today in black history

April 14, 2024

Elston Howard becomes the first Black player on the New York Yankees baseball team on this date in 1955.

Mrs. Obama on Center Stage

POSTED: September 04, 2012, 12:00 am

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When Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama steps to the podium on the stage of the Time Warner Cable Arena tonight in Charlotte it will be a critical moment in the re-election campaign of her husband. It will of course be historic, the first African-American woman to head a presidential household to address a political convention. We resist using the traditional and antiquated title of “First Lady” in describing Mrs. Obama because she far exceeds the limited expectations that title suggests. She is an intelligent, educated woman – Princeton and Harvard Law School – a devoted mother and one known to cut a mean figure on the red carpet. While the President’s popularity gets sandwiched by the partisan winds, Michelle Obama is widely embraced and loved for her modern sensibility, acknowledgment of historical truths, passion for the future, and humor. In many ways, she was ready-made to fill the role she presently plays in our nation.

Tonight, Mrs. Obama will be the equivalent of the second batter in the lineup of a baseball game. She doesn’t have to hit the ball out of the park, although we suspect she will put it over the fence. Her job is to advance the runner on the base path – the President. We expect her to hit well above average because she has a powerful story to tell; a narrative about struggle, overcoming odds, facing fears and perseverance.

“She can score major points tonight by articulating a vision for women that respects their intelligence; ability to compete at all levels, right to equal pay and their right to self-determination over their health and wellness.”

While the rest of us speculate on what life must be like for this First Family, only those living on the second floor of the White House truly know the burden personally and politically of filling such a historic role. Mrs. Obama has lived through an experience few of us can imagine. Yes, in any ways the Obama story is familiar: two college educated young people meeting while working at a law firm, going on a first date – to see Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” – falling in love, marrying, having children and experiencing all the joys and challenges of married life. Their story departs from the norm as two gifted people allow fate to move them in a direction they had not planned or foresaw, but accepted with grace and humility. Their path to the White House, while exhilarating, was marked by the weight of history and painted by the unresolved issue of race in America. Unlike no other First Lady, Michelle Obama has had to walk the fine line of race and gender, and like the President, has done so with remarkable grace in the face of some of the residual ugliness in our country.

Tonight, she will set the tone for the campaign. We expect her to extol the President’s landmark efforts to expand health care coverage in our nation and his leadership on school reform. And we suspect the message will also acknowledge the administration’s efforts to assist the college going population. Mrs. Obama will also likely speak directly to the nation’s economic anxiety and remind those watching the convention that her husband dealt the hand he was given, reshuffled the deck and is moving the country toward recovery; albeit slower than any of us would hope or need to have occur. One area where we anticipate Mrs. Obama to hit her mark is an appeal to women as a direct response to the ‘stand by your man’ sentiments of Mrs. Romney last week in Tampa Bay. She can score major points tonight by articulating a vision for women that respects their intelligence; ability to compete at all levels, right to equal pay and their right to self-determination over their health and wellness. The electoral gender gap, with woman favoring Democrats, can be widened even further if Mrs. Obama puts on full display the Neanderthal thinking of the Republican Party, best personified in the recent comments of Missouri GOP senatorial candidate Rep. Todd Akin who spoke of “legitimate rape” when discussing abortion.

Not to be lost in the moment is the celebration of Black womanhood that will be at the podium in the presence of Michelle Obama. Just as significant as seeing an African-American male standing behind the presidential seal, is seeing a Black woman gracing the White House. Mrs. Obama has redefined who can be beautiful and intelligent, and who can be strong and a good mother, and who can serve as a role model. In all her fabulousness, she has not hung up her race in the closet, as some mistakenly accuse the President, and she has sought to be a healthy example for Black women; taking on childhood obesity, exercise and healthy eating as her major causes. Her legacy will endure long past her residency in the White House.

We wait with great anticipation Mrs. Obama’s message.

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