Probing Too Deeply Into Michelle Obama's Roots

A report of the first lady's slave and slave-holding ancestors provokes some discomfort and annoyance

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The New York Times has traced Michelle Obama's roots back to both slaves and slave owners, and some pundits aren't quite sure what to make of it. Reaction ranged from the celebratory, to the uncomfortable, to the incredulous, with some bloggers asking how the first lady's mixed ancestry — a heritage most black Americans share — could be considered news at all. A look at the roots of the debate:

  • A Great American Story, said David Paul Kuhn at RealClear Politics. "It captured the convergence of a shameful past and a proud present. It demonstrated why the past is not separate from the present. And it also highlighted why race is often more than just black and white."
  • Do We Have to Talk About This? Andrew Belonsky asked at Gawker. The story, he wrote, "is not a terribly uplifting tale, no, nor is it terribly original, but the paper seems to think it's newsworthy because — well, Mrs. Obama's the President's wife. And we're torn about this peg." He says the news "may only inflame all those anti-Obama racists roaming out there."
  • Is it Too Personal? Latoya Peterson asks at Jezebel. "Having a deeply personal part of one's ancestry out for the world to comment upon is a little unnerving. I don't think what the reporters did was wrong - but as a person who also only has a hazy grasp of her ancestry, I just find it unsettling."
  • Americans Need a History Lesson, Adam Serwer writes at Twitter. He wants to know why some white people are shocked that black people have slave-owning ancestors. Something tells me "our children isn't learning," he says. The Root blog and Ta-Nehisi Coates agree. "I'm not sure why this is news," Coates writes at The Atlantic. "Still, there is one advantage here. People who think Barack Obama 'isn't really black,' are now free to extend that logic to Michelle. One day they'll realize that, by their lights, no one is. Or not."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.