After all the honors and acknowledgements had been bestowed, Mrs. Obama began her remarks by citing one of the proudest moments in the history of Tuskegee: the famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II—the first black fighting force in the U.S. Army Air Corp. She commended the achievement of these brave men against a backdrop of discrimination; these men had faced challenges and overcome them, surpassing society’s expectations.
Up to this point, I think most everyone would consider it a good speech, Mrs. Obama having built an appropriate platform from which to launch sentiments of hope and challenge to the graduating class. Instead, her speech careened into holding herself up as a victim who, despite a constant barrage of racial slights and indignities, rose to become First Lady.
Mrs. Obama spoke about questions she was asked during her husband’s presidential campaign. These were the same questions faced by most first ladies, but in her case, she was further questioned about her personality, her loudness, and her emasculating manner. No doubt that is a fact—those questions were raised, but do you really think they were asked because she is Black or because of her behavior—her words in the public arena? Her statement, For the first time in my life, I am proud of my country, would understandably provoke questions as to what was in her mind. Such questions are not racially motivated but borne of a curiosity as to why a person might feel that way. Unfortunately, a speech that began praising heroes and offering hope for the future became one mired in her personal struggles as the First Lady of the first black president. Worst still, these comments were followed by a dire warning to those young graduates: Mrs. Obama warned that the mere act of removing their caps and gowns would bring them back to the reality of the world—the reality that, without the packaging of a cap and gown, these graduates are just black. No-one will see beyond their blackness, the struggles they endured, the successes they achieved.
Based presumably on her and Mr. Obama’s experiences, Mrs. Obama rattled off a litany of grievances she said the graduates could expect because of other people’s assumptions. She spoke of people crossing the street to avoid them on the walk; store clerks scrutinizing their every move; people assuming they were the help at social events, and others questioning their intelligence, honesty, and love of country. It was bitter and, to young graduates gathered to hear words of inspiration, dampening and depressing. One might never guess the strides America has made or that her husband was indeed, the President.
The message she eventually got to after the diatribe on her struggles and what those disheartened students better expect from the world was that one should be true to oneself and one’s ambitions. But by then any positivity had been buried by the negative sentiment, Oh, by the way, you are black, so don’t forget it, because the world will remind you.
The history of this nation for the black race has been one of many challenges. Much has changed; much remains to be done. Reminding young black graduates of that fact does nothing to inspire them but instead sends the message, Don’t expect anything to change. Mrs. Obama has spent her life looking at things through the lens of her race. She has no other vision of how non-black people see things. Apparently she has no appreciation that most of us—regardless of race— face daunting challenges in life which include not being appreciated or understood by those around us. We either come to terms with it and move on, or we let it stew inside us like bitter tea until the pot boils over with hatred toward those from whom we expected more. The irony, of course, is that Mrs. Obama had it easier than many. She grew up in a middle class home that provided for her and she received degrees from Harvard and Princeton. She earned paychecks that were six figures over a decade ago and now lives in the White House. The vast majority of us will never see those things in our lifetime, but it is not because of skin color or because of some societal inequality or deprivation.
These young graduates from Tuskegee University are on the road to a better life. Maybe not be a rich or famous life, but it will be the life of a person who sought to raise the bar with an education and, in so doing, are now qualified for jobs that they might never have had otherwise. As they grow and start their own families, that education will come back to them time and again as the foundation of an inquiring and reasoning mind. In time, they will think for themselves and step away from those like Mrs. Obama, who want to remind them of the “yoke” of their blackness that they can never cast off. They will realize that they are individuals—human beings who face life’s challenges and move forward in one fashion or another—just like the rest of us.
That maturing process is a problem for the Left. If black people begin looking to the future more than dwell in the past, life improves. If they get more education, life improves. If they no longer are herded like sheep by those more interested in stirring their anger for political gain than in their well-being, if they no longer see the American welfare state as a free ride but more as the chains of modern day slavery, then they will change their minds and their vote. They will become a liability to the Left. Accordingly, the Left must remind them at every turn that they are black and their reality in this life is rooted in the history of racism. Is this the reminder that Mrs. Obama came to give? Did she come to remind them that they cannot be true to themselves because of the innate racism that exists?
Why is it that the First Lady could not bring herself to say how thankful she was to live in a nation where she gained an Ivy League education and now lives in the White House? Why could she not state how proud she is that her country is the place where educational opportunity abounds for all, as evidenced by the very graduation she was attending at Tuskegee? How could she not remind the graduates that their commencement from an institution of higher learning would open doors for them? No, instead Mrs. Obama chose to remind them that removing a cap and gown would send them back to the reality of being black. I think we know the reason for this and it goes back to her statement regarding being proud of her country: Mrs. Obama sees everything through the lens of her blackness—irrespective of how skewed that vision may be—and is ready to indict us wholesale despite how far we’ve come.
Regardless of her achievements in life—education, status, etc., Mrs. Obama is first and foremost an angry black woman who is willing to spread that anger and does so freely. How much better does life have to get before she becomes thankful for the opportunity to live it? It leads me to wonder if, when the Obamas depart the White House, it will be a removing of the cap and gown of sorts.
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