Yes, yes, I know damn well, in my higher self, that there are better reasons for liking Barack.
His cleareyed intelligence, for one thing. His broad and nonparochial perspective of the world. His preparation, his education, his politics. I like that Obama forwent a lucrative career in corporate America to work with the folks in Chicago. I even like the fact that the man can write, and I mean write, although as a writer who struggles daily to do the work, I kind of hate that too: this talented dabbler, this massively successful dilettante.
But, if I'm honest, I must admit that none of those fine attributes are what tipped me over from Obama admiration to Obama love. It was something else, something entirely personal, something deeply revealing, if not about the man then certainly about me. It was Michelle Obama—or, more particularly, his choice of her as wifely material.
Barack chose Michelle. He chose one of us, and I am thrilled.
The first time I saw Michelle Obama I thought, oddly, of a line from Ntozake Shange's epic choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf:
brown braided woman
with big legs and full lips
Of course, Michelle Obama is tall and regal and utterly self-possessed. She owns a smile to nearly rival her husband's and waves those long, slender fingers about like a classical pianist. She carries more talent, clarity, deep self-knowledge, and openness of heart in the left eyelash she lost unnoticed yesterday than any woman on the trail. The notion that this woman is "reglar" is, prima facie, absurd.
But there you go. I look at Michelle Obama, and I see—at least not at first—not the strength of her character nor her fierce intelligence nor even her Ivy League degree, but the plain and plainly striking fact that she in no way resembles either Halle Berry or Heidi Klum. She more favors my friend Damita. She reminds me of my sister Michelle. She looks like me.
What does this say about Michelle Obama? Not a thing, of course. About her husband? Perhaps more so.
For the record, I am not saying there's anything wrong with interracial relationships, and I'm certainly not casting any stones at my beautiful fair-skinned sisters. One look close inside my own family would push me to shame were that the case.
I am not saying that black men who marry white women or fair-skinned black women are all operating from some internalized self-loathing and/or deep-seated buy-in to the dominant culture's negation of black female worthiness and allure. I am not saying, all you romantics, that love cannot be colorblind.
OK? All right? Can we move along?
What I am saying is that in America it is not often we see the wife of a successful black man who looks like Michelle, and that seeing her beside him is, for some of us, almost as transforming a moment as seeing him where he is.
What I am saying is that beautiful, beautiful Michelle has the potential to counter in a real and powerful way the still all-too-real internalized belief by many dark-skinned black American women that we are still not pretty enough, not desirable enough, not worthy to be loved. Howl all you want; there is no use in pretending this stuff doesn't still cut deep among us. Check out that young sister's film re-creating the Clark black doll experience. Watch that last little black girl as she points to that little black doll, and get back to me.
Maybe Barack made this choice because of his international upbringing. Maybe he did the hard work early on of rooting around in his subconscious, teasing out which parts of his identity were inherent, which were random, which were family-based, and, yes, which were imposed by cultural hegemony. Or, maybe he just liked the way she smiled at him. Barack looked past what Hollywood and Madison Avenue and even BET would have said about Michelle and saw the stunning beauty she possessed. He chose one of us.
More importantly, Michelle Obama seems to take his open adoration of her in stride, as if it were simply nothing more than she deserved. Concept! New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd can misconstrue Michelle's wifely complaints about Barack not putting away the butter as emasculating all she wants. Some of us hear, in those affectionate jibes, something completely different, something much more about her than about him: She loves, respects, and adores Barack, but she is the prize, and she damn well knows it. He better know it, too.
Kim McLarin is a regular contributor to The Root.