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Thursday, June 19, 2008



Michelle: Hold Your Head High; We Got Your Back

By Sandra Kobrin - WeNews commentator

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's Enews.

(WOMENSENEWS)--If you thought the way Hillary Clinton was treated by the media was a nightmare, brace yourself for what's going on with Michelle Obama.

With Hillary gone, the African-American wife of the Democratic nominee is the new woman to demonize.

Exhibit A is "Obama's Baby Mama," a caption Fox News used to identify Michelle last week. Baby Mama? Calling the wife of the presidential hopeful a term for an unmarried woman no longer involved with the father of her children? Why?

Nearly next in line is the don't-let-it-die brouhaha over the comment she made in February, four months ago, while campaigning in Wisconsin, when she said "for the first time I'm really proud to be an American." She was just saying it was great to see people turning out in droves to vote. But it got warped and retailed as anti-American, with the "really" part of her comment typically lost in the quoting.

Then there's the outright lie being spread all over the Net and fuelled by Fox News that she used the word "whitey" in a speech at Trinity Church. Conveniently enough the tape is nowhere to be seen. Geraldo Rivera has bet $100 on the rumor being false and while I hate to agree with Geraldo, I'd say that's a safe gamble.

One by one these incidents add up to an effort to portray a warm, humorous, gracious, hard-working professional woman and an apparently devoted wife and mother as a racist shrew.

Why the Fear?

Why are people so afraid of her?

Is it because she's smart, educated, outspoken, 6 feet tall and an African American woman?

I think so.

Is it because many people are somewhat OK with the idea of an African American president but are still petrified by the idea of an African American first lady?

Could be. That double whammy; African American and a woman.

Is it because destroying her reputation harms her husband's chances of winning?

You bet.

But don't worry Michelle, we got your back. We're not going to let them slam you and marginalize you. There are many women--white women and those of color--in the trenches and on your side.

Friends to the Rescue

Gina McCauley, a 32 year-old African American blogger, is one.

"The whole country doesn't know what to do about Michelle," says McCauley, who started "What About our Daughters," a blog by and for black women. A few days ago she launched to track the slings and arrows aimed at Michelle.

"I was getting so many e-mails every day citing horrible things being said about Michelle, I just had to create this separate site to let people know," she said. Her main site was being overrun with negative posts not only about Michelle but also the Obama daughters, including one referring to them "nappy headed ho's."

A cartoon that briefly appeared last month on the progressive Daily Kos site was there too, offering a glaring example of what can only be explained by complete cultural incompetence. The drawing showed Michelle being lynched and branded.

The point was to portray the ferocity of Republican attacks against Michelle that could be expected and the site quickly took down the offensive image.

Mark Lamont Hill, an assistant professor at Temple University, was one of those who came to Michelle's aid in that instance.

'The Last Thing We Need'

"The last thing we need is the normalization of images depicting the abuse of black female bodies," he wrote in The Root, which offers a daily array of online news commentary from a variety of variety of black perspectives. "Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that such tactics would be used against any of the other potential First Ladies. Can you imagine Bill O'Reilly talking about lynching Nancy Reagan?" has 10 volunteer employees who scan the media daily to monitor how Michelle is being portrayed.

"Many Americans, both Republican and Democrat, can't deal with a strong smart black woman," says McCauley. "They're used to the black women they see on TV, either passive or funny. Michelle just doesn't fit and they don't like that."

What do they like?

Apparently the general preference is for first ladies who are docile, smiling and know their place.

Four years ago the Republicans went after Theresa Heinz Kerry, the outspoken, educated, foreign-born wife of Democratic nominee John Kerry, for being too opinionated and for acting as his advisor.

Official Hostess Preferred

A USA TODAY-MacNeil-Lehrer Productions-Gallup Poll conducted during the Kerry campaign found "the majority of Americans said the first lady shouldn't be a formal advisor to the president, two thirds said it wouldn't be appropriate for her to be elected to office and nearly half said she shouldn't hold a job in the private sector. And almost everyone said she could serve as an official hostess at White House events and champion a non-partisan cause. Being the president's confidante and volunteering for a charity are widely acceptable, too."

Cassandra West, formerly the women's section editor of the Chicago Tribune and now director of communications for the Chicago Foundation for Women, wrote the first profile of Michelle Obama to run after Barack delivered the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.

"Michelle was genuine, interested in others, and easy to talk to," West said. "Yes she's got opinions, but what educated, informed, intelligent, woman doesn't?"

West sees the attacks as politically strategic. "To damage her reputation is to destroy her husband's campaign. That's the reason for this. Some tactics are to hurt the person closest to the candidate. We've never seen a potential white first lady being treated this harshly."

The Obama campaign is well aware of what's going on. It has hired longtime Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter to work as Michelle's chief of staff, with her first order of business being the defense and enhancement of her boss's media image.

"She also will lead a war room to fight attacks against Mrs. Obama," Adam Nagourney wrote in the New York Times political blog on Monday.

War Room?

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at . -

Below is (my) answer to their requests for comments:

While I am horrified at the racist, sexist garbage being hurled at Michelle Obama, I also have to ask why some of the same people now justifiably expressing outrage didn't do the same when similar misogyny was hurled at Hillary. Why did the Obama camp stand by in silence when misogyny benefited their candidate, yet are now beside themselves when the focus has changed?

Does anyone really think Hillary could have defended herself...or Bill have defended her... against the barbarism? That only would have stepped up the attacks. Only Senator Obama was in a position to confront the misogyny. Had he similarly confronted sexism as he so eloquently did racism, perhaps Michelle would not now be facing what they threw at Hillary ..and perhaps more.

As far as the unspeakable lynching depiction of Michelle, keep in mind that an on-line Time magazine depicted Hillary tied to railroad tracks. Variation of a theme... and either case depicts a race to decency's bottom of the barrel. In addition, on national TV, the likes of Chris Matthews, Don Imus and Tucker Carlson, etc. called Senator Clinton a she devil, a witch, the Antichrist, Lady MacBeth... ad nauseum. And on radio, NPR's Ken Rudin compared her to the stalker in Fatal Attraction and Air America's Randi Rhodes called her a "big fucking whore." Etc. Etc. Never mind the nutcrackers and stuff like 'Bro's not Hos" tee-shirts.

There will those that argue about the right of free speech...but with freedom comes responsibility. It's still not acceptable to yell fire in a crowded theater. But while, we're "shocked, shocked" by racism, apparently sexism is so much a part of the national discourse it is deemed acceptable...until it hits home. It shouldn't matter whether you agree with someone's politics, that type of misogyny is should never acceptable and is never justified.

I'm surprised that some are just learning the lesson that monsters who spew such garbage are equal opportunity employers...especially when their target is an intelligent, educated, successful woman. Like Hillary Clinton. Like Michelle Obama. Tragically, adding African American to the mix only gives the haters more ammunition. So to those who stood by in silence when Hillary was the target yet are now angered at the treatment of Michelle, I remind them of the "First they came"...lesson from a German pastor at the end of World War II. When you allow another person to be brutalized, eventually the brutality will come to you. Or your candidate. Or your candidate's wife.

It should also be a lesson that, if Senator Obama had addressed the misogyny, a good portion of 18,000,000 voters would not feel his candidacy had been obtained by media attacks and party manipulated means. And even if the eventual outcome of the primary season ended up exactly as is it did, many of those voters would not now be planning to desert the democratic party.

As for myself, for the first time since I was a high school sophomore, I am not planning to work on a presidential election. Instead, I am planning to devote my time and energy to nationwide coalitions forming to end sexism (and every other unspeakable ism) in the media.

Olivia Taylor-Young
Cave Junction, Oregon.

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