The role of the first lady is not a simple one. Just look at Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, and her recent campaign meltdown — and she’s not even in the White House. But Michelle Obama makes the job look easy, and most recently the first lady impressed the nation and the world with her rousing speech in support of her husband President Barack Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. That is, until she said the words “mom-in-chief,” which sent many white feminists into a frenzy of disappointment. But Clutch Magazine‘s Tami Winfrey Hall writes that it’s not one classifier but all of Mrs. Obama’s elements that make her a wonderful example of feminism — and motherhood.
She is a black woman. While white women have historically been thought, by default, to be possessed of ideal femininity, (sexistly) defined as demure, sacrificing, quietly strong, beautiful and maternal. Black women have not. The picture of black woman as Sapphire; welfare queen; baby mama; ball-buster; unmarriageable harpy who is too black, too fat and too nappy can be seen lurking behind much of the right’s–and some of the left’s–criticism of Michelle Obama. (Not only that, but Sapphire qualities are already being thrust upon the Obama’s youngest daughter, Sasha, who the media is fond of imbuing with a sort of two-snaps-up-in-a-circle sassiness.)
White feminists who acknowledge Obama’s blackness, and the stereotypes attached to it, believe her “momification” is a shrewdly calculated answer to attacks on her as “Stokely Carmichael in a dress.” In her article, Malone endorses a similar analysis by Rebecca Traister in Salon. It is as if, even these smart women cannot believe that, alongside strong, black womanhood, Michelle Obama might have a nurturing, maternal side that is not politically manufactured but a part of who she is.
Black women in the public eye, including Michelle Obama, may not see the need to distance themselves from traditional roles, as Hillary Clinton once did, famously saying, “I am not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man.” and “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” Cooking-baking, devoted wife and mother has never been a stereotype about us.
Read Tami Winfrey Hall’s entire piece at Clutch Magazine.
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