Michelle Obama Demands Respect And We Love Her For It6/05/2013
Few of us could fill First Lady Michelle Obama's shoes and handle the hurdles she faces as the first Black woman in the East Wing of t...
Few of us could fill First Lady Michelle Obama's shoes and handle the hurdles she faces as the first Black woman in the East Wing of the White House with such grace.
Detractors on the Right and Left hurl baseless, nonsensical criticisms at her family, but the jabs directed at the First Lady are often the most vicious and the most ludicrous. Everything from her appearance and wardrobe to her character and mothering choices come under fire daily.
And while Mrs. Obama does not possess her husband's unflappable demeanor, she always manages to keep her composure. When Jodi Kantor, in her book, attempted to paint Michelle Obama as a domineering spouse, the First Lady collected herself to tell the world on national television that she is not “some angry black woman.”
Despite Mrs. Obama's attempts to eschew the label, the cultural myths about Black women persist. They will never die. While correcting these mischaracterizations is important, Black women cannot fall into a trap of assuming an interminably defensive stance. Sometimes you have to let people know exactly what you will and will not tolerate.
That's precisely what she did at a private fundraiser in Washington. When activist Ellen Sturtz interrupted her while she spoke, Mrs. Obama stopped her remarks to speak to Sturtz. According to the transcript provided by the White House and another press report she said, “One of the things I don't do well is this. Do you understand?” She went on to tell Sturtz face-to-face, “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
The First Lady's approval ratings remain so high, in part, because of her personality. She's warm and genuine. Mrs. Obama puts on no airs, but on this evening she shared a rawness we haven't seen from her since the '08 campaign. This was an honest, human moment – one that clearly caught Sturtz by surprise.
Sturtz told the press that she was “taken aback” because the first lady “came right down in [her] face.” Sturtz later reached into the bag of predictable tropes and asserted that she “wasn't scared at all.”
The question is what, exactly, should she have been afraid of? Michelle Obama said that she would remove herself from the situation when, clearly, having Sturtz removed would have been more appropriate. This woman accosted the First Lady in an intimate gathering, yet she's taken aback and telling the world she's not scared.
Ellen Sturtz put her unchecked entitlement on full display – an entitlement that's led her to a sense of perpetual victimhood. If one has the audacity to incite a confrontation, she should not be surprised when the target chooses to handle the matter directly.
Sturtz's actions did nothing to advance her cause. While she sought to embarrass the First Lady, she made herself and her organization look like petty fools.
Black women's response to to FLOTUS moment was both heartening and heartbreaking – as discourse about Black womanhood tends to be. The #FLOTUSSpeaksForMe hashtag on Twitter reveals the psychic toll of overt and micro aggressions. Many of us are stuffed into boxes meant to strip us of our natural instincts and compel compliance with uneven racial power dynamics.
For colored girls who've had to swallow our tongues when we really wanted to snatch off our earrings...
— Prison Culture (@prisonculture) June 5, 2013
Mrs. Obama's response was bigger than a single moment for many of us. Our humanity will no longer be collateral damage for those with an agenda. Demanding basic respect isn't aggressive or in poor taste. It is an act of self-care. And while I adore the glamour and brilliance she's brought to the world's stage, this is the Michelle Obama I love to see.
Update: Audio from the event has emerged. Listen here.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster