When Michelle Obama spoke out about race during the 2008 campaign, some conservatives cast her as the militant side of her husband. And early in the campaign, when she commented that, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country,” she was depicted as “Stokley Carmichael in a designer dress” and parodied adorning military fatigues, a large Afro, toting a machine gun and burning the American flag.
In an effort by some to derail her husband’s presidential aspirations, the character of the Ivy League-educated attorney was run through the GOP machine, contorted and spit out as the stereotypical “angry Black woman.”
That was then, and this is now.
With approval ratings at around 70 percent and three years at the White House behind her, the first lady has all but squashed those rampant stereotypes and other preconceived notions. She has become one of the most popular first ladies and, by all indications, could turn out to be her husband’s greatest asset during his re-election campaign. And this is despite her critics, who continue to feed lines that at best are stereotypes, and at worst could be considered downright racist.
In early spring, the White House began using the first lady at campaign events, booking her on late-night talk shows and for various magazine and newspaper interviews. She is smart, funny and down-to-earth. Heck, who can’t relate to a woman who looks forward to leaving the house (albeit the White House) from time to time to shop at Target? The American public—and the world—have come to know her as a caring mother, loving wife and a true patriot. She has left no doubt that she loves this country and the impact that she can make as first lady.
The president’s campaign staff will undoubtedly point to her many achievements during her time at the White House. They believe the first lady can really connect to women voters, perhaps the most important demographic in November. For many, she has become a revered champion of meaningful causes, having spoken out on issues ranging from the plight of the homeless and the hunger epidemic to the ill effects of bullying. And her Let’s Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity has motivated companies including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and General Mills (to name a few) to reduce the calorie content of some of their products. In addition, she (along with Second Lady Jill Biden) launched Joining Forces, an initiative to provide military members and their families further opportunities for education, health and employment.
Even so, as the GOP machine gets cranked up between now and the election, the first lady will undoubtedly face more attempts to cast her in a negative light. The only problem: This time, conservatives have no ammunition for attack. Educated voters should see right through this strategy of the angry Black woman stereotype. It has been defeated—hopefully, for good—by a first lady who is just being herself.
Read more in the June 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine on page 26.