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Newsweek Cover: Michelle Obama

November 23, 2008

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Newsweek has a nice cover photo of Michelle Obama (minus the water mark above) and a rather good read on a lady that I think is truly classy.  She is also very intelligent.  I think at times the campaign tried to down play her keen mind, but I hope that since the election is over Michelle Obama will shine a new light on what a First Lady in the White House can accomplish.  There is more to do than organizing the President’s sock drawer.

The editor of Newsweek, Daniel Klaidman, wrote a succinct reason for the cover and story.

That is why we chose to explore the meaning of Michelle Obama this week. All First Ladies face intense scrutiny. We hold them out as arbiters of our values and styles. Michelle is about to become the most visible African-American woman in the world. With this exposure, as Allison Samuels observes in her cover essay, Michelle has a real opportunity to alter the world’s image of black women—and to knock down some ugly stereotypes. To succeed, Allison argues, Michelle will have to “engage in a delicate tap dance,” to maintain the trust of the broad American public while staying true to her authentic self. It won’t be easy. But with the combination of grace, strength and political skill she demonstrated during a grueling election campaign, she’s off to a good start

Part of the story reads as follows.

It’s an amazing opportunity—and a huge responsibility. “I think she’s always going to be classy, because she knows she’s not just representing herself,” said my friend Gertrude Justin, 40, a nurse from Houston. “She knows she’s fighting stereotypes of black people that have been around for decades and that her every move will be watched. I’m sure she’s been just as insulted by the lack of true depictions of African-American women as any other black woman.” Michelle will be a daily reminder that we’re not all hotheaded, foaming-at-the-mouth drug addicts, always ready with a quick one-liner and a roll of the eyes.

Like many African-American women I know, Michelle has had a lot of practice at the delicate tap dance of getting along in the mainstream white world. During all those years in boardrooms and a topnotch law firm—not to mention the exclusive clubs of Princeton and Harvard Law School—she’s had to learn to blend in. Now she’ll have to go even further in convincing two very different constituencies—African-Americans and everyone else—that they can trust her as their First Lady. And she’ll have to do it all while remaining true to her authentic self.

Michelle has already shown she understands how universal her appeal must be. Early on in the primaries, after she was labeled too forward and too loud, Michelle demonstrated self-restraint and discipline by dialing back. She stopped making harmless jokes about Obama’s morning breath and other breaches of hygiene. Her remark about being “proud of my country” for the first time was another rare misstep. But she quickly learned to play the adoring and uncontroversial wife, talking up her husband on shows like “The View.”

She showed she could calibrate her remarks for predominantly black audiences too, opening up a bit more about what Obama’s election would mean for them—and what it would also mean for her, referring to herself as “the little black girl from the South Side of Chicago.” Yet when The New Yorker caricatured the Obamas in July doing a “terrorist fist bump” in the Oval Office, the image stung. It was Michelle who came across as the domineering one—the angry black woman. She toned it down and took to wearing pearls and reassuring J.Crew cardigans.

Will that softer side win out now that she’s headed to the East Wing? When I met Michelle earlier this year for an interview in Atlanta, I was taken by her warmth and eagerness to chat about everything—fashion designers she’d like to wear, her girls’ taste in clothes, even dogs. (On a follow-up phone call, she greeted me with “Hey, girlfriend,” like she was a long-lost sorority sister.) There was no pretense—no second-guessing her next word or move the way she seemed to do after the campaign became a mudfest.

I personally hope that she will let more of that true, colorful personality seep through. There are some good hints she might. Her daring election-night red-speckled dress, designed by Narciso Rodriguez, was hardly a cautious choice. It wasn’t altogether flattering, but it showed that Michelle is searching for her own style. Other clues come from her winning, if still demure, performance during the recent “60 Minutes” interview. Looking chic and relaxed—and genuinely affectionate with her husband—she poked fun at the president-elect’s professed affinity for doing the dishes and told him she wouldn’t accompany him on a walk on a cold Chicago day.

6 Comments
  1. dadofone permalink
    November 24, 2008 11:40 AM

    My only comment is how unfortunate, dismissive and condescending, with its historical racial associations, the term, “tap dance,” was ever used in the Time article. Substituting, ‘ballet,” would fit, wouldn’t it, or was, “tap dance,” intentional to emphasis the extreme difficulty of the situation M.O. faces? Or, maybe this, my first reaction and thought on the above post and article, says more about my over-thinking a technicality. Will have to get the complete article.

  2. ned permalink
    November 24, 2008 1:23 AM

    Michelle is, as you say, classy. And isn’t it wonderful to have brains again in the White House! I loved the article but was not aware of it until I read your post. Thanks for your time making this known.

  3. November 24, 2008 12:34 AM

    I, for one, thought this was an excellent post and article.

  4. Terrence permalink
    November 23, 2008 8:20 PM

    “There is more to do than organizing the President’s sock drawer.”

    Sorry, I now see that it was completely off base to think you were referring to Laura Bush here. I guess you were talking about Hillary?

    “I think at times the campaign tried to down play her keen mind,…”

    Dear Lord.

  5. November 23, 2008 7:24 PM

    Was Laura Bush mentioned here in my post?

    Michelle’s resume for starters, and then her interviews lead me to think she is very bright. People either have a high IQ, or they do not.

    As I said, she will make a great First Lady.

  6. Terrence permalink
    November 23, 2008 6:10 PM

    can’t help myself– how do you know Michelle is intelligent? Because she’s a Dem? And why take a shot at Laura Bush? Because she’s married to Satan?

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