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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Trashing of Michelle

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If millions of people are truly outraged over sexism in politics following the defeat of Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, it’s obvious what the next target should be: the brazen denigration of another accomplished woman in public life—Michelle Obama.

During the historic Democratic primaries, the media enjoyed provoking a phony debate about which was harder to overcome in American society: racism or sexism. Neither is acceptable. But it’s now apparent that the most scurrilous attacks were being saved for a black woman on track to become the nation’s first African-American first lady.

Never mind that Michelle Obama, like her husband, is a brilliant Harvard Law School graduate or that she is a successful administrator in one of the nation’s leading hospitals and the mother of two terrific girls.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama writes in his book, The Audacity of Hope, that he is used to being told by people who have worked with Michelle on a project or heard her speak, “You know I think the world of you, Barack, but your wife … wow!”

People all over America, black and white, let their children stay up late to see history being made the night Obama clinched the nomination. It was impossible not to smile as Barack and Michelle celebrated before 20,000 cheering Minnesotans, and Michelle gave her husband a playful fist bump.

Even sheltered whites who weren’t familiar with the gesture couldn’t mistake the love and exuberance. Across America, tears welled up.

It wasn’t until the next day that TV viewers started seeing replays of those two fists in slow motion. It was reminiscent of that jerky, slow-motion video of Jack Ruby moving out of the crowd to murder Lee Harvey Oswald after the Kennedy assassination.

Then, TV viewers started hearing the instant media experts “analyzing” the layers of sinister meaning behind the exotic black ritual that millions foolishly thought was simply a proud wife saying, “You go, baby.” It culminated with one of those interchangeable Fox News anchors, a woman of no discernable journalistic talents, picking up a Republican Internet attack line to refer to this strange new form of communication between black people as a “terrorist fist jab.”

A few days later, under the guise of raising questions about the fairness of attacks on Michelle, Fox News demonstrated that no black woman in America could ever rise above being infantilized by the media. The backdrop to the contrived Fox News report was one of those graphic headlines: “Outraged liberals: Stop picking on Obama’s baby mama.”

Despicable Tactics
First, there is nothing liberal about being outraged by the trashing of a highly intelligent, successful black woman simply because she is married to the Democratic presidential nominee. Every decent person in America should be outraged.

But, most of all, since when does a national news channel, even an extremely biased right-wing news channel, use insulting ghetto language to refer to a potential first lady of the United States? Does the fact that Michelle Obama is black mean she no longer deserves even minimal respect from the media? Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon or Laura Bush never had the legitimacy of their children questioned. “Baby mama” is black street slang for the unmarried mother of a man’s child. Since Barack and Michelle are lovingly married professionals on the brink of achieving the highest political office in the land, how could that phrase possibly apply to them? For racists, however, one black woman is pretty much like another. Actually, racist attacks on Michelle have been going on for some time on the Internet on conservative Republican Web sites. That’s where Fox News originally got that absurd reference to a terrorist fist jab.

For weeks, right-wing Republican blogs have been promoting rumors of an explosive videotape of Michelle speaking from the pulpit of the couple’s former Chicago church, Trinity United Church of Christ, allegedly spewing hatred against “whitey.”

The Obama campaign had to start a Web site, fightthesmears.com, to make it clear Michelle Obama has never used that word or ever spoken from the pulpit of the black church that has been demonized by the right for preaching that racism exists in America. Everyone who heard Michelle’s Milwaukee speech during the Wisconsin primary understood exactly what she was saying about never being prouder of Americans of all races for rallying around her husband. Right-wing commentators are still twisting those words to try to smear Michelle as unpatriotic.

The nomination of Barack Obama is undoubtedly historic, but journalists are still trashing these admirable people because of their race. Were it not for race, the media would be preparing us for the kind of fairy tale first family this country enjoyed when Jackie Kennedy was reshaping fashion and John-John was crawling under the president’s desk.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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