January 23, 2010

"The sight of this African American woman standing on the Capitol steps registered like a series of rolling tremors..."

Look out! It's an earthquake! I mean... it's Robin Givhan's book about Michelle Obama:
The sight of this African American woman standing on the Capitol steps registered like a series of rolling tremors, uprooting cultural assumptions and clichés about what it means to be a black woman, about the nature of the black family, about femininity, beauty and even social status. She did not erase generations of damaging stereotypes … but she forced many of us to reconsider what we had assumed to be true.
In other words, we are terrible racists, in Givhan's view. The only way that paragraph makes sense is if, prior to Michelle Obama's emergence, our heads were filled with embarrassing, ridiculous stereotypes. And yet, if we really were like that, Michelle Obama's becoming First Lady wouldn't uproot our prejudice, would it? Wouldn't a real racist think the election was a big mistake and avoid watching the inauguration or watch it with scorn/fear/derision?

Can we think of a more accurate description of the effect it had on real Americans for Michelle Obama to become First Lady? The sight of this African American woman standing on the Capitol steps registered like a series of rolling tremors, thrilling Americans who imagined the effect this sight must be having on other Americans, the ones who were so shamefully in the grip of cultural assumptions and clichés about what it means to be a black woman, about the nature of the black family, about femininity, beauty and even social status.


Peter V. Bella said...

Excuse me while I throw up. More silly candied tripe.

rhhardin said...

Maybe it registered with women.

t-man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllenS said...

Givhan's view of the world is racist.

Jason (the commenter) said...

She's just trying to make her book sound interesting. Look what she has to work with.

Skyler said...

All the stereotypes and high intended language aside, I fail to see how Ms. Obama inspires thoughts of beauty. Whether you like her politics or her race or her name, she still is very rough on the eyes.

It's not important what she looks like, so why do they bring it up?

Heck, being first lady is not important either. I look forward to the day when they stop paying attention to the people who happen to be married to the person we elect.

I think it's funny how democrat first ladies always get described in such glowing terms, and expected to be firebrands of advocacy, yet no one ever seems to have that reaction to republican first ladies.

Trooper York said...

"The sight of this African American woman standing on the Capitol steps registered like a series of rolling tremors"

Wait, when did she go to Haiti?

littlebeartoe said...

The sight of this African American woman standing on the Capitol steps registered like a rolling quilt of acquittal for the mass guilt-- deserved, undeserved, misplaced, put-upon, and foolishly assumed-- that Americans felt for the history of blacks in their country.

alan markus said...

hmm, I'm thinking that "Ellie Light" is Michelle Obama

PatCA said...

The quotes I read were so simplistic and/or confused I simply cannot find anything rational to say about them.

miller said...

I refuse to listen to people who try to imagine or imply my racism.

They are fools for thinking they know my character, and liars for expressing my thoughts.

It would be enough to say "isn't it wonderful that America elected a black couple?"

But no, that's not enough. It has to be "...a black couple IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT ALL YOU WHITEYS ARE STILL HONKY RACISTS?"

Ugh. Limp, stereotypical thinking. It gets published because editors have no spine. Maybe failed editors go on to be elected to congress where their lack of spine is statesmanship.

jag said...

Actually, it's an old, old trick among preachers: when you run out of compelling ideas, throw guilt at them.

John Lynch said...

I still don't like Michelle Obama. She lost me with that whole "For the first time.." thing.

The whole fascination with Jackie Kennedy's wardrobe doesn't do much for me, either.

Unrelated, isn't it interesting how little power she has compared to Hillary Clinton? I rarely hear anyone talk about that, but has the Clinton experience taught others that First Lady's shouldn't be so powerful?

miller said...

I am content with not needing to pay attention to Michelle Obama.

I am, of course, quite pleased with Barry's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week. I know I shouldn't gloat - but so fun to watch him get taken down by inexorable events.

Every so often politicians imagine they can defy laws of physics and declare "down" to be "up."

Then reality takes over, and they are left with their mouths open in a big "O."

Sofa King said...

Every so often politicians imagine they can defy laws of physics and declare "down" to be "up."

You never know - maybe Obama was just following the example of King Cnut to teach his courtiers a lesson.

The Gold Digger said...

Kind of like how Eleanor Roosevelt uprooted our cliches of white beauty?

lucid said...

The moral logic of affirmative action has cultivated and justified black racism against whites, which affirmative action defines not as racism but as moral entitlement.

Thus, Holder's decison on the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case: It's not voter intimidation if blacks do it to whites.

We won't get our racial politics straight until we return to a color-blind standard in law, employment, and school admissions.

Pogo said...

Some movies are straight to DVD.

Some books are straight to remainder.

Michael said...

It is unfortunate that some if not many black Americans think that white Americans spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about them. They don't.

ricpic said...

Far more important than whatever Givhan says about the stereotyping of blacks or black females in particular was the fact that from the start of the presidential race it was uphill for McCain not for Obama. If the prejudice in the country was even remotely close to Givhan's claim that would not have been the case.

Peter V. Bella said...

If you want to see Black entitlement look at this thief. She refuses to give a $25,000 statue back. She is an Ill. State Rep. No one has the guts to arrest her. THE CHICAGO WAY!

What's worse, she will get away with it!!! That is the Chicago Way!!! It seems that there is some kind of immunity in place. Even the Feds won't touch this one!

Just give it back. That's OK. No punishment.

This is one of Obama's associates too.

Michael said...

The prejudice meme has to be maintained or otherwise people like Givhan might have to turn their laser-like and keen curiosities to the complete and utter failed status of the black "communtiy" in most urban areas. High birth rates, no fathers to be found, gangster and sports figures extolled, education scoffed at, criminality rampant. It is vile that as those problems mount the black elite focus on wardrobe and soaring self congratulatory crap.

Lisa said...

Michelle Obama pretty much confirmed everything I thought about black America...

1. That this is a class and education problem, not a race problem.

2. That black America feels like victims even when they have power and money.

3. That affirmative action is placing people in positions that they are not educated nor ready for.

Trooper York said...

You know me, I hate to be crude.

But I think I know why she felt tremors.

You see, Michelle farted.

Trooper York said...

Hey maybe Rush will use that next week.

Montagne Montaigne said...

Maybe there would be fewer accusations of racism if people like the commenters here could figure out how to not constantly say incredibly stupid things. All you have to do is mention Michelle Obama and the mouths start yapping, spilling out sheer dumbasery at a furious pace. Just look at Michael and Lisa here, being thoughtful about "black people in America." Don't it just melt your heart. And look, Peter V.! There is ANOTHER black lady from Chicago? That did something? That's crazy, because Michelle Obama is a black lady too!

The thrills never end over here. I take back what I said about this being a boring-ass blog filled with crusty-ass old white people.

Pogo said...

Toop, the Haiti comment was double plus good.

Pogo said...

er, Troop.

Toop does minimalist ambient music.

Michael said...


And what specific points are you refuting or what point are you making other than as a liberal you are not a racist and are therefore able to sneer at non-liberals who are, ipso facto, racist in extremis? OK, good on you for being pure and calling out injustice where ever you see it.

Pogo said...

"The thrills never end over here."

Monty, like most leftists, only permits leftists to speak about races, classes or groups of people as a whole. From any other speaker, it's racist or bigoted.

Them's the PC rules.
Easy to follow, by never speaking.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"Maybe there would be fewer accusations of racism if people like the commenters here could figure out how to not constantly say incredibly stupid things"

Just curious, what race are you?

Almost Ali said...

A lot less skin in her PSA's.

There's a reason Michelle goes sleeveless and strapless; it's in your face.

RigelDog said...

The sad and disheartening thing is that certain deeply-rooted cultural assumptions and cliches about what it means to be a typical white person haven't shifted one bit to accomodate the reality that a smillion white people voted Obama into office. It's almost as though many people would be, well, disappointed to know that so few white people actually hold the racist attitudes imputed to them.

Synova said...

Monty, people are tired of having to take responsibility for other people's opinions of them. It's not possible to "avoid saying stupid things" because what is stupid gets redefined until you're guilty again.

As for that, what is stupider? Not putting much emphasis on Michelle Obama's race at all, even to the point of not being extra careful not to mention her critically, or gushing over her beauty and her significance?

I agree with what Lisa said.

I don't think that Michelle Obama is beautiful, but she's just fine. People who pick on her looks annoy me.

And I agree with Althouse that Givhan is imagining someone elses reactions and not her own. Those other racists. Over there.

I've no doubt that Michelle, like her husband, inspired many black people to think of themselves differently, to consider possibilities they hadn't before. If so, that's fabulous.

Maybe Givhan was talking about *those* stereotypes.

Lisa said...

Oh Monty, you're right.. how unreasonable for anyone to make relatively mild comments about black American in response to nasty accusations about white America.

How racist of me to suggest that class and education has more of an impact on behavior and child rearing than race.

How racist of me to be tired of being called a racist by black people because of my skin color.

How racist of me not to kowtow to the glories of affirmative action despite electing a president who was clearly not ready and the abuses of race in college admissions in the name of diversity.

AllenS said...

I was under the impression that after Obama was elected, we wouldn't be having this discussion. What happened? Sounds like we've lost all of that hope and change.

AllenS said...

Maybe The Liberals feel that since Obama didn't get 100% of the vote, America must be racist.

Chip Ahoy said...

Racism is seen everywhere and projected inappropriately because it is everywhere. It does makes sense to perceive and express the world that way when that's the world you inhabit and that's the way you've learned to categorize logically.

If it matters to you those categories of perceptions change, and I doubt it does, then it's up to you to personally defy those categorizations by your own observable behavior, and that takes a sensitivity to what those categorizations are and how everyday events are referenced.

I just made such an error, deplorable I understood later, and I do regret it.

‹anecdote alert›
Knock at the door. I answer. A neighbor I met at a party. A preacher. Black. (The party was 90% black) He held a can of tuna and asked if I had a can opener. His was broken. I said, "Yes, come in." He opened the can. I asked, "Are you going to mix mayonnaise with that tuna?" He goes, "Yes." I go, "Would you like to see how to make your own mayonnaise that's a LOT better than jarred mayonnaise?" He goes, "Sure." Together we whip up a batch of mayonnaise. I put it in take-out cup and give it to him. He leaves.

Knock on door. The guy again. He presents a plate with a tuna sandwich. He's offering the product of our mutual effort. I refuse the offer because I just ate a bowl of soup, and I had dinner already planned, plus, and I didn't mention this, I ate a small can of tuna the previous day. I could see he was crestfallen by my refusal. He left. After he left I visualized him preparing the plate, walking over to my apartment with the expectation of my acceptance. I realize too late it was wrong for me to refuse his offer and that he most likely referenced the refusal in terms of race. We white people are just rude that way. There's nothing I can do about that. But why didn't I just take the fucking sandwich? I'm stupid.
‹/anecdote alert›

But Givhan is a writer on style. Yes, she's had an impact on her notable social commentary beyond style, but still, her focus is style, so where is it? What did she think of the dress Michelle wore on inauguration is what I want to know. I mean, after recovering from the tremors. Other writers, racist no doubt, said the dress looked like grandma's curtains. Ha Ha Ha. That's a good one. I kind of does, now that it's mentioned. Almost as good as Givhan saying Roberts' kids looked like a trio of Easter eggs, jelly beans, three little Necco wafers. HA HA HA, now THAT's funny!

I love Necco wafers.

Skyler said...

Chip, you are WAY too sensitive. Maybe you should or shouldn't have accepted a small gift of thanks like that, but to put racial overtones on this is absurd. Why would a man who was just invited into your house without prior notice to learn about how to make mayonaise think you're racist?

Or was I missing satire somehow? I do that a lot.

Synova said...


Bring a small plate of cookies or something, and just explain that you had a poor upbringing and have no manners.

No need to let it be.

Lonetown said...

Ace of Spades put it in his own way. Referring to the inaugurals, he reported that the USS Nimitz was relieved having not worn the same dress as the first lady.

he is so naughty.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

I personally think that Ms. Obama, on the rare occassions that she dresses nicely and doesn't scowl, is a very pretty woman when compared to the average wife of a politician.

I also can't imagine why this would matter to anyone about anything. There are dozens of black women who are almost universally considered very attractive. Doesn't make their personalities any easier to bear.

bagoh20 said...

Think how cool the inauguration would look if Hugh Hefner won the Job.

bagoh20 said...

Yea it's not the looks - it's the absence of softness and vulnerability that is so common with black women that is unattractive to all men. Of course some do have these qualities and it's then very alluring, but being a hard ass is the respected type.

Ah Pooh said...

Chip Ahoy's 12.53 anecdote alert, satire or not, reminded me of an incident that happened long ago but still bothers me. In the 60s we lived in a middle-class neighbourhood that was "changing". Another Black family moved in down the street and the following day we had a heavy snow storm. The Black man came out and not only shovelled his walk but the walks of the White homeowners on either side. Within the next week the White homeowners on either side had For Sale signs on their lawns. To this day this memory gives me pause.

John Lynch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Lynch said...

Is Love Color Blind?

Skyler said...

Within the next week the White homeowners on either side had For Sale signs on their lawns.

I suppose they should have simply sued for trespass? :)

Chip Ahoy said...

Okay, I'll try again and that'll be it. No satire here.

Too sensitive. Possibly. Possibly insufficiently sensitive. It's a small incident, yes, but it's instructive to the point I'm making about events referenced racially and apparently inappropriately but still logically.

Here's the dynamic. The man's world is nearly entirely black. He leads a black church. He notes exceptions outside his sphere. He reached across a wall present in his world that separates us racially by asking for assistance from a guy he met at a party. He received it. We connected through a minor project and a trace of receptivity. He sought to further that connection by mirroring the usefulness he received. He was rebuffed. In his world that response does not happen. It doesn't make sense. How is he to compute my unexpected response? It most likely falls under the rubric of the strange aloofness and distance shown by whites who prefer the barrier he knows so well to remain intact.

He would be right in part. I am in fact a bread-elitist. When I saw the sandwich made with foam Wonder bread, the very thing I take effort to avoid, my mind automatically rejected it and in that moment I rationalized reasonable rejections that I could use that I thought would work gracefully. They failed. I was not lying but my behavior was insufficiently sensitive to how such an attempt to further a connection would be referenced. I blew an incipient friendship because I am basically an ass hole. A white ass hole. That specific rejection overrode the connection we made earlier. It sadly fit with the otherwise incomprehensible behavior already known and accepted about whites generally. File it under W for whites. It makes sense.

I posit this is logical and reasonable given our different spheres and experiences. If I desire the referencing of perception to change then I must understand how my observable behavior is categorized by others and change that behavior accordingly. Which would have meant in that case to simply accept the sandwich no matter what, wrap it for later, or scrape the tuna salad off the bread, or toss it, to say 'thank you.' Anything but reject it. If there is a next time, I will.

I could be wrong, but the fix here, I think, is not to provide further usefulness but rather to accept it -- with grace and some trace of sensitivity that apparently I presently do not possess, at least have yet to show. But that chance is unlikely since I already blew it, so we're back on square one.

[Though, another approach might be to make the kind of bread I do accept, offer it and brace myself for a mirrored rejection and then accept the rejection if it happens with grace and goodwill so that we're even. La la la, then give it to someone else, most likely a person within my own sphere with similar biases toward bread. And if it is accepted, then good, we've reaffirmed the connection again and a friendship is possible]

Cedarford said...

rhhardin said...
Maybe it registered with women.

Women are into the whole unelected 1st Lady bit. Fashions, how they are always the smartest and wisest people in the realm..

As a guy, I tend to think that unelected, unconfirmed spouses or children benefitting from connection to an elected figure is nothing more than good old nepotism.
That applies to power-intoxicated 1st Ladies like Eleanor and Hillary...As well as Senate Majority Leader Daschle's wife landing a 2.2 million a year job as a lobbyist on His Ascension - then quietly "let go" once ol' Tom was tossed from office and was then the family breadwinner making 3-4 million as a "Old Friend" still permitted in the Senate CHambers.

Trooper York said...

Hey can you have that guy move next door to me. I hate to freakin shovel.

Fen said...

Condeelza Rice.

And why are Dems so racist.

Andrea said...

After reading Chip's anecdote, all I can think of is how good a tuna salad sandwich would taste right now.

Skyler said...

Chip, I see you're being sincere, but honestly, it is pathetic that trite slips of etiquette make you ponder whether someone else thinks you're a racist.

If he thought anything beyond a minor disappointment that you weren't pleased to receive a sandwich at that moment, then he would be the racist and that's just not worth bothering about. I'd suggest giving black people more benefit of the doubt here.

Just thinking that way, Chip, shows how poisoned our society has gotten on the issue of race.

Synova said...

Chip, not bread, something else food-like.

And just say he caught you off guard, not being brought up to exchange food but that you think it's something you like.

Overthinking it or worrying too much or waiting too long is bad.

You know, I think it is a cultural thing. I'm reminded of a neighbor in Florida who borrowed my lawn mower. What I expected was for him to bring it back with a full gas tank and say thanks a lot and nothing more than that. I might or might not ask to borrow something from him some other time. What happened was I looked out my back window to find him mowing my lawn... which would have been fabulous except that he was mowing over the blackberry vines I'd planted the previous fall so I ran outside hollering "Stop, stop!" and "Thank you but really, I'm happy to lend you my lawnmower, you don't have to mow my lawn."

I don't know if it's a black subculture thing or a southern subculture thing though. There are regional differences in what is socially expected.

And I have no idea if *I* would have worried that he'd misinterpret my rejection of his reciprocal lawn mowing as racist because at the time I didn't realize he was black. I hope I wouldn't have.

paul a'barge said...

Good grief.

Can't I just dislike Michelle Obama for what she believes and stands for and for how she has lived her life and for her hypocrisy without having to be jammed into the racist niche by people like Givhan?

How freaking tedious do these people like Givhan have to be before they walk past a mirror, cast a sideways glance and recoil in horror at what they see?

lucid said...

Hey Chip--

give yourself a break. my bet is that like most photoshop mavens and people who prefer to fix their own food, you are a bit of a control freak, so you don't like food delivered to your door by someone else when it is not something that you have control over and have ordered or already decided to eat, etc. not appetizing to you.

nothing to do with racism, except your white guilt schtick.

but if i were your neighbor, i would be just a bit offended and confused about why you didn't take the sandwich (even if you were just going to ditch it). i don't think i would ask to borrow mayo again.

your sensibility is usually so refined and sophisticated. how did you get caught in this mental box?

miller said...

See, I'm the kind of guy who
(a) doesn't much think about Michelle Obama or this Givran lady and
(b) doesn't much care what their opinion is about me because
(c) I don't think their opinions are worth my time to consider

They are perfectly free to hold their opinions. I am also perfectly free to completely ignore them as having no value to me.

Revenant said...

The Black man came out and not only shovelled his walk but the walks of the White homeowners on either side. Within the next week the White homeowners on either side had For Sale signs on their lawns. To this day this memory gives me pause.

The interesting thing about this anecdote is that you never learned any of their names.

William said...

To Chip: Maybe the black preacher was the insensitive one. I would guess that someone who makes their own mayonaisse is not that into Wonder Bread. Perhaps the preacher is the one whose nerve endings were not sufficiently attuned to the vibes around him.

Rachel said...


You're just an asshole. Whether your neighbor was white. black or blue you should have accepted the Wonder Bread sandwich, thanked him, taken a bite and gone inside and chucked it. Not to do so is just plain rude.

And the preacher probably thought you were just plain garden variety rude. Though the "Did you know folks can actually make mayonnaise?" and subsequent demonstration may have struck him as patronizing.

Rose said...

The author misunderstands what it is we are prejudiced against - we are prejudiced against Chicago style thuggocracy, blood sport politicians who get into office by unsealing their opponents private divorce records, prejudiced against inexperienced politicians who do nothing with their elected office but use it for a stepping stone, we are prejudiced against politicians who make land deals with people like Rezko, and politicians who have friends like Wright and Ayres (who are two different skin colors, but one color inside - evil) - we are prejudiced, if prejudiced it be - against appointing tax cheats to the treasury, and above all we are prejudiced against liars.

And that includes political wives who take cushy appointed jobs that exploit their husband's position.

If there is any dislike of Michelle Obama - that's what it is. That and her 'never been proud of this country' remark.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with her skin color.