Michelle Obama and The Slave Blood Caper

Above: Michelle Obama, below: Painting “The Battle On San Domingo,” a depiction of the Haitian Revolution, the most successful slave revolt in history.

I found this item on What About Our Daughters last night.

File this one under foolishness and chicanery, courtesy of that bastion of the Civil Rights Industrial Complex, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and their president, Dr. Charles Steele:

He said that Michelle Obama has had rougher treatment than her husband because she has ancestors who were slaves, and Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, does not.

“Why are they attacking Michelle Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and not really attacking, to that degree, her husband?” Steele asked. “Because he has no slave blood in him. He does not have any slave blood in him, but Michelle does.” Atlanta Journal Constitution

Yeah he said it. MLK would be so proud. What? Was Andy Young unavailable?

The sentiment over the comment was repeated at Black Political Thought where more of Steele’s comments were printed.

Barack Obama is “of the system. He’s going to be in the system,” Steele told a morning gathering of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials.“Why are they attacking Michelle Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and not really attacking, to that degree, her husband?” Steele asked. “Because he has no slave blood in him. He does not have any slave blood in him, but Michelle does.

“This system is an issue. I don’t care what you say. You can’t expect the system that enslaved you save you,” Steele said. Steele admitted to the crowd that his remarks about the Obamas were intended to be provocative, but afterwards declined to expand upon them. If you ask me, his comments were idiotic, at best!

Blogger Janet Shan at Black Political Thought concludes that Steele’s argument that slave ancestry is an issue is hype. Shan writes, “I don’t believe for a minute that Michelle Obama is being treated roughly because she has slave blood. Hello people, how is that relevant to anything? Michelle Obama is being ‘roughed’ up because of her views and the fact that she is a pretty vocal and outspoken person.”

I didn’t know quite what to think when I initially read his comments. While some were concerned about the exploitation of Steele’s comments (Rush Limbaugh has apparently already used them for fodder), it didn’t really touch on the issue evolving here — the uncomfortable reality of the embodiment of white America’s conscious since 1787, black Americans.

Who is blamed for selecting Obama’s “hateful” church at Trinity? Michelle. Who is pointed to being a “racist” and being the barometer of how Barack really thinks? Michelle.

Barack when negatively portrayed in the press is either presented as an unknown terror or a gullible Liberal ingenue. Michelle is vilified in the same manner as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Johnnie Cochran, insert so-called black “radical” here and every Civil Rights activist before her. She’s the uppity Negro who will not shut up. She’s the ingrate who doesn’t worship this country despite the fact this country hasn’t historically been favorable to her. She is the reminder, the full embodiment and representation of that storied black monolith portraying “how we really feel” about the white folk.

Essentially, she’s the villain. She’s the one who stirs the conscious and forces racist deniers to truly stare down the past and per usual, some do not like what they see.

A lot of this is projection. Just like Barack’s “secret Muslim” talk is a manifestation of “fear of the other.” Both Barack and Michelle have to deal with their fair share of bigotry and fear mongering. But if Barack is the “other,” Michelle is the other you already think you know. Barack is viewed as being above race. Michelle is viewed as being right in the thick of it no matter what she does or says. She is a black American, not an “African American” in the truest sense like Barack is. She carries the baggage of our nation’s collective guilt. She represents the conscious and subconscious. Id, ego and super ego. And their mock hysteria is based on the same primal fear that has existed in this country since Haiti’s bloody revolution in 1791.

Some of our nation’s most punitive decisions against blacks were born out of the fear surrounding the only successful slave revolt in the New World. The American South had its fair share of slave uprisings, but Haiti’s was the most ferocious. The prospect of losing wealth and health at the hands of slaves was so strong that long after the threat had passed the punishment continued. Remnants of it still exist to this day. The belief that black people want vengeance, even though they typically ask for equality.

While Barack is sometimes seen as a “get out of bigotry free” card. Michelle is envisioned as the Angry Black Woman putting up the voodoo, intoning, “Until you do right by me …”

So they both have to deal with racism. I would argue though that there are a host of different reactions one can have to different kinds of black people. Black Americans simply inspire a specific series of racist modifiers.

Commenter Lena at What About Our Daughter’s probably put it best.

Michelle Obama is attacked more fiercely than Barack because she directly represents (to racists) those native blacks that had a long history of being hated in the U.S. long-term black Americans are considered less acceptable than many other non-whites, including even Africans.

Her presence, her lineage gives the racists easy fuel to try to shut her down, make her feel ashamed of who she is, which is why Klan-branding images, lynching jokes, etc. can be made about Michelle, not (Barack).

Basically, it’s like a “remember your place, ni****,” don’t get uppity because this is what we used to do to you (lynch, cross-burn, branding, etc.)

The same can’t be said for obama because he doesn’t have that same history in America. The old skool racists insults don’t apply to him, would not be relevant, if that makes any sense. I mean think about it, lynching j
okes and Klan imagery from the 20s? Barack’s lineage has nothing to do with that.

While Africans were oppressed and colonized too, their history is still a separate experience from the American historical experience.

I think Dr. Steele is right and he doesn’t have to be quiet just to keep idiots like Limbaugh from making comments. Rush Limbaugh will make comments ANYWAY. if you say Michelle Obama is intelligent or beautiful, he’d have something to say about that to.

So on this one, I think the civil right-ers should be let off the hook. It’s not playing “the race card,” just pointing out a fact.

19 thoughts on “Michelle Obama and The Slave Blood Caper

  1. Snob,Attacking African American women is more American than apple pie. It’s been going on since there was an America. Cindy McCain is a drug addict and a thief and yet they attack Michelle? Can you imagine if Michelle was not only a drug addict but stole from a charity organization to get her drugs! There would be a 24 hour cable channel called Michelle Obama Is a Drug Addict (founded by Rupert Murdock).

  2. I agree with Rev. Steele on this one. Michelle has the American “birth defect” Condoleeza Rice spoke of, and Barack does not, plain and simple.

  3. “The prospect of losing wealth and health at the hands of slaves was so strong that long after the threat had passed the punishment continued. Remnants of it still exist to this day. The belief that black people want vengeance, even though they typically ask for equality.”No truer words were spoken. It is this fear that makes many white “conservative, hard-working Americans” nervous. Re: the video of West Virginians talking about Obama. They are afraid of payback. And all we’re asking for (ever really asked for) was fairness. Fairness is a frigtening concept to the privileged class. It means losing something – even if you didn’t deserve it or earn it. You lose something (even if just a little) nonetheless. It’s that no retreat attitude that births militants who would be quite satisfied with revenge.

  4. Nope,Not feeling this one at all. I do agree with Monie that because Michelle is Black and because she is a woman (I have three sisters and I hear it from them all the time) there has been a double standard in how her comments have been portrayed in the mass media – Cindy McCain and for that matter crazy old Barbara Bush Senior get a pass for some of the patently racist and straight up plain not-thinking things they say as White women. I think we give too much credit to the fear mongers and dittoheads to believe that they actively craft their attacks based on the kind of Black person they target.I’ll vouch for the fact that since I look like a regular medium brown Black Americans I get treated as such even though my ancestry is completely based in the West Indies where I was born. My way of speaking – clear English, not accented doesn’t stop folks from being bigoted and feeling that they can say whatever they want regardless of how offensive it may be.Now Barak may be getting a pass because his mother is White and he can trace a familial tie with (of all people) Dick Cheney. . . but I sincerely believe that if he was 100% African, he would be getting the same treatment as Michelle, if not worse.

  5. Writing in from England and viewing some of the comments in the white media here, I’m just not certain that they know what to make of such a bright, lovely, confident and inspiring Black woman! Some can “console” themselves with the thought that Barack is half white, but cannot do the same with his beautiful wife who fits no stereotype of Black women commonly shown in the media. Also,hailing as she does from a loving, strong two parent family especially having a Black father that she loved, adored and respected is perhaps forcing some to look at us in a new way that they would rather not…!Barack is so blessed to have Michelle by his side, and he from his own writing is more than aware of that. May God bless, keep and cause to prosper ever more greatly, Mr. and Mrs. Obama!

  6. mo: I agree that an African would receive the same amount of ignorance, I just contend they would have to deal with the “otherness” factor often assigned to immigrants, coupled with general hostility towards black people who are ascribed a second-class status in our society. All of us in the diaspora are affected by racism, but that racism in America stems from a generalized dislike/disinterest of black Americans who black immigrants get lumped in with sometimes. But I say the language changes when the origin status is a known.Barack, while born here, gets beat up for not having an English last name or a “Christian” first name like the majority of black Americans. I’d also contend that a black American running for office wouldn’t have to worry as much about accusations of having a pro-terrorist agenda or as many questions about their faith. But a black American would be accused of hating white people or having a radical “pro-black” agenda. A lot of the stuff being pinned on Barack is guilt-by-association. Michelle is accused of being a charter member of the “association.”And the association is made up of the black Americans who some whites accuse of not being able to get over our past and present troubles.Plenty of times these same individuals will point to black immigrants who are successful in our society and accuse black Americans of basically being lazy whiners, disregarding America’s serious racial issues. But any perception of acceptance for those immigrants dissipates in the actions and reactions towards them in our society.My point is — it’s both complicated and simple at the same time. If you’re black and the decedent of slaves, your screwed. If you’re black and African, you’re screwed. They’re just going to change the language.

  7. um… this is *really* bad logic. white people don’t resent us *because* our ancestors were slaves. they resent us because we’re black! think about it: the most extreme, racist notion you can even come up with is that slavery was the “good old days.” certainly michelle obama’s attackers don’t resent her for having slaves’ blood. that’s ridiculous..now if Steele’s comment was some kind of “anti-euphemism” meaning that she draws more heat because she’s a black *american* woman, then I can’t see what purpose it served other than to be inflammatory. seriously, how do the words “slaves’ blood” help clarify such a simple argument? michelle obama is attacked because these tv and radio talking heads need some reason to attack barack obama. she made one unfortunate gaffe about being proud of this country, and these people twisted it and took it out of context and still won’t let it go. Ever since then they’ve been trying to use her to attack barack obama’s campaign, and they’ve done so in ways that are racist, sexist and downright dumb.Steele, however, did nothing to help this situation with his not-so-well-thought-out comments.

  8. On a visit I took to Ellis Island and reading accounts from Jamaican immigrants in the late 19th century,they were told by immigration agents that if they interacted with American blacks, they would be deported. I think there is some truth in what Rev.Steele is saying.@ Black Snob- Thanks for the link to Angry Asian Man. sorry I didn’t get back to you.

  9. I’m commenting as a white person who comes to this blog because I love Michelle Obama’s fashion sense. I live in Bed Stuy in Brooklyn, and so I see that there is a strong cultural difference between African or Caribbean Americans and slave-descended African Americans. I don’t intend to discount what you all are saying about Obama having less racist baggage than Michelle. But I do wonder where it is coming from. I know for a fact that the white people I’ve met who don’t live in black neighborhoods don’t perceive this difference, much less perceive it as one of literal heritage. I don’t think of this as being on white radar. So I guess my question is whether you’re talking about an external or internal racial pressure when you’re talking about slave-descended v. African/Caribbean. Thanks for the consistently interesting writing, Snob.

  10. bklybam – you said exactly what I was thinking. You are absolutely correct!!”I don’t think of this as being on white radar.” anon – how preceptive you are. Right on!

  11. one more thing. I have heard this “separation” argument before, and many African brothers and sisters take slavery in american very personally. When they see the images or read our history, they see black people that look just like them, being oppressed.Our history did not begin here, and to speak as if it did is to do an injustice to us all. Those that hate black skin, hate black skin, period.Mr. Steele is majoring in the minor.

  12. (1)I’m genuinely confused by their entire reason for an argument.(2) Rumour has it that there were Africans who had slaves.Um, just a rumour…. ~In the meantime, what did you think about Ralph Nader wanting Obama to act “blacker”? Uh, did anyone else know he was even running for prez?

  13. Horror Visions of White Folks from a JJP reader. (Warning, don’t drink while reading):As far as the “talking white” issue goes, sometimes I really do think some white people have a vision in their heads of January 20, 2009 where Barack Obama turns into either Yung Barack, complete with gold chains and teefes, grabbing his nutz as he raps the Oath of Office into the mic while Michelle drops it like it’s hotorThey think Barack will morph into Barack X, and upon taking the Oath of Office gives a State of the Union in the Oval Office (which is now decorated in red, black and green) and he says “We (blacks) didn’t land in the United States of Amerikkka, the United States of Amerikkka landed on us–Kill the White People!” while Michelle, hair blown out in an Angela Davis-style afro, pumps her fist in the air and screams “Git Whitey!” And the Secret Service has been replaced by the Fruit of Islam.BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA

  14. Cindy McCain is a drug addict and a thief and yet they attack Michelle? Can you imagine if Michelle was not only a drug addict but stole from a charity organization to get her drugs! There would be a 24 hour cable channel called Michelle Obama Is a Drug Addict (founded by Rupert Murdock).June 24, 2008 1:18 PMYou bet your behind. And, I’ll add to this..IF Michelle was Barack’s SECOND WIFE THAT TOOK HIM FROM THE LONG SUFFERING WIFE THAT NURSED HIM BACK TO HEALTH? OH HELL NO.1. This would be Example Number One of the ‘Lack of Barack Obama’s character’. 2. Every female ‘journalist’ you know, would have interviewed the ‘ First Mrs. Obama’ to ‘ get her story’. And, it would play as an endless loop. Whatever story they could pimp from it, it’d be a nightly segment on some of these cable shows. 3. The folks at the charity from which Michelle stole, would be interviewed. 4. There would be ‘prosecutors’ on talking about HOW MICHELLE GOT AWAY WITH THIS CRIME. Talking about how much time she SHOULD be serving in prison. They would then go to the prison and interview criminal women who did a comparable crime. 5. Michelle wouldn’t have to be worth 100 million. Let her be worth 1 million, and they would be howling, ‘ how could she do this? After all she had all this money.’6. And, IF Michelle had 100 million and refused to release her tax returns, it would turn into the ‘coverup of the century’.

  15. Rikyrah,YOU AIN”T NEVER LIED. That is Exactly how it would be going down…nightly. Senator Obama would have never maded out of IOWA!!!

  16. Hey Kenya W, thanks for the compliments! I see that you stay in the “A.” That’s where I reside until my spaceship takes me back to the Planet Brooklyn :)Also all, be careful; Cindy McCain was attacked by the GOP pretty badly in 2000 when John McCain ran against George W Bush. In South Carolina, the GOP passed out leaflets implying that her adopted daughter, who is from Bangladesh, was John McCain’s half-Black love child. Those GOP people are nasty no matter whom they’re attacking… This time around, they have the benefit of Fox News, which didn’t exist back then, and can hammer Barack Obama and company 24 hours a day.I’m not saying the treatment of Michelle Obama is exactly the same, I’m just pointing out that they’re some nasty MF’s…

  17. Nader’s full comments:”There’s only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate: He’s half African-American. Whether that will make any difference, I don’t know. I haven’t heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos, payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What’s keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white, he doesn’t want to appear like Jesse Jackson?”I think all Ralph Nader is trying to say here is that Obama is walking a fine line by trying to *appease* white voters, and staying away from some issues that really affect Black voters. He never accused him of “talking white” in the sense we normally think of (a la Carlton Banks). We (i.e., Black people) know about the fine line he has to walk, but I think it’s a little crude for Ralph Nader to exploit it. Ralph’s still my boy, though. He loses maybe half a cool point for this one…

  18. Seconding bklynbam’s point about Cindy McCain. She was basically raped by the GOP last time around. If she doesn’t get dragged through the mud again I think it’s a testament to Obama’s message control, leadership and general classiness. I understand black community skepticism/cynicism about the way Michelle Obama’s being/will be treated, but I do think it’s important to keep in mind that she’s actually being treated just as badly as Cindy, Theresa Heinz-Kerry and HRC.Is her blackness fodder for the GOP? Surely! But it’s not as if she’s being singled out among aspiring first ladies for bad treatment by the Rovian attack machine. I also think her blackness might protect her, at least in the MSM, as much as it opens her up to mischaracterizations of “angry” or even “uppity.” I think that when most white people see something racist, they tend to think it’s really ugly. But at the same time, there’s a lot of confusion about what is racist and what isn’t. So most white people, I think, tend to vacillate wildly between insensitivity and over-sensitivity in an effort to do the right thing when it comes to saying anything that might be construed as racial. This makes the line for attacking MO very fuzzy. White people say and think racist things all the time, and are open to thinking of MO as too “angry” in a way that isn’t rational or fair. But the overwhelming majority of white people are trying not to do that. So if you go too far with an “Angry Michelle Obama” attack, you wind up sharing a seat with Bill and Hillary Clinton at the “I’ve Got The Bigot Vote” table, which I know used to be the dominant paradigm in American politics, but is now kind of a lonely backwater of shame. As McCain endured a lot of rumors that he fathered a black child out of wedlock, I think MO will get a lot of really bad viral smear attacks about her undergrad thesis and whatnot. But the mainstream media seems to at least have a sense that characterizing MO in blatantly racist terms (ie, calling her BO’s baby mama) is not okay. The Obamas are getting as many apologies from Fox and MSNBC as they are attacks. This is obviously less than ideal. But in general, I am optimistic. Smears or no smears, I think they are going to wipe the floor with McCain’s ass. I am really looking forward to an Obama white house.

  19. Brklynbam,Ralph got it wrong. Sen. Obama is not “half African-American”, he is half Afrikan or more appropriately, he is half Kenyan!His father was a citizen of Kenya not the US. 🙂 But that is way too much blackness for these folks. There is a very fine line that SBO has to tow and who would no how to do that with more sincerity and better than a person with a bi-racial background?Side note: Isn’t funny that most that hate and segregation was about not mixing the races, and here we are with a product of said “abomination” about to become the leader of that same nation? Well he will lead it after Bush starts this war with Iran and serves his 3rd term… Lawd send your Angels.

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