One thing I hate to do is act as teacher to the clueless. But it's clear, after the speaker of the Kansas House, Republican Mike O'Neal, forwarded an email with pictures making fun of first lady Michelle Obama's appearance and calling her "Mrs. YoMama," that school is once again in session.
You would think these folks — including Wisconsin GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner, with his unhealthy obsession with what he called the first lady's "large posterior"; the South Carolina Republican activist who once compared her to a zoo's escaped gorilla; and all the other offenders — would have at least learned self-control. But since they can't seem to help themselves, some lessons bear repeating. Read and learn.
1. When people who aren't black use slang that purports to be "black," it just makes them look incredibly foolish. To all who thought the email O'Neal sent was hilarious, you need to know that black people don't go around saying "YoMama" in conversation. (After holiday visits with family, I can report that the term did not come up once.) Use the term around anyone, particularly your actual mother, and random black people within earshot will make that circle-around-the-head motion and slowly back away. (Hint: Black people call other black people by their names.)
Words such as "YoMama" are used by people who don't know anything about black people to mock them. It's how they imagine black folks speak, and the fact that they spend so much time imagining such things is something they probably should discuss with a doctor. Either that, or spend some time with black people.
2. The cartoon in O'Neal's email showed Mrs. Obama's hair blowing in the wind and compared it to an image of Dr. Seuss' Grinch. Hair is hair. A black person's hair is no exception. It comes in all different textures and styles. We wash it, dry it, curl it, straighten it or leave it be — and sometimes it even blows in the wind. Our hair is not a secret weapon or a hiding place for one.
In a statement, O'Neal said, "I've had bad hair days too … To those I have offended, I am sorry. That was not at all my intent." Did you write that statement — the one that repeats one part of your insult before implying that anyone who had a problem with the email might be too thin-skinned — with a straight face, Mr. O'Neal? No apology at all would have been better.
4. No woman likes to be insulted and demeaned or compared to cartoon characters. Just because black women are used to such treatment (and worse) in America does not mean they think it's OK. Would your wife or mother, daughter or sister, like it? What would you do to the guy who spread insults about them? Keep it up, and even no-drama Obama might be tempted to punch you in the mouth.
5. A little history and geography lesson is also in order for those who continue to grumble that the president and first lady took a Hawaiian vacation on the taxpayers' dime. All presidents take well-deserved breaks; many Americans, for that matter, return home for the holidays. For me, that meant seeing hubby's mom in New York and my family in Baltimore. President Bush loved to clear brush in Crawford, Texas.
President Obama returns to Hawaii because he was born and mostly grew up there. (Yes, it is a state.) It's where the grandmother who helped raise him lived until her death in 2008. He can't help it if his home has beaches, warm weather and killer optics.
In November 2012 there will be an election when all those who want a new family in the White House will have the chance to make their dreams a reality. It's how America works. Until then, the first family we have is the image the United States presents to the world. Some respect, or at least good sense, is in order.
And one final lesson: When you receive a nasty email, "delete" works so much better than "forward."
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to the Washington Post's She the People blog, The Root, NPR, Fox News Charlotte, Creative Loafing and the Nieman Watchdog blog, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.
Mary C. Curtis is a Roll Call columnist and contributor to NPR and NBCBLK. She has worked at the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Charlotte Observer and Politics Daily and as a contributor to the Washington Post. She is a senior facilitator for the OpEd Project at Cornell and Yale universities. Follow her on Twitter.