Saturday, February 18, 2012
The Personal is Political: Black Folks Cry While Meeting Michelle Obama During a Tour of the White House
I know that some will inevitably mock, hate on, and introduce a crude type of realpolitik calculus into their analysis of the video log of First Lady Michelle Obama's surprise visit to a recent tour at the White House. These same folks will be doubly cruel and harsh in their critique of the emotional responses offered by the several dozen black women who were surprised by the First Lady.
Interestingly, while there was some genuine warmth and sentiment offered by a good many of the white folks who met the First Lady, the "thanks," "don't stop," "keep it up," tears, and a sense of close attachment and investment in her presence and success, were sentiments almost exclusive and uniform to the African American visitors. Sure, every person present that day got to meet a celebrity (which is a fun experience); but I doubt if many of them would have risen from the seat of a wheelchair in order to offer proper respect to Michelle Obama. The walk was as much symbolic as it was literal and expressive. In fact, I almost expected a curtsy to be offered by some of the older sisters to our Black American royalty.
Politics is about resources; politics is also about emotion. Oftentimes crude materialists forget that reality. I will admit that I shed a spontaneous tear when one of the elders whispered in Michelle Obama's ear. We can only guess at what was said between them. My imagination tells me that their words had something to do with the long arc of history, and how this elderly black woman, standing before the First Lady, is witnessing something she--and most Americans--once thought impossible.
Consider for a moment the following: for 80,000 days a white man was in the White House as President. At present, for little over three years a black man, his wife, and their kids are living in the White House. Just as many white folks in the South thought that the Apocalypse had come with the return of former slaves, now in Union blue as soldiers and liberators with guns, in watching Michelle Obama greet these guests I can only imagine how some of the most conservative, reactionary, and Right-wing whites and their allies must feel. As Michelle Obama hugs her guests, and black folks cry, there is a sense that history has come full circle.
It is broken, preeminent philosopher Foucault's idea of "disruption" is made real.
To her critics, this scene should not, cannot, and must not continue. Whiteness cannot allow it. In 2008, Barack Obama had the sheer unmitigated gall to run for the Office of the President of the United States of America and to win. His wife (and their dog, how dare he complete the Norman Rockwell photo?) has the nerve to meet and greet visitors to the White House. To them, this is tribalism run amok and one more sign that white folks are at risk, oppressed, and excluded in the Age of Obama.
For better or for worst, black folks have consistently voted for and supported white candidates for President who did not have our full and best interests at heart. Thus, the bargain with the devil that comes with navigating towards full citizenship. This leads to the mystery of why some white folks condemn our pride and joy at the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, and the symbolism of his family living in the White House, but they remain silent at the given and de facto reality that the President of the United States is and has always been white. For the white racial frame this is normal and accepted. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West: in keeping with the rules of nature, the President of the United States must be a white man.
That is the joke, is it not? The President of the United States does not need to be "raced" per se, it simply is a position held by a white person. Privilege is blinding. In watching Michelle Obama at the White House I can almost, note I said almost, understand the existential angst, rage, and cognitive upset felt by those invested in the twins of whiteness and conservatism at the idea of Barack Obama as President. In all, when white folks cry upon meeting a first lady it is patriotism. When black folks cry while meeting Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States, it is something other than "normal" or "acceptable."
These types of retrograde whites do not hate the Obamas personally--although the rage is directed towards them on a personal level--as these reactionaries hate the very idea of black personhood in any position of authority over them. They are the same folks that would rail against a black or brown (or even female) boss who has to sign their time card. Take that upset, multiply it by orders of magnitude, and then one can just begin to compute their hostility (and hatred) towards Barack Obama and his family.
Black Americans are the perpetual other, we are the anti-citizen. If you doubt that fact keep your eyes open for how conservatives and the Right will use, misrepresent, abuse, and lie about the events in this video. You have been forewarned.