I’m going to cut right to the chase and pose this question straight up: Would African-American support for President Barack Obama be the same if Michelle Obama were a white woman? Oh Snap! No she didn’t just go there? Oh, yes I did.
I am a firm believer that we must be upfront about race relations in this country instead of acting like it isn’t worthy of discussion. Folks think about and act on their prejudices every single day, so there should be no reason why we don’t talk openly and honestly about race.
With that disclaimer, last week, the blogosphere had its attention on an excerpt from a new biography about the President called, “Barack Obama: The Story,” by David Maraniss. The excerpt from the yet to be released book focuses on the relationship the President had with Genevieve Cook, a 25-year-old Australian-born (white) Park Slope elementary school teacher, whom he met will living in New York City. Through observations from her diary, we learn that they first met at an east village Christmas gathering and he wooed her back to his apartment with promises of grub. They small talked on an orange bean bag chair before moving the conversation to the bedroom.
They were together for a while, at one point living together. Yet almost immediately Cook said that she began to notice that while the “sexual warmth” was definitely present, Obama, at many times, was also distance and wary in their relationship. On time, he confessed to Genevieve his ideal image of the perfect woman, which he described at as strong, upright and a fighter, “a black woman I keep seeing her as,” she said.
Overall, I thought the piece interesting in that we get to see a more intimate side of a young Obama, which by most accounts is considered to be calm, deliberate and hard to read by most in the press. But besides the tawdry stuff about his relationship with this particular woman, we also get to see a black man of mixed backgrounds trying to find his place in both culture and society. The reference to him carrying around and rereading a tattered copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, a story all about black identity, I found very endearing.
Of course, not everyone felt that way. A few friends of mine on Facebook questioned the timing of the release of the excerpt and its overall agenda. Some thought that some of the passages in the book, particularly finding out about his prior relationships with white women, would further question Obama’s blackness and drill down the narrative that Obama doesn’t really have a connection to the black community. I brushed it off until I began reading similar sentiments expressed in the comment section, mostly on black sites, which too covered this story. Comments such as:
“Couldn’t make it past the second page of this rubbish. Do better, GOP! “
“Well from what I was told president o was a virgin before he met his Mrs. right and on top of that I also recall hearing that Mrs. O was his only girlfriend *shrugs*”