Michelle Obama is going to come under greater scrutiny now. Far more than Cindy McCain. Part of the reason for this is that she has been, and will be, a more active and outspoken campaigner. Another reason will be because she’s black.
Before I go further with this post, I want readers to understand that I loathe identity politics (though I do think identity politics has served to raise consciousness on important issues in the past). For one thing, claiming victimization helps internalize the stereotypes that groups often accuse others of harboring – witness Jeremiah Wright’s black people “learn differently.” For another, the 1960s brother-man politics of Al Sharpton, Wright, and many others, is a racket that keeps them happily empowered while their constituents remain marginalized, blaming someone else for their problems. Nothing could be more harmful than this continued emphasis on victimization, particularly for black people.
This, in part, is what accounts for the popularity of Obama among whites. He recognizes that many of the problems of the black community have their origins in the black community, and that solving those problems is a function of responsibility and self-discipline. Bill Cosby is essentially on the same track.
That said, however, there is an undeniable bias that exists, in general terms, against black power and, I’m going to extrapolate, against a (dark-skinned) black first lady.
The most important thing that can be done about these attacks on Michelle Obama is to carefully watch the words used to describe her and call the media on any double standard. When wealthy and privileged Elizabeth Edwards talked about the plight of poor people, she was a caring populist. If, when, Michelle Obama does it, she’s an angry elitist, you’re seeing code for uppity black. Not in every case, not always, but enough. Already the attacks on Michelle Obama from the blogs are relentless, and it is absolutely certain that no candidate’s wife has ever come under greater scrutiny than she will likely endure.
It is a credit to Barack and Michelle Obama that they recognize this and they are not playing the game. It’s up to their surrogates to do it for them. Michelle Obama is a new paradigm and she needs to be protected.