a whole Black woman and a whole person. I love her style and beauty just as much as I love her vision and intellect. I don’t have to reject the former to appreciate the latter. I reject the strong vs. angry binary altogether. She doesn’t have to be “strong” not to be “weak.” Being human…complex and dynamically human, with a plethora of personality facets and emotions is more than sufficient. She loves being a mom and places that role first, as mothers often do. I still see her as that great mom and so much more.

She is compassionate, charming, charismatic, funny, witty, clever, intelligent, loving, caring, focused, stylish, beautiful, pretty, and…just amazing. Michelle Obama isn’t perfect (no human is above critique…but she is most certainly better than any haters’ views, whether a Republican’s or Toure’s ever so tired opinions), but she is one of the Black women that I think of when I think of greatness. I don’t need to file her away under any one word, stereotype, binary, fragment, or label. I see her in the way that most Black women want to be seen. As…more. More. More than any limiting view that we’re supposed to be “thankful” to get because we’re Black women.

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