Several years ago my middle child came home from school one day and informed me that her teacher had taken her into a storage closet in the classroom and dressed her down for being disrespectful. All this came about because my daughter had interrupted the teacher in an attempt to inform her that a classmate was having difficult seeing the board. My daughter of course is black, her classmate was white. It was the teachers’ contention that this was not my daughter’s business to which my daughter shot back “it is my business, she is my friend.”
Naturally I had to pay a visit to the school and to that specific teacher; because I wanted to help her to understand that the defiance she had met in my daughter was a survival skill I had put there for moments such as these. As it turned out , during the exchange the teacher, meaning to press her point and share hew wisdom had counseled my daughter about how important it was that people thought well of her, culminating with a question “don’t you care what people think about you?” to which, to her complete shock my daughter calmly replied “no.”
What I had to help that teacher understand, was that my daughter had learned from me, that as long as she was not breaking any laws, infringing on anyone’s rights, or disgracing herself; she had no time to worry about what people thought about her, because by doing so she was actually deferring her own power to someone else, who might define her in ways that might be unrecognizable even to her. And lord knows, black women have been defined.
Black women have been wet nurses, housemaids, nappy headed hos, bed warmers, thrills for those seeking an “exotic” experience; we’ve been abused physically and verbally, ridiculed, unloved, discarded baby mamas, sexless, invisible, neutralized, objects of ridicule and dare I say it, the “butt” of crude jokes. We’re the most likely to die from breast cancer, the recipient of inferior health care and delayed diagnoses. In our struggle to find acceptance and achieve that acceptable western standard of beauty so we too will find love and acceptance, or until we find that place where we learn to love ourselves, we dye, fry, bleach all traces of our natural beauty, our hair and skin sometimes leading to permanent damage.
Our communities are littered with beauty supply stores selling the latest nails and horse hair extensions so we too can have flowing tresses, even as the merchants look on in thinly veiled amusement, as we wrestle with our own psychic trauma. Just what makes these pundits think their words can hurt us when everyday we walk through hell and back, with our eyes wide open is beyond me.
It is all these things and more that Michelle understand as she steps out on to a world stage to face the hatred of those who would hide their racism and vile behind the banner of GOP while hurling their fiery epithets at her. She understands that Geraldine Ferraro will not come to her defense, that the National Organization of Women will remain as silent as the grave and that the only people she can truly count on are the nameless faces, black, white, Latino, Asian and people like me who put my outrage into words; who say silent prayers for her because we are deeply ashamed of what we see taking place.
Imagine this Princeton educated mother of two outstanding young girls, who by all standards is a living embodiment of the American dream, being referred to as “Obama’s baby mama” by a sorry pile of excrement hiding behind the moniker of commentator and you will understand the grace that it takes for someone like Michelle to stand. I have to think that somewhere inside of her is that 9 year old girl who has learned, that as long as she is not breaking any laws, infringing on anyone’s rights or disgracing herself, she has no time to worry about what these lesser life forms think of her, because the cause she believe is so much greater than they will ever understand and she is completely focused on helping the only person who truly sees her, to fulfill his destiny and hers.