I come not to praise Michelle Obama nor to bury her but simply to set the record straight. Which is to say that the reactions to her well publicized remark during a commencement address that she “wake[s] up each day in a house built by slaves” have missed the mark.
Typical of those reactions are some of the comments that follow a WNBC article on the speech, which took place yesterday at the City College of New York campus in Harlem. A few representative samples follow:
In a way, these reactions and the assumption that the first lady was bellyaching are understandable. Michelle Obama has never missed an opportunity to denigrate the U.S. for its “continuing pattern of systemic racism” or remind Americans of their nation’s “dark and sinful past.”
Against the steady drumbeat of racial grievance, one might easily imagine that her comment yesterday was more of the same. It wasn’t. Rather, it was meant, if clumsily, to commend the nation on the strides it has made toward diversity.
Here, if you can bring yourself to watch it, is the portion of the speech that is drawing so much fire:
The statement that is the root of the problem is guilty of metaphorical overkill. As formulated, it sounds boastful and accusatory at the same time … especially coming from a first lady who has been ostentatious in her lavish lifestyle during her years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
If her point was to praise the United States — and it’s well past time she did — there were numerous other examples of the nation’s greatness she could have emphasized.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, according to the White House Historical Association, the White House was built by slaves — free blacks as well.