Former first lady Michelle Obama is finally humbled, honored and — get this — grateful.
It only took an unveiling of her official portrait at the National Portrait Gallery to bring her to that state.
Normally, usually, most commonly and frequently, the Michelle Obama we all know and not-so-much love is the one who talked, in 2008, about never before her husband’s election being proud of her country — the one who characterized women who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton as having “voted against their own voice.”
But at her portrait event, she was all hope and humbly.
“[I have] so many thoughts rolling around,” she said, during her brief remarks. “I am humbled, I am honored, I am proud. But most of all I am so incredibly grateful to all the people who people who came before me in this journey. The folks who built the [stage] upon which I stand … all those folks who helped me be here today, they’re with us physically, and they’re with us in spirit.”
She then spoke of her grandparents, thanking them and recognizing them as “intelligent” and “highly capable,” with both the “talent and work ethic that normally destines people for greatness.”
She went on: “But their dreams and aspirations were limited because of the color of their skin. … I’m thinking about all the young people, particularly girls, and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. … I know the impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls, and when I think about those future generations and generations past, I think again, wow, wow. What an incredible journey we are on together in this country. We have come so far.”
I know what you’re thinking: Here she goes again, tossing out the race card, slyly slamming this country for racism.
But the fact is, the blacks in the generation of Obama’s grandparents — of 100 years ago — were subjected to a type of open, blatant racism that is totally inappropriate today, and widely condemned today.
More than that, her remarks about her being an inspiration to “girls of color” is actually truthful, as well. Why shouldn’t she be, at least on the surface skin front? The portraits of past presidents have never contained a face of a black Mr. and Mrs. Just because Mr. Obama was perhaps the worst president in American history shouldn’t abolish the effect his wife’s skin color, or his own for that matter, has on future generations. America saw its first black president and first lady, and now their faces are going to join the Caucasian faces on the gallery walls. Good. About time.
That’s historic and actually, a proud moment for all — at least, for all those of all skin colors who genuinely applaud equal rights.
So let’s at least give praise where praise is due. The former first lady’s speech contained some important messages even her critics should embrace as worthy.
Let’s not dismiss all rhetoric, slight-of-hand-like, simply because she is who she is.
Of course, Mooch couldn’t help but inject some partisan shots into her speech. They went like this: “And yes, as we see today, we still have a lot of work to do,” a running commentary she’s woven into her various public talks over the last year as means of jabbing President Donald Trump.
But that’s Mooch being Mooch. Right? No surprise that was coming.
At least she quickly added: “But we have every reason to be hopeful and proud, and I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to stand alongside my husband and play a very small part in that history and in that future.”
So, does this mean Michelle Obama is finally embracing the existing positives about America instead of calling out all-things-perceived-racist every chance she gets? Don’t bank on it.
But when it came to this speech, at this particular point in time, during this particular event — admittedly, self-glorifying as it was — the ex-first lady managed to weave in a couple of truths. And these are truths that even those on the right should latch on to and recognize as proud historical U.S. moments.
Let’s not let the fact that these truths came from Mooch’s mouth cloud and sully our collective, national moment. We have black faces on an all-white wall. That’s a good thing for all of America.
• Cheryl Chumey can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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