I am notorious for having delayed reactions. So when the whole New York magazine/Michelle Obama/Martha’s Vineyard debacle came up in our morning meeting today I was admittedly embarrassed that it hadn’t been covered in the Michelle Obama Daily Diary (the First Lady photo blog I pen for ESSENCE.com). But now that some things have settled in, lil’ mama has something to say.
For those unaware, New York magazine published an article written by veteran Black journalist Toure in its latest issue titled “Black and White on Martha’s Vineyard.” In this ode to the affluent Black community called Oak Bluffs in the popular New England vacation spot, Toure quotes an anonymous member of Black high society in Martha’s Vineyard saying, “[Michelle Obama] is basically a ghetto girl. She grew up in the same place Jennifer Hudson did. She hasn’t reached out to the social community of Washington.”
I get that Toure likes to be a bit of a contrarian and I guess it has worked for his career thus far. I also understand balanced and objective reporting. But what I can’t quite grasp is how the originator of this anonymous (read: coward) quote came to such conclusions about the First Lady.
Michelle Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago. But her upbringing seemed to mirror “The Cosby Show” much more than it did “Menace II Society.” And to my knowledge, Michelle nor her brother, Craig, were members of Jack & Jill. However, they both graduated from Ivy League universities. The Robinson family did not “summer” in the Vineyard during the First Lady’s formative years but she and Craig went on to succeed in their chosen fields beyond the expectations of the Chicago Public School system. Maybe Mrs. Obama hasn’t “reached out to the social community of Washington,” but I’ve lost count of the number of times she’s reached out to children in South East D.C. (Silly me for thinking the latter is far more important.)
Is this a matter of the “haves” being jealous of the “have nots” for the first time…well…ever? The First Lady of the United States of America is a Black woman from a working-class background who’s not sample size, not an archaic ideal of a trophy wife and is (gasp!) unapologetic about all of it. I would like to think that the person quoted in this piece is the minority, as I’ve spoken to friends and colleagues who frequent MV about the Obamas’ pending August vacay in the Vineyard and none of them are clutching their pearls over the “ghetto girl” coming to visit. (For the record, the Obamas have actually vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard before.) But for those whose sentiments echo the above New York mag quote, “ghetto” is and always has been about a state of mind, whether you’re in Baldwin Hills or Compton.
I challenge you to accept that change is here. And she might be wearing a sleeveless dress.