I've been leery about talking about Michelle Obama on the blog, while I knew this story was coming out--I didn't want to preempt myself. But I'd like to discuss some aspects of the story now. I'd also like to answer any questions that you guys might have. Anyway, I've noticed in comments that there's a lot of attention being paid to the lede. A lot of that has to do with me and my Dad debating the lede in the video, but also, I think it probably is a bit jarring. Here's the lede again:
The first time I saw Michelle Obama in the flesh, I almost took her for white. It was late July. Pundits were taking whispered bets on the fate of Hillary Clinton's female supporters. In part to heal the intraparty rift, and in part to raise some cash, Obama was presiding over a Chicago luncheon for Democratic women. They were an opulent, multiracial, mostly middle-aged bunch, in pantsuits and conservative dresses. Clinton-turned-Obama staffer Patti Solis Doyle waved from the floor when she was introduced. One of Clinton's longtime backers appealed for unity. Only a few weeks earlier, Obama had appeared on The View in a striking black-and-white floral dress. Now, throughout the room, some of the women were decked out in their best version of that number. Obama flashed her trademark sense of humor, her long arms cutting the air, as she made her points.
I'd flown into Midway that morning and driven down Lake Shore Drive, with William DeVaughn crooning "Be Thankful for What You Got" in the background. But even as I took in the stately beauty of Michigan Avenue, notions of Michelle Obama were spinning around in my head. I thought of an ecstatic phone call from my sister Kelley: "You have to ask her how she holds it down!" I thought of my Atlanta aunts, partisans of the Alpha Kappa Alpha pink and green, crowing over Obama's acceptance of an honorary membership that same month: "Tell her she made the right choice." I thought of a Chicago homeboy who'd summed her up for me: "Michelle is a six-foot black woman who says what she means."
And then I thought of an image from last February, when Michelle Obama, in a gray sweater and a non-smile, slipped into a box marked Angry Black Woman. "For the first time in my adult life," she had told a Milwaukee rally, "I am proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." When I first saw that clip, I could almost hear the trapdoor opening. In that instant, Michelle Obama became a symbol of her husband's otherness. And for much of the rest of the campaign season, the opinion media obsessed over her love--or lack of love--of country.
Now, waiting in that cavernous downtown Hilton ballroom, I did not think I'd find Ida Wells or Stokely Carmichael. I did not expect to see Michelle Obama with her fist in the air, slinging bean pies, or hawking The Final Call. But still, I was unprepared for what I did encounter: Michelle Obama recounting her life as if she were an old stevedore hungering for the long-lost neighborhood of yore.
My greatest fear, in regards to this story, is that people will say, "Oh yeah that's the article where that dude accused Michelle of acting white." I swear I was coming home yesterday from my reading in Brooknam shuddering at the possibility. I don't want people thinking that that lede is there because Michelle Obama is successful, the product of a two family home, and isn't from the projects. Indeed, I think the piece argues quite the opposite. I think if you watch the video, and read the whole article, the observation makes a little more sense. I also think the initial observation--like most writing--says more about me, than it does about her. You may not agree with it, but I think you can see that it isn't the case that I literally almost took her for white.
That said, had I to do it again, I probably would have dropped that whole device for a couple reasons. 1.) Given what just happened in this campaign and all the stupid, ugly "black enough" debate we've had going, I hate being tied into that. 2.) I don't want readers tied up on that particular question, and thus not getting into the rest of the article.
It would be really convenient if I could blame my editors here and tell you that the White Satan Known As The Atlantic, twisted a brother's words. Meh, the truth it was my idea. Moreover, I haven't worked for a publication, in a long time, that's been so singurlarly obsessed with letting the writer speak for himself. So on that point, I take the fall. But I also take the lesson.