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.


The Honourable Husband said...

The truth is, far too many Americans don't trust a person, of any colour, gender or persuasion, who shows emotion. Except, perhaps, anger.

Americans have seen too much fakery and pretend. Too many buddies who say they're your pal but shaft you. Too often hearing the phrase "win friends" welded to "influence people". Too many "great communicators" who usse faux warmth to conceal their intent rather than "communicate" it. Too much feigned concern for those less fortunate while blaming them.

To modern Americans, genuine emotion comes as a shock. For many years, we've told ourselves that love makes us victims, is a refuge of the weak, or is a burden rather than a joy. Maybe it's time to recognise that love for each other makes us strong.

I leave it to you, Chauncey, to decode the racial subtext of showing emotion in public. I'd contend, though, that tears are stigmatised from whatever colour eyes they emerge.

In 2012 America, tears show weakness and self-indulgence—or at worst, schmalz and fakery. So many crocodile tears are shed in American life that we have trouble understanding what the real ones mean, when we see them.

Did this photo-op have a political agenda, in this election year? Maybe. But the genuine warmth—indeed the love—for her fellow Americans left me thinking how few on the opposite side of politics would be willing—indeed capable—of doing what Michelle Obama did that day.

But when you are confronted with a real flesh-and-blood person who wants to give you a hug, can you maintain the hatred the politicians tell you that you're supposed to hold toward her and her family? In this case, the tears are powerful.

CNu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CNu said...

Between this and the old chinese women in San Francisco patting the first booty, the Brookings producers are pulling out ALL of Hollywood's tried and true methods for differentiating Double-O from the robotic vulture capitalist he'll be running against later this year.

Makes him no less a servant of worser and worst.

Matter fact, makes his casting in the role of "narrator in chief" about the most cynically devilish and heinous bit of scripting to come down the pike since....,

Shaw Kenawe said...

Wow! This was such a bright spot in an otherwise dreary day. I just love her natural warmth and genuineness.

And as a side thought: I've read so many ugly, ugly slams on rightwing blogs about Mrs. Obama's figure. They, of course, have never seen her in person. She looks like a model in this--not that it matters a whole lot, because it doesn't--but anyone who disparages her on that issue is plainly an idiot and, needless to say, blind.

She. Looks. Fabulous!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this.

It has a world of stories behind it.

nomad said...

Gotta be said cause it's a glaring irony. Not to mention an utterly disgusting one.
"Black folks have consistently voted for and supported white candidates for President who did not have our full and best interests at heart. "

Now they get to vote for a black one who doesn't "have their full and best interests at heart." But that's not important. The important thing is having his lovely black ideal family in the White House makes us feel good. Now we can die happy.

chaunceydevega said...

@Honorable. Cool name. Yes, I think lots of people can hold hatred towards those who show nothing but warmth to them. We see it everyday in this country, and it has been present historically across the colorline for centuries. You have a generous heart--and are correct about how crocodile tears are a powerful weapon--but I wonder if those who have existential hate for the Obamas will see anything good in this video. We shall see.

@Cnu. Who would play him in the movie? Devil in Chief sounds like a great B horror movie!

@Shaw. She does look beautiful here. Yes, bright spots are nice.

@Anon. I wonder when someone will do some captions.

@Nomad. I threw that one in for you. Truth telling hurts. You are in many ways right, but you still can feel a bit of warmth at the historical precedent, no?

nomad said...

No. Just sadness.

CNu said...

Sadness and disgust at the jiggaboo cheering section that blesses and sanctions every lowlife, backsliding, scumbag gankmove that muhphuggin Alonzo Harris in the White House perpetrates...,

nomad said...

The political did become personal with me when a black man became President. First because I thought some aspects of my political situation might at last see the light of day. There might be some slight pivot towards the concerns of the still oppressed descendants of slaves. There was none at all. But the worse is Obama aligns me, by aligning black people as a whole, behind genocidal foreign policies. He put a black face on it. Got black people to validate it and in so doing tarnishes my image. I take it personal.

Mystere said...

I was fine until the second woman in a wheelchair stood up and walked over to greet the First Lady. I didn't start crying until the third wheelchair-supported woman did the same. As for the political value of the First Lady's appearance to greet this tour group, sure, it's there, but how many times has she done the same thing when no cameras were present?

The Obamas are a real family, living their lives in the public eye by choice (at least the parents are; their daughters, imho, appear to have adjusted well to the experience so far). Those who decry this and other events attended or hosted by Michelle Obama as political stunts seem, to me, to be incapable of seeing the essential element of these encounters: hope.

If Michelle Obama ever runs for President of the USA, I'll volunteer for her campaign. I have never done that for any other politician. Hope is a very, very powerful emotion.

Anonymous said...

True but we've got to do better, case in point

CNu said...

Obama aligns me, by aligning black people as a whole, behind genocidal foreign policies. He put a black face on it. Got black people to validate it and in so doing tarnishes my image. I take it personal.

Nomad is truth.

Folks peddling Alonzo Harris in the White House on the basis of emotional appeals to low-information constituents - are easily as bad as the very worst snake-oil shills for Ging-rick, Santorum, or Romney.

utterly disgusting....,

Jay said...

I would be much happier to have Mrs. Obama as president.

Anonymous said...

As much as I dislike the politician that President Obama has turned out to be, I can still admire him and more his wife for their accomplishments that led them to where they are today. Political or not, this was an honor to these people, I am sure. I can't honestly say that I would not have been a bawling fool, had I been there. Just seeing the video had me misty.

CNu said...

I can still admire him and more his wife for their accomplishments that led them to where they are today.

Any reaction so flagrantly irrational and paradoxical can only be characterized as worthy of exorcism...,

That you would actually endeavor to rationalize or justify it qualifies as responsible negroe stockholm syndrome.