I’m not proud, because a) I take Proverbs 16:18′s counsel (“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall”) to be flawless, and b) I try not to cultivate feelings about abstractions.
This even though, according to my calculations, I’m exactly six weeks older than Michelle Obama. Because I’ve had an adult life just a bit longer than she has, you’d think I would have had time to develop some form of her pride by now.
Let’s do a week-in-review-style wrap-up on what she said last week in Madison WI, on Monday, February 18:
“What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something — for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I’ve seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it’s made me proud.”
Now, she also spoke in Milwaukee, earlier that day. In that speech, she said:
“For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”
Note the absence of the word really, above, in the earlier speech: proud vs. really proud. (Some have made a point of her later inclusion of that adverb, during her second, Madison speech.)
Here’s a link to a clip comparing the two.
What to make of this?
Well, besides betting that Tavis Smiley wishes he’d had her on his show now, I found her statement startling, as I suspect many Black people initially did. It was, to quote Roots, a real toubob come moment.
That is, the Obama campaign has been so much about generating a mysterious but powerful anti-race force, I wasn’t sure that it could withstand a massive lump of race smashing into it without being completely annihilated.
But then I thought, “Wait a minute: This is a campaign that doesn’t misspeak. There must be a strategy, right?”
I might have been doing more thinking than they deserve. The New York Times‘ politics blog, The Caucus, quoted an Obama campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, on Michelle’s statements:
“Of course Michelle is proud of her country, which is why she and Barack talk constantly about how their story wouldn’t be possible in any other nation on Earth. What she meant is that she’s really proud at this moment because for the first time in a long time, thousands of Americans who’ve never participated in politics before are coming out in record numbers to build a grassroots movement for change.
“Look at the quote in its full context and that is clear.”
Gaze upon it: A soft and gentle spin cycle that would be the envy of today’s finest labor-saving devices.
On Wednesday, CNN’s blog, Political Ticker, ran Obama’s own explanation for her words, given to their Providence RI affiliate, WJAR-TV:
“What I was clearly talking about is that I am proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process.” … “I mean everyone has said what I said, in that we haven’t seen these record numbers of turnouts, people who are paying attention, going to rallies, watching debates.
“For the first time in my lifetime I am seeing people rolling up their sleeves in way that I haven’t seen and really trying to figure this out, and that’s the source of pride I was talking about.”
The Associated Press, covering that interview, wrote on Thursday:
When asked if she had always been proud of her country, she replied “absolutely” and said she and her husband would not be where they are now if not for the opportunities of America.
It’s not a direct quote. But her “absolutely” response to an “always” question would directly contradict her first (and second) statement, re: being proud for the first time, or really proud.
I don’t buy this. I pretty much agree with the outraged white people. Of course, she’s talking about race, which is why they’re reacting. Race is about them.
In short, Obama was saying this: “If the essential substance that makes up our nation is equality, then this is the first time that I can say our nation’s equality is not questionable, defective, or sub-par.”
That’s the heart of it. She’s not saying this because a successful presidential campaign benefits her husband, and thus her. She’s saying that being so close to the sight of a Black man getting this near to the nomination has been transformational. (Or as she said to Katie Couric, “This is a trip.”) That’s what all her talk about seeing people “rolling up their sleeves” is about. But the meta-conversation is about race.
An analogy might be useful, here:
Say you’re the plant manager of a factory that makes tires, but one that, until today, has only made square ones, or figure 8-shaped ones, or flat ones, or inside-out ones. Or white ones.
Then, one day, a perfectly round, perfectly inflated, black steel-belted radial rolls off the line.
That would be a proud moment. It might be the first one in your adult life, because you’ve been working at the plant for a long time. You might say, “This is the first time I’m proud to be the plant manager.”
Now your line employees, team leaders, and shop people might get mad if you said that.
They might say, “What do you mean? What about all of your training? What about all of those other tires we made? What about everything we’ve done for you?”
To which you might say, “All of that was important. In fact, we couldn’t have gotten here without it.
“But this is the first time, it appears, that it all came together, in the way it was supposed to, to make what we’re supposed to be making, the way we’re supposed to be making it.”
Listening to many white people recite the list of junk about which Michelle Obama should be proud—law degrees, given by white people, so that she can work to make white people more powerful—is like listening to that bunch of offended tire-makers.
Or, perhaps, as my mentor Asiba Tupahache might say, it’s like listening to a drunk and/or abusive parent or spouse recite the list of things they’ve done for you, telling you how ungrateful you are for their kind and generous beneficence.