The other day, Tammy Bruce; right wing firestarter and guest host for the Laura Ingram talk radio show; took some pretty hard shots at First Lady Michelle Obama. Last week, Mrs. Obama visited the Anacostia High School in DC where she spoke to a group of inner city youth. A part of Obama’s talk – in response to a question about the keys to success – focused on hard work, discipline, and learning ‘correct English’. But I suppose that a person carrying that kind of message is “trashy”; and is entirely too much for poor Tammy to stomach. From Media Matters:
Sorry, y’all. I wasn’t using profanity there. I was simply wiping the vomit off my keyboard. Speaking of not being able to stomach things…
At any rate, Tammy Bruce was wrong for a thousand reasons. For one, I find it deplorable that the First Lady of the United States was so blantantly disrespected. Regardless of how you may feel about the policies of certain Presidents, there is some level of disgust associated with attacking First Ladies who – despite obviously supporting their spouses – are usually politically neutral. I can’t stand George W. Bush and I made no bones about it. But Laura has always been off limits. Even Hillary as a First Lady was off limits. My criticism of her did not begin until she became a presidential candidate. For me, attacking non-political figures with political weaponary is vile and classless. Secondly, Michelle was speaking from her experience – a history to which Bruce could not attest. Not only has Bruce not walked a mile in Michelle’s shoes, it is virtually impossible for her to do so. The fact is: Mrs. Obama was simply sharing her experiences in dealing with a phenomenon that many people of color have experienced in their own lives: the notion of “Acting White“. People like Tammy Bruce will never truly grasp that notion. People like her have never lived in places like Flint, Michigan, Gary, Indiana, or Trenton, New Jersey. People like her probably did not grow up in a community where selling drugs, killing people, and having multiple children as a teenager were considered more of a normative behavior than going to school. People like her were not likely raised in an environment where attempts at success were casually dismissed (or outright ridiculed) as a social stigma.
As I have mentioned several times before (most notably when referring to a part in CNN’s Black in America segment), the idea of “Acting White” has always struck a personal chord with me. Since my days in elementary school, I was often teased by so-called friends and familiy or outright alienated from others because my grades were a little too high or my speech was a little too proper. Fortunately, I developed thick skin throughout the years. For many other people, it is not as easy. Bruce clearly lacks the ability to know this kind of hurt.
Above everything else, I find Bruce’s antipathy toward Mrs. Obama very enigmatic. After all, Michelle’s message of personal responsibility falls similarly in line with the “bootstrap” mantra consistently echoed by the Right. Obama was not planting seeds of White resentment in the heads of these children. She wasn’t encouraging a life of welfare, institutional dependency, and victimizaton. She was teaching poor inner city youth how to personally succeed without falling back on excuses of poverty and lack of resources. She stressed the value of hard work and education along with the importance of striking down the long-held belief that certain positive behaviors (proper language, dress, etc.) were attributes exclusive to White people. So my question to Ms. Bruce is simple: Michelle was wrong because…?
If Ms. Bruce took offense to the “accent” Michelle used (though it’s likely that Michelle was just being Michelle), she once again has missed the point. Anybody who has dealt with children (especially children who are otherwise uninterested) knows the importance of establishing relatability with the audience. Besides, who amongst us has never toggled back and forth between the laid back, informal persona and the professional, formal persona? Again, that’s wrong because…?
In the end, I chalk this up to a lone view of a narrow-minded loon who attempts to drum up controversy for attention . No, I’m not talking about that person. But Ms. B is not that far off.