Making of A Black First Lady

Sometime earlier this year, American comedian Chris Rock shot from the hip: “Barack has a handicap the other candidates don’t have: Barack Obama has a black wife. And I don’t think a black woman can be first lady of the United States. Yeah, I said it! A black woman can be President, no problem. First lady? Can’t do it.

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Published: Wed 29 Oct 2008, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:09 PM

You know why? Because a black woman cannot play the background of a relationship. Just imagine telling your black wife that you’re President? ‘Honey, I did it! I won! I’m the President.’ ‘No, we the President! And I want my girlfriends in the Cabinet! I want Kiki to be secretary of state! She can fight!” Chris Rock meant no harm, he was just being funny (it helped that he is of African-American descent himself), but his ‘broadcast’ became a talking point: Michelle Obama is the quintessential ambitious and “angry black woman”, the media claimed gleefully.That was then.

These days, with the American presidential polls too close for comfort (it’s only 6 days away now), Michelle – qualified lawyer and all, armed with degrees from Princeton and Harvard, Vanity Fair and People magazines’ ‘10 of the World’s Best Dressed People’, and the woman who is compared with Jackie Kennedy, no less, for her flair and style - has been trying to stay away from her husband’s campaign trail. She would rather, she says, stay at home and take care of the kids - the couple’s 10- and 7-year-old daughters. When she does find time to campaign for Barack, she tells cheering women with babies, “I... come here as a mother - that is my primary title, mom-in-chief. My girls are the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed.”

And yes, she does not plan to have an office in the West Wing. Cannot play the background of a relationship? You can definitely not say that again. Remember the now-famous The New York Times comment by Maureen Dowd: “I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal - comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god ... But it may not be smart politics to mock him in a way that turns him from the glam JFK into the mundane Gerald Ford...”?

Well, it doesn’t apply more. Michelle Obama, you see, has learnt the tricks of the political trade.

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