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July 17th, 2008
12:49 PM ET

Michelle Obama: Armed and dangerous

Faye Wattleton
AC360° Contributor
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

Last week my daughter Felicia and I attended the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. As usual, Chris Rock brought his profound comedic talent to sharply insightful social commentary. “It’s going to be hard for a sister to be first lady … because a black woman can’t play the back role of a relationship,” he said.

Mr. Rock alluded to the common racial stereotype that burdens African-American women: by virtue of our well-documented historical role as the strength of the family, we’re characterized as domineering and aggressive. The latest cruelty, extreme even for political satire, was cast in a cartoon of a kinky-haired, armed and dangerous Michelle Obama, on the cover of The New Yorker.

Mrs. Obama, a Princeton- and Harvard-educated health care executive who may become the nation’s first African-American First Lady, has shown nothing in her character to justify an insult of this magnitude. While all women are denigrated by the New Yorker’s cover, the attack on Mrs. Obama resonates even more deeply with African-American women.

Even in such ascendancy, the candidate’s wife can’t escape the place African-American women continue to occupy whether in the media or in the doctor’s office; at the bottom of the image totem pole; a spot not even the most accomplished among us can avoid. African-American women face wage disparities reflective of the race and gender gap, earning 15 percent lower than white women and 10 percent lower than African-American men. We’re the recipients of 54 percent of the nation’s subprime loans. AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women between the ages of 25 and 44, and the rate of unintended pregnancies is twice that of our white counterparts. Yet, one in five African-American women doesn’t have medical insurance.

The New Yorker attempted to explain the cover as exposing the issues of scare politics in this year’s presidential election and only an example of the magazine’s legendary satire. This rationale fails to measure the impact of the visual absorption of a magazine that will be on display at most news stands and supermarket checkout counters throughout the country for those who don’t get the point and accept the messages consciously or subconsciously at face value. No explanation of the intent behind the denigrating cartoon will prevent the damage caused by reinforcing stereotypes that African-American women’s “intimidating presence” is to be feared, rather than being given the credit for playing a crucial role, through strength, fortitude and nurturing to advance the aspirations of our race.

We will survive racist satire. For those who thought the debate over the intersection of race and gender, in this year’s election, was over with Sen. Barack Obama’s call for a post-racist society and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s demise, the news is that Michelle Obama is her proxy. The atmosphere is turning over the cover of our ugliest social tensions: women and race.


Filed under: Faye Wattleton • Raw Politics
soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. Pat Watson

    The magazine was wrong to put a picture like that on the front cover. We need to look beyond the picture at this time to see the true nature of the people trying to depict the satire of the Obama's. This goes beyond a negative picture on a magazine cover. This show's the hearts of a lot of people,though not all,about an open racial wound that has not been allowed to heal. We should not in the year 2008 still have debates on racial issues. The real area to address is why we the American people cannot solve this problem area and move forward. We didnot ask for the problem of racism,it was given to us and if anyone should be upset it should be our people. The fact is we have had to live above hatefulness and still survive as we are survivors and seek peace as opposed to hatefulness. We are all human beings and we all have feelings and that alone should make us be kind to each other.

    July 18, 2008 at 5:48 am |
  2. DonaWheeler

    Early on when Mrs Obama was asked in an interview if Mr Obama ever changed his mind, she responded, "yes I change it for him every day" which I have not seen in print nor in a sound bite, but for me it was a huge turn off. Even if that is the case to say so to the nation was not a cool thing in my mind.
    I live in the south, and I do not have racial tendicies, my best friends are ethnic, but it is the demenor, the entitled attitude that has the Obama's akin to the second coming, when Mr Obama only has 3 years political experience, I shutter to think what his presidency will bring to the US.Yes, we can is a cheer but empty retoric. The proof is in tthe pudding...

    July 18, 2008 at 1:57 am |
  3. Mike in NYC

    Response to Rosie -

    You wrote:

    "And I would like to confess that I am not a racist."

    Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds? It's like you're going up in front of an Inquisition to confess your "sins."

    You wrote:

    "My parents never taught me that God made some people better than he did others."

    Reality taught me that.

    I have no obligation to feel "compassion" for blacks in America today. The social pathologies that plague their community have caused untold grief and suffering for the nation as a whole, and there seems to be no end in sight.

    July 18, 2008 at 1:38 am |
  4. Alex

    That cartoon, satire or whatever you want to call it reminded me of a picture from the past, that of Angela Davis. For someone who the Democrats want to portray as "Presidential," that sure wasn't exactly "Presidential" to me. But leave it to the Democrats. They excel at destroying their own candidates. But remember, it was only meant as a bit of humor....HA! HA! Not funny!

    July 18, 2008 at 1:23 am |
  5. Tori

    It seems to me that the media wants to talk about how Michelle is always stepping in front of Obama. They want to cover the negatives of her or what they make of her....but I don't hear anyone talking about how McCain is married to a recovering addict.

    July 18, 2008 at 12:11 am |
  6. A Girl from SC

    She seems to have a sence of entitlement.
    Very much like her husband.
    Obama takes the cake with his uppity attitude that for some reason, God only knows, he is qualified to run the county.

    Can Democrats drive him out of the race?
    Are we going to get stuck with him.

    he is not only embarrassing, but a con, a flip flopper and has weak moral values..

    He should step down. Period. Democrats will never win with him on the ticket. Too risky, no backbone and too much of an elitist.

    July 17, 2008 at 11:59 pm |
  7. lampe

    Is this a Pro-Obama site only? Why are people who want to voice their opinion on this matter that want to ask why all these people weren't this up-set when this crap was happening against Sen. Clinton voices not allowed? If this is just a Blog for Obama supporters just be nice enough to post it so I won't waste my time watching your show or typing

    July 17, 2008 at 9:31 pm |
  8. Annie Kate

    This magazine cover issue has sure been talked to death in the last few days. Regardless of what we think now about it, one day 50 to 100 years from now especially if Obama wins the Presidency but even if he doesn't, that cartoon/satire/whatever will make the history books to illustrate the myths and stereotypes the Obama's have had to contend with and overcome during this election. It might get footed as being controversial at the time it was first published but I bet our grandchildren will be seeing this illustration.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 17, 2008 at 9:28 pm |
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