Before Steppin’ to Today’s Black Woman, Michelle Obama Would Like a Word

 

Michelle ObamaI’m sure you’ve heard about “FLOTUS Hecklegate” by now. If not, let me set the scene: the uber talented Michelle Obama is on stage at a Democratic fundraiser imploring the audience to do their best for today’s children. To give them a chance to grow in a world that leaves them empowered – as opposed to oppressed.

Then out of no where comes the distinct sound of a “disturbance” of some sort. It’s a heckler. A very loud, very insistent heckler. Apparently, Ms. Ellen Sturtz, an activist for a pro-LGBT rights group thought she could follow in the tradition of previous speech interrupters and heckle FLOTUS the same way other protesters have heckled her husband.

But Ellen Sturtz had another thing coming. Make no mistake: Michelle Obama is not the sista to disrespect. She made that abundantly clear.

Now, if it were just the heckling, this story may have died a quick death. But it was Michelle’s response to the heckling that made all the difference. FLOTUS paused her speech and told Sturtz in a clear I-am-not-the-Black-woman-to-mess-with voice: “One thing I don’t do well, is this.”

She then left the mic, moved towards the heckler and stated that the audience could “listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

The crowd roars that they want FLOTUS to stay and reportedly tell the heckler she has to get out.

Now, maybe if that were all there was to it, I wouldn’t have been moved to write this post. But here’s where it gets really interesting, at least for me.

Miss Millie Syndrome

When interviewed by the Washington Post, Sturtz-the-Heckler made the  following remarks in an interview after she was escorted out of the room:

According to Sturtz she was evidently:

“stunned by Obama’s response. ‘She [FLOTUS] came right down in my face,’ Sturtz said. ‘I was taken aback.'”

In another interview Sturtz stated

“She [FLOTUS] obviously thought she was going to make an example of me or something. I wasn’t scared at all.”

Wait – you paid money to  hear FLOTUS speak, rudely interrupt her speech and when you realized she wasn’t playing games, you were taken aback?! And are we really to believe that Michelle Obama got “right down in” your face to “make an example of you,” Chi-town style?

This is a classic case of what I call the “Ms. Millie Syndrome.”

Ms. Millie was the mayor’s wife in the film The Color Purple. The one who kept touching Miss Sophia’s (played by Oprah) children and then told her “your children are so clean. Want to work for me? Be my maid?” Ms. Sophia didn’t take that too well and after refusing, Ms. Millie basically became indignant and got her husband and the town to turn on Ms. Sophia. Next thing we know, Ms. Sophia gets pistol whipped and thrown in jail for years. As part of her punishment, Ms. Sophia is forced into convict leasing and ends up working as Ms. Millie’s maid anyway.

Um…White privilege much?

Then feminist anti-war group Code Pink decided to “educate” Mrs. Obama on how to “behave” when dealing with others. The group took to the twitterverse to send this message:

CODEPINKCODEPINK ‏@codepink@MichelleObama should have been coached on how to deal diplomatically w people who stand up to protest govt policies.”

So Lemme get this straight:

1) White woman rudely disrespects and interrupts Black woman. 2) Black woman politely says not today lady. 3) Black woman needs to learn how to behave.

After a rapid outcry, CodePink deleted the tweet and started back pedaling all over the place as they apologized for not considering the issues of white privilege. Ya think?

Le Sigh!

To tell you the truth, as a Black woman, I am so tired of seeing Michelle Obama talked about like she’s a hood rat. I’m tired of her being treated in ways Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan never endured. As noted by Jim Downs at Huff Post:

Unlike Laura Bush or even Nancy Reagan, the popular press in both the U.S. and throughout the world has caricatured Michelle Obama as a beast, as a slave, and, as an angry radical.

Yeah folks. Michelle Obama is the angry Black woman. Once again, a Black woman is told her behavior is improper – when she is addressing a rude, inappropriate White woman.

What may shock some of our White sisters is that I’d be willing to bet most of us can relate to what FLOTUS felt in that moment.

I remember being spoken down to, disrespected and set aside because I’m a Black woman. I know what it is to have to bite my tongue (damn near in 2) in order to avoid being told I’m too “emotional.” I know what it is to be told that my “behavior” is too harsh/mean/outspoken/loud (pick an adjective – any adjective!) to be appropriate.

I remember wanting to drop kick my guidance counselor who told me I shouldn’t rely on Affirmative Action to get into law school – when I had a 3.8 G.P.A. I remember wanting to scream as another counselor advised me to only apply to 3rd and 4th tier schools – despite my stellar academic record. I remember getting near perfect reviews at a law firm – until I told them I desired a certain type of cases. Then I was told that I “had a certain tone.”

And in each of those moments (and so many more that I can’t begin to count) I kept it in. Maintained proper decorum so I wouldn’t be seen as one of “those Angry Black Girls.”

Well you know what amazes me? Michelle has reached a position where she ain’t playin that game anymore. Now I don’t know what that means for the rest of us mere mortals who work at jobs where we are second guessed, under valued, under paid and maligned because we are Black women.  I’m not sure what we can learn from this incident as it pertains to empowering Black women who have to contend with disrespect because they refuse to conform to the standard of European beauty that says our hair has to be taken straight in order to be taken seriously.

But I do know that in this moment I HEART MICHELLE O. Check out the audio of the incident below.

 

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About Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq.

Comments

  1. Regina Stone says:

    I love your attitude and the elegance that you have used in expressing the disrespectful, classless, lack of regard that dominant Euro-reflective culture has toward equally eloquent women of demeanor and class, that happen to be of darker skin tone. Yet, if Jackie O or Laura Bush had experienced such nonsense and ignorance the crowd would’ve “hushed” in shock and then whispered as someone came to “rescue” the “ingenue” in her time of need and unexpected conflict. Yet, FLOTUS had to advocate and stand up for herself, and when she did, she is publicly criticized. Thank you for sharing!

    • Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. says:

      Thanks Regina. Even when Laura Bush was heckled – there was never this sense of “entitlement” like she wasn’t worthy of respect. That’s one of the things I really took issue with – the sentiment that FLOTUS “didn’t know how to act” simply because she refused to be a door mat.

      • Chele says:

        Amen! I’m so tired of people saying the treatment of POTUS and FLOTUS has nothing to do with race. *eyeroll* Never do I remember it being ok to call the First Lady out of her name or for there to be threats on the life of the First Lady or The President.
        Wasnt that a crime when the a White House was ‘All White’? Hmmmm

  2. Derrick Mathis says:

    You were doing good until you started talking about HAIR. Like, what the hell does that have to do with anything??? Why are black women so obsessed with their hair? Like how do you tie that in to this incident?

    Dang. And it was such a good essay until…

    • Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. says:

      Ha! Well Derrick – this is primarily a hair blog. And for many Black women – our hair is one of the final stumbling blocks to being completely comfortable in the bodies God gave us. Black hair has been so politicized that it really is a huge deal and it is often a metaphor for many other issues that people in our community deal with. But I’m glad you liked it before that final sentence mentioned hair! 🙂

  3. Treshea says:

    Awesome post. Miss Millie syndrome is similar to Miss Hilly Holbrook Syndrome. At least with MHHS you get to be excited about your own outside toilet.

  4. Ange-Marie Hancock says:

    What a wonderful post! All I can say is amen, sister!

  5. C. says:

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

  6. Helen Trammell says:

    I am a Black woman born in Alabama in the fifths my mother taught my sister and me to be proud of who we are and not to let any one put us down. I am at and age that I don’t take kindly to stupid people. When they come at me with their remarks I just tell them in a nice way just what I think of them and their remarks. As the old folks say put them in their place.

  7. Anna says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts on this incident. It seems to me that both the FLOTUS and the POTUS are under way more scrutiny than any others in history, and it has everything to do with race. Remember the fist-bumping incident. When in history have we seen an expression of support between a husband and wife under so much suspicion? Michelle’s response to this heckler reminded me of the way a mother might speak to her child. “Your behavior is not acceptable. At this point you have two choices that I can live with : This or That. And you can’t have it both ways.”

    • Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. says:

      Isn’t it crazy how a couple that seem to be so in love and such a model for the rest of us – are constantly under attack? I laugh when I hear people in the media say things like “What is it about this president that makes people act like that?” I just want to scream – “it’s because he is BLACK!”

  8. La Toya says:

    Wow, great article. And I can’t believe some of those things that were said to you while you were in school!!! Well, actually, I can believe it. I’m a Black opera singer and I’ve heard some things like that too. Racism is alive and well.

    • Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. says:

      I could fill up pages with the craziness I was told at school – but I’m sure most of us could. And a Black opera singer – that is wonderful! My cousin’s goal is to be an opera singer – now I can tell her that there are others out there!

  9. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes says:

    Beautifully stated and so “on point”! Thank you!

  10. Monica Wallace says:

    I love Michelle Obama. She handled the situation perfectly. So glad it happened.

  11. Love your piece, Lurie! Sharing!

  12. I applaud you and the FLOTUS. It is so hard dealing with disrespect from wash and go women. No matter how much you accomplish in life there are still those who treat you a non factor and when you stand up for yourself, you are ill mannered. Smh

  13. Joy says:

    Very rarely do I encounter someone who can both analyze and accurately articulate facts about a situation such as this. I completely agree with this entire piece.. You were standing there begging for attention.. begging for a reaction, and then surprised and “stunned” when you got one?? hmm ok..We will never get the respect we deserve no matter what title or position we hold, that’s why it’s so important for us to value ourselves as a people and loft each other up. I look forward to the day (very soon) when we are no longer the minority.

    I love and respect First Lady Michelle Obama and the President of the United States..

  14. Laura says:

    Hi, I just “discovered” your blog and have been going back through older entries. I really like this one and can relate even though I’m not black, I’m of Mexican heritage. I’m a teacher in a nearby district, and sit on the school board in the city where I live; I am the only non-white on this board. I have been told by various people, including another female trustee, that I need to tone things down. I’m too “emotional,” and need to control it better. I really thought about this and wondered if I was too over the top, compared to the others. But it dawned on me that what they wanted was for me to be more white. When the female trustee (of German ancestry) gets mad, her lips get thin. That’s it. When I’m mad, I’ll tell you why, in no uncertain terms, and I think most people appreciate my candor. Last November I was re-elected with the highest vote count, over 6,500 than the next person, so the public can’t be too upset with my personality. Anyway, it was another indicator that I don’t have to act how some white people expect/want me to act. I am who I am. And I don’t have to act a certain way to get along in a white world, they need to accept me for who I am and they just have to deal with it.

    • Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Laura! First, congrats on winning your re-election with such an overwhelming win! Your comment was a nice reminder that the desire to force non-White people to act a certain way (i.e. “respectability politics) is something that many people of color face. Kudos to you for standing up for yourself! And remember – being “emotional” doesn’t mean you are wrong! I’ve had to tell co-workers not to mistake my passion for inaccuracy. It’s always nice when I get to “be me” while being “correct” at the same time!

      • Shonda says:

        Black Women not going for the foolish,Millie syndrome..Any longer.If Millie and hubby try it,in this day and time it would be Hell to tell the Captain. And with that rude,lying heckler,Mrs Michelle Obama handled that situation like a true natural born black woman of power.Don’t dislike her,Get like her.(Whatttt)

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