I’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:
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?
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.