Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Michelle Obama: Not on the Spirit Team

"Hope is making a comeback and, let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change."
--Michelle Obama at a rally for her husband, presidential candidate, Barack Obama
Mainstream liberals and conservatives are in a tizzy about what Michelle Obama said. Now, I find the oaths to religion and hyper-patriotism that we require from political leaders (and their spouses) to be unproductive. But that aside, is it wrong to not be proud of one's country?
Proud: adj highly pleased, exultant
--Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Despite her many achievements, Michelle Obama is still a black woman in America. And here is what Americans too often forget: marginalized groups, perhaps especially black people, have a different relationship with this country than mainstream men and women. Our histories are different. We are prone to seeing and experiencing the worst of what the country has to offer. We have scars from times when our country and its people have not loved us. We care about America and many of us would never live anywhere else, but pride is sometimes elusive.
If America was high school, mainstream folks would be the spirit team, proudly wearing varsity jackets and class rings, painting their faces and screaming on the side lines at the big football game. The jocks and cheerleaders and popular kids--they get the best out of the high school experience. It is made for them. And they are proud. We marginalized people, we're not usually on the spirit team. We're more like the barely-tolerated goths and chess nerds. High school is not meant for us. We don't fit; we're outcasts. We cheer when our team wins, but our love is not fervent; it is tempered with reality. We know the side of high school that no one wants to talk about--the hypocrisy, the unfairness, the favoritism for some, the ostracizing of those who don't fit in.
If your parents were not allowed to vote until 1965, would you feel pride in your country? If your grandparents were rounded up into interment camps during World War II, would you feel pride in your country? If you and your partner were treated like second class citizens and not allowed to marry, would you feel pride in your country? If your people were the victims of genocide and forced relocation, would you feel pride in your country? If people on the street shouted "terrorist" at you after 9/11, would you feel pride in your country? If the governor stood at the door of a public school to keep your mother or father out, would you have pride in your country? If you were frequently stopped by police for driving a nice car while being the wrong color, would you have pride in your country? If all you knew of the American Dream was minimum wage and no health insurance, would you feel pride in your country?
Some might answer these questions with a negative. These people may not feel "highly pleased and exultant," but does that mean that they are bad Americans? Is Michelle Obama a bad American? Am I?
I do not know if I can call what I feel for my country "pride." I know that I care about America deeply, probably more than it cares about me as a black woman. I know that while the idea of living in another country for a while sounds exciting, I can't imagine being anything but an American. I believe strongly in America's founding principles, but I know that my country too often fails to live up to them. And that makes me disappointed and angry. I know America can do better. And I am a good citizen, so I am committed to helping the country right its wrongs. I am vocal. I am involved. I vote. Isn't that better than pride?


Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Tami,

Those goofballs who are attacking Michelle don't want to understand what she was really saying. They just want to attack.

I would imagine that their lives have been turned upside-down by Sen. Obama's success so far and the possibility if him becoming President.

ac said...

Genuis, sheer genius. Now does anyone have an email address for Mrs. McCain so I can send her a link and suggest she educate herself on the experiences of others? Not that she'll be First Lady but just in case she wants to brush up, 'cuz damn skippy Miss Thing needs to brush up if she thinks she's gonna take on Michelle. Please.

The above aside, I just wanted to share with you and your audience my take on this. I'm irritated to by how the "really" part of the qoute was left out of the intial reporting. She said she was "...really proud..." My take is that the qualifier of "really" suggests not that she hadn't been proud in the past, but that she was prouder in the present.

I wish we could call this out as the foolishness that it is but now is not the time to take our eyes off the prize. Did you see the Bill O'Reilly blurb running around about "lynching" michelle? DnA did a cross post on both too sense ( and jack and jill ( Shameful. Really a new low for O'Reilly.

I think the Obamas can't and shouldn't take the time to be distracted by this when they need to be putting their attention to Texas and Ohio. But those of us who find such imagery and utterings offensive should contact fix news in protest. ( This is as bad, worse I would argue, than suggesting Chelsea's being pimped out.

Yap Enquirer said...

This stuff is so maddening! And you are SO RIGHT to notice the way they are going after Michelle Obama on the "strong black" woman stereotype.

As for American pride, I often think that becomes a convenient cover that people use to justify unthinking acts of patriotism or to cloak xenophobia.

The truest act of patriotism and being "proud" of America that we can do is to voice dissent--to want to make the U.S. a better place for everyone.

Anonymous said...

I love your analogy. America as a High school. Love it. So true.


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