The 'two Micheles': Obama, Bachmann held to different standards

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Here we go again.

I feel a bit of déjà vu coming on. I wrote this story before, back during the summer of 2008, when I penned the Outlook piece “Black.Female.Accomplished.Attacked” for the Washington Post, or better yet I wrote an entire book titled, Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama, which talks about the challenges even the most accomplished black women in America still must endure.

Let me be clear to any who doubt it: there are still two standards in America when it comes to who can say and do what. I agree with Professor Melissa Harris-Perry when she called that double-standard out this week on MSNBC’s The Last Word, while sitting in for host Lawrence O’Donnell.

It appears that first lady Michelle Obama has a different standard that even she is held to than is GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, for uttering the same words.

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As we all recall, Mrs. Obama was lambasted in 2008 for her out-of context comments about “being proud of [her] country for the first time”. She was immediately attacked, vilified; her college senior thesis at Princeton was dug up, she was accused of hurling secret racial epithets such as “down with whitey” in a so-called secret video made at her controversial former church in Chicago, and most damaging of all she was type-cast and caricatured as a first-bumping, machine gun toting, Afro-dashiki wearing, angry black woman on the cover of The New Yorker magazine.

Interestingly, however, just before winning the Iowa State straw poll this past weekend, GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann made a similar statement, telling an Iowa audience after she won the Ames straw poll, “you have restored my faith in America.”.

But instead of being roasted for not loving her country, or for being unpatriotic, the media has all but ignored Bachmann’s comments. Why? That is the question America. Why do we continue to excuse some and excoriate others for similar behavior?

That is a question I cannot answer, but I can shed some light on the facts.
The facts tell us that despite all of our newfound status, education and accomplishments, black women in America, including Mrs. Obama, still have to deal with racial stereotypes, double-standards, and being viewed as “invisible” or better “kept in our place”.

This will sound silly to some of you, but only to those of you who do not experience the gross bias and brick ceiling (forget about glass ceilings) that black women in America bump up against every day.

The fact is that if you look at former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or Rep. Bachmann, every black woman knows that no sister could have ever gotten the nod to become vice president of the United States with such a thin political resume, and an even thinner set of personal qualifications (e.g., ability to articulate a complete thought or speak on critical issues with command and knowledge) to be a heart-beat away from the Presidency.

Bachmann is definitely smarter and more articulate than Palin, but both are on the fringes of their political parties and of American culture.

Then there is Mrs. Obama: Ivy-league educated, attractive, a lawyer in her own right (Bachmann is, too), articulate (oops there’s that word again) and yet she has to watch everything she says so as not to offend anyone, or hurt her husband politically. Some might say she was even made over 2008 after the controversy over her comments to make her more “palatable” to the American people.

Let’s face it, America is far more comfortable seeing Mrs. Obama talk about growing gardens, dote on her husband, mother her kids, support our military families, and help our nation eat healthier, than we are seeing her discuss policy, form opinions, or speak her mind.

This is nothing new, but it is something America must stop and examine.

It’s similar to the furor from some in the black community over The Help movie and its depiction of Jim Crow era “maids”. It is not that the story was wrong, or that it was not true that caused alarm. It was the fact that a young white woman could tell the story and receive such critical acclaim, while a black woman telling the same story would not.

The same applies here; the first black first lady of the United States has to watch her words, while a white female presidential candidate can get a pass for uttering the very same sentiment.

Maybe I missed the difference. I sure hope someone can explain it to me.

Sophia A. Nelson is author of the new award nominated book Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama which was released May 31st, 2011