I've come to the conclusion that the more things change, the more they stay the same. One would think that here in 2012 African-American women would finally be able have a "say so" without being stereotyped, but as I was watching First Lady Michelle Obama during an interview with Gayle King on CBS, in which she candidly discussed her thoughts about others opinions of her (including author Jodi Kantor's controversial new book and her take on Obama behind the scenes) she hit the nail on the head and addressed the "angry Black woman" theory. Bang, there it was, front and center, and it just said to me that no matter how far we've come, this erroneous shadow is still on our trails. Obama said "that's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I'm some angry Black woman," she told King. She went on to say "I guess it's more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation." In conclusion the First Lady said she's just trying to be herself and hopes that over time people get to know her and closed that chapter of the interview by saying she could live with it if everyone doesn't like her, citing this as a strength instilled in her at a young age. She's clear that people are just going to misinterpret your stance despite your intentions.
Long after the segment went off the air, I pondered this question well into the night: Why is it that folks at-large are still labeling those of us who are affirmed enough to say what we mean as an "angry Black woman." As I say in my latest book, Commander in Chic, Every Woman's Guide to Managing Her Style Like a First Lady, Obama's not angry, nor are we, "just tired of the way things are," which she herself told a group of women at a Las Vegas community center while on the campaign trail. Clearly, our agenda, which is Obama's agenda, is to do the critical work -- from that of taking back our health and canceling disease on our watch to empowering the future of our nation, that of our children. And yes we're involved, just like the elders before us, and if you look at the picture accurately, it's not by lip service, and it's certainly not with the kind of ammunition and spirit depicted on that painful New Yorker cover of Mrs. O that shows her as an angry, militant complete with afro and bullets in tow. No, we've rolled our sleeves up and are doing the work to make our dreams become a reality in our life time in ways and means that's generating real change.
In truth, the Michelle Obama I've engaged with on a number of occasions is as King said loving, kind and passionate about her role as First Lady of the United States. Like millions of women of all cultures, I just love watching her step to purpose in deliberate fashion, handling the stuff with her signature graciousness and keen focus. For certain, it's a lesson in living for our times, where anyone and everyone is a critic and where African-American people, let alone the sisters are still being judged by the color of their skin -- however subliminal -- rather than by the "content of their character" to quote Martin Luther King, Jr.
I remember reading where Barack Obama told Mrs. O and his staff that they must have thick skin for the journey they were about to embark on during his run for the presidency and, sure enough, it was and still is essential for the road. So what's our takeaway in the era of "Michelle Obama?" We must be determined to be our authentic selves and place a keen focus on being the empowered women we are called to be, despite the naysayers and the opinions of others who at the end of the day have no real notion of the truth that lies within each of us. That we must stay on course with what's important to us and live our lives fearlessly regardless of the court of popular opinion. Obama clearly understands her value and purpose and is motivating us to live our lives with the same clear-cut assurance.
At the end of the day style is about being on purpose. It's about standing comfortable in your skin and being your most bold self because of that awareness. This is what allows Mrs. O to address the stuff head on as she did in the CBS interview which took place in the White House, while wearing a J.Crew dress that she purchased four years ago. What First Lady do you know who makes what I call "repeat performances" in that she'd have the courage to wear a dress that she's been previously photographed in, for what could have been a controversial occasion? Let the record show: none! Like everything else this First Lady does, Obama's outer appearance is a reflection of the woman inside, who's sure, steady in the face of challenge and ready to master every aspect of her life.
I remember Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in outer space once said "life is what your Creator gave you for free, style is what you do with it." May we all remember this and boldly have our say.
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