One magazine put her on the cover, in a drawing, with a huge Afro and a machine gun. When she fist-bumped her husband on the campaign trail, it was called a “terrorist fist jab”.
As a potential First Lady, Michelle Obama faced the usual scrutiny when her husband was running for the White House in 2007-2008. And some more, as an African American.
“You see, graduates,” Obama told graduating students of a predominantly black university on Saturday, “I didn’t start out as the fully-formed First Lady who stands before you today.”
She had had her “share of bumps along the way”, she added, driving straight into America’s continuing struggle with race relations, and its recent manifestations.
“(As) potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?”
One magazine put her on the cover, in a drawing, with a “huge Afro and a machine gun”. She was taken aback. “Now, yeah, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit. It made me wonder, just how are people seeing me. — as a cartoon.”
She recalled the first time she and her husband exchanged a fist-bump after a victory in the primaries. It was described as a “terrorist fist jab”, she said.
She proceeded to list out some of the other terms used to describe her that were unmistakably wrapped in racial stereotypes: “I was one of my husband’s ‘cronies of color’ .… (and) Cable news once charmingly referred to me as ‘Obama’s Baby Mama’”.
She said the president continues to face some of those insults and slights — some people continue to question his citizenship.
The Obamas have been careful not to press race issues too much mindful of the president’s desire to be not seen as only a black president, sometimes to the disappointment to the community.
But the president has begun to address the issue more robustly than before in recent speeches and comments specially in the wake of Ferguson, New York and Baltimore.
And so has the first lady. She kicked up a minor media storm last week when she said museums in the US are unwelcoming of minority children, like herself growing up.
“The road ahead is not going to be easy,” the first lady told the graduating students on Saturday, adding, “It never is, especially for folks like you and me.”