Every now and then a public story will touch a nerve deep within me and I can’t let it go because it is too close to home. I realized that last night when I found myself up later than I had intended to stay up after hearing the story about the current First Lady of the United States and the run in she had with a heckler at a private event.
For those not interested in reading the story, the basic gist is that Michelle Obama was speaking at a private fundraiser held in a private home. Mrs. Obama was apparently in the middle of her prepared speech when a gay rights activist who has been identified as Ellen Sturtz started yelling for “President Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” It seems that Mrs. Obama wasn’t in the mood for that and replied by saying “One of the things I don’t do well is this,” “listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving.” Various reports mention that Mrs. Obama looked Sturtz in the eye and that’s where the story gets a bit strange. Sturtz claims she was taken aback by Mrs. Obama’s response to being heckled in the middle of her speech and to say the media is having a field day is an understatement.
Some members of the media have stated that Mrs. Obama was out of line, really? Someone yells something at me that I can’t personally do anything about and I am required to be a big sweetheart about it? There was nothing offensive about Mrs. Obama’s response because as a society, our track record of respect given to women of color is sketchy at best. Mrs. Obama was firm and polite; there is also the fact that a private event was probably not the place for Ellen Sturtz to take direct action, no matter how effective such tactics can be.
Of course what is most fascinating is that reaction to Mrs. Obama falls almost neatly along racial and class lines. Many white commenters online have alluded to Mrs. Obama being uppity, being rude, thinking she is something special. Um…this woman is accomplished in her own right, a double Ivy League grad, successful professional and the backbone of the president of the United States. That guy who was and still is the first non-white President of the United States. I think it’s safe to say she is not an average Jane.
However for those of us who fall outside of society’s favored class, we are hearing something else in this so called event. We are hearing the same old chorus that attempts to stifle us when we speak our truth, the chorus that says we must do XYZ lest we appear to be scary and fall into that tired and overused trope of the Angry Black Woman who is a 1st cousin to Sapphire. The Angry Black Woman is any and every Black woman who dares to show emotion, to reveal our truth. To be a Black woman is to know that you must wear your mask 99% of the time because this culture will not validate our feelings, our feelings will be turned against us, used as a sign of our defaults.
Michelle Obama did what many a professional Black woman has either had to do or wanted to do at some point in her life. She didn’t stuff herself down; she stood strong in her truth. Period. How that truth is received depends on people being willing to examine themselves and why when certain people speak their truth, it is uppity, yet when others speak their truth, it is brave, it is accepted.
Truth in America is all about the double standard and until we are ready to tear that standard down we will never progress far no matter how we dress things up.
PS: Yeah, yeah…typos. This post was written on the fly wedged between meetings.