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Speaking out, standing up

The Dallas Examiner | 5/18/2015, 7:58 a.m.
First lady Michelle Obama was the commencement speaker at Tuskegee University on Saturday. Tuskegee is a private historically Black university ...
The Dallas Examiner Logo Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

The Dallas Examiner

First lady Michelle Obama was the commencement speaker at Tuskegee University on Saturday. Tuskegee is a private historically Black university in Tuskegee, Alabama, established in 1881 by Booker T. Washington.

Obama spoke about the challenges she has faced being the first African American first lady.

She said when her husband was running for office in 2008, she was held to a different standard than past candidates’ wives had because of her race. She said she faced questions during the campaign that were not typical for other candidates’ wives; questions like “Was I too loud or too emasculating? Or was I too soft? Too much a mom and not enough of a career woman?”

Additionally, she referenced the magazine cover with the cartoon that depicted her with a huge afro and a machine gun. Also, being referred to on Fox News as her “husband’s crony of color” and “Obama’s baby mama.”

During her husband’s campaign and throughout both presidencies, there have been many references and statements about her that other first ladies have never had to face. For example, there are many cartoons and images of Obama looking like a monkey, chimpanzee or ape. Others compare her to Chewbacca.

Just last month talk show host Rodner Figueroa said she looked like a character from the Planet of the Apes.

Critics even take aim at her campaigns geared toward improving the health of children and the lives of youth in underserved communities. Her Let’s Move campaign is one of the largest and most successful initiative founded by a first lady. Last week, it announced that 95 percent of America’s schools are now providing healthier meals. Dallas ISD is among that list of schools. It even announced that it would introduce healthier, child-tested meatless options next school year.

Obama talked candidly about the hurt she and Barack Obama felt dealing with racism. She encouraged students not to let such difficulties keep them down.

She told the graduates not to let those feelings be an excuse for them to throw their hands up and give up.

“They are not an excuse to lose hope. To succumb to feelings of despair and anger only means that in the end, we lose,” she said.

She reminded them “that our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win. It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together – then we can build ourselves and our communities up. We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together – together – we can overcome anything that stands in our way.”

Some conservatives have criticized Obama for using this platform to discuss race.

We want to applaud her for speaking out about her feelings in regard to how she was treated and the fact that she felt she was treated differently because of her race.

As African Americans we need to speak out more often when we are treated differently. Sometimes the discriminatory treatment is intentional and sometimes it is unintentional. Racism is a learned behavior. Many times the lessons start early in life. It is important to teach youth how to recognize when racism is directed toward them and to speak up – let others know their words or actions are not acceptable. Sometimes, people need to be told that their actions are culturally or racially insensitive or perceived as racist. They many not realize they are behaving that way, either due to ignorance or habit or both. Others need to know you’re not going to tolerate being treated or spoken to in such a way.