First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a now infamous commencement address at Tuskegee University a couple of weeks ago. I read the speech transcript and for the most part it was boiler plate graduation speech. It was when Michelle decided to empathize with the audience that things went off the rails. It was a mistake but not for the reasons primarily cited by Fox and its conservative friends.
The two gripes I heard were that Michelle recited a litany of black victimization and that she exaggerated. I heard stuff like “puhleeze, Obama went to prep school. Nobody was dissing Obama on racial grounds.” There were also accusations of not being “grateful” for the assumed affirmative action that Michelle was no doubt the beneficiary of.
This all misses the point. The otherwise ordinary speech became a travesty for two reasons. First, Michelle chose a joyous event to tell these students essentially “no matter what you do, to whitey you’ll always just be a n—–.” This is what the predominantly black class will need to overcome. Is that really what Martin Luther King Jr. died for? After all the struggle and suffering culminating in the election of the first black president, Michelle’s message was that they should ignore all the whites who voted for her husband and assume whites will give them the shaft. How inspirational!
The second problem is the “they” in Michelle’s attempt at empathy. “They” who cross the street when “they” see you coming. “They” who follow you around the store assuming you’re a thief. The “they” of course is white people. This reminds me of Obama at a San Francisco fundraiser talking about “clinging to guns and religion” or Romney and his 47% comment. Did it not occur to Michelle that her not-secretly-recorded speech would be seen by lots and lots of WHITE PEOPLE? Did she think she was having a private rap session? Does she not understand she is the First Lady of these white folks? Do they not have feelings? Do they deserve gratuitous offense from the best known woman in the country?
Six years ago I was seething with anger about the way some white folks were treating Barack Obama. I wrote then,
Well guess what folks! He is our President! Barack Obama is our President. He is your President if you voted for him. He is your President if you did not. He is your President if you are black. He is your President if you are white. He is your President if you are progressive and dammit, he is your President if you are conservative. He is OUR President.
Now I find myself needing to remind our First Lady that blacks are your people and whites are YOUR PEOPLE. ALL AMERICANS ARE YOUR PEOPLE!
A hat tip goes to one of my readers who pointed me to a video by the YouTube host of “ZoNation” who touches on a couple of these themes.
Michelle Obama owes the deservedly proud graduates of Tuskegee an apology for putting their accomplishments against a backdrop of racial discord. She owes America an apology for highlighting what divides us. It was beneath the dignity of a First Lady of the UNITED States of America.
What do you think? The bar is open.
An aside: I DO believe the government should heavily subsidize the education of everyone. I do NOT agree with some of the points made in the video by Alfonzo Rachel. But that’s for another post.