Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Michelle Obama's Pride

Those who were perplexed, annoyed and/or enraged by Mrs. Obama's statement that "for the first time in my adult life I'm proud of America" may want to take a look at HBO's contribution tonight to Black History Month, a documentary about Joe Louis.

Called, without irony, "a credit to his race," the heavyweight champion was exalted in 1938 for beating the exemplar of Nazi Germany, Max Schmeling, but never accepted as a true American. Decades later, when playing golf in San Diego, he found excrement in the first hole.

As a white child growing up in the Harlem ghetto, I saw how little of the pride that Michelle Obama now feels was within reach of its black residents. Movie placards in store windows would read "Gone With the Wind with Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen," followed in smaller type by "Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh."

In World War II, I was greeted by glares for sitting in the back of a bus in Charleston, South Carolina, and only my uniform spared me from more physical reactions by white riders.

In the 1950s, it took a Supreme Court desegregation decision to let children who looked like Michelle Obama go to school with those who didn't and, in the years afterward, they were beaten in the streets for marching with Martin Luther King for the audacity of wanting to exercise their right to vote.

In 1985, in her senior thesis, the future Mrs. Obama wrote, "My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before. I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong...it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

Now millions of Americans of all races are voting to make Barack Obama their president. His wife's pride is understandable, and those who attack her manner of expressing it would do well to recall its origins and examine their own motives.

8 comments:

jf said...

Years ago, a white professional ball player, who's name I don't recall for sure but it might have been Bill Bradley, said something like:

"if I were black, I wouldn't just be bitter, I'd be in jail."

Watch 'n Wait said...

Excellent examples. I'm proud of Michelle Obama and she's entitled to be proud now of Americans standing tall for her husband.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the jihadis all want the hope-a-dope for for Pres.

GRCOH said...

Maybe this will help one person see her comment in a different light. You are a real wordsmith.

Anonymous said...

Yes, those are very valid examples of the struggles and treatment of African Americans in this country. However, I believe all of the ire directed at Mrs. Obama comes from the fact that she has been an adult since 1982 and there have been many incredible, widely-acknowledged accomplishments made by African Americans in this country during that time. Is it only her own personal victories that matter and make this a worthy country to her?

Anonymous said...

It's a special kind of blindness that says what the least good that the smallest citizen does is to the glory of the state and the worst done in the state's name should be ignored.

You cannot get angry at the United States for prisoners tortured to death in Baghram but you should be proud of the country because a 10 year old boy donates to charity?

I am proud of many Americans. Often, however, the official respresentatives of my country let me down.

Liza said...

I knew exactly what Michelle Obama meant and you have to read her comment in it's larger context.

She wasn't an adult until the 80's and anyone who is that young has not seen Americans stand up for anything en masse.

We should have stood up for the Iraqis, but we did not. Now people are finally saying "enough."

Anonymous said...

In 1970 I was a young adult, joined the U.S.Navy when we were still called WAVES. I was proud to serve & proud to be an American.
Do you think I was full of confidence? NO, not at all, I needed training, direction, trial and error, teamwork, involvement.
America's programs available to African American's for the past 30 some years seems to be of no value.
The whole idea of cruel, unfair treatment of slaves is a nightmare of a story. My children came home from school/elementary in the late 80's... and said, "Mom did we do that to slaves?".
Nothing can fix the ignorance of the past. Is it Revenge that heals?