I’m Not Surprised Michelle Obama’s Mother Was Concerned About Her Daughter Marrying A Biracial Man
In my mind, I regard first lady Michelle Obama as triller than most people in Washington. When she confirmed that she didn’t have the temperament for politics, I interpreted that to mean that she’s too honest and too real to play the games necessary to survive in Washington D.C.
First Lady Michelle Obama is Auntie Chelle in my mind. She’s brilliant, she’s beautiful and in the right time and place, she’s going to let you know what’s what. And this morning I learned that she gets it from her momma.
Back in 2004, before President Obama was a household name, WTTW, a local Chicago television station aired a special about Barack Obama during his senate campaign.
But the special, which aired on “Chicago Tonight,” didn’t delve too heavily into politics. Instead it was about Obama’s journey to self discovery, the people and places that shaped his racial identity and even how others interpreted it. By the time they got around to talking about his meeting and marrying Michelle, her mother Marian Robinson was interviewed.
And she admitted that she was just a bit wary about her daughter marrying a biracial man.
Then she expounded, with the quote that’s been making news this morning:
“That didn’t concern me as much as had he been completely white. *Laughs*
I guess that I worry about races mixing because of the difficulty not for, so much for prejudice or anything. It’s just very hard.”
Since we’re still muddling through the race thing in this country, mainstream media is reporting this with a bit of shock and maybe even confusion. And if you read her comments without watching the whole 17 minute special, they may seem a bit harsh. But in the context of the special, which is mostly about race and how people perceive Blackness in this country and abroad, it made perfect sense.
And not only that, her comments aren’t all that different from the ones I’ve heard in my own home.
Like most Black people born in the ’50’s, my parents have some unresolved issues, resentment and feelings of hostility toward White people as a collective. There were consistent observations, complaints, and generalizations about White people behaviors (usually negative) in my home. Still, I witnessed my parents get along with and even enjoy the company of White people on individual levels. And when I reminded my parents, specifically my mother, about the inconsistencies of their stereotypes, she’d roll her eyes and respond with a skeptical “Ok, Veronica…” as if there were things I’d simply have to experience in order to understand.
In my life though, my parents supported and never discouraged me and my sister’s friendships with White kids but they also weren’t surprised when those friendships fizzled or completely ceased to exist around middle school. By the time we became of dating age, there was a strong sense and understanding that White people were just different. So it didn’t exactly come as a surprise that when I hypothetically broached the subject of dating and marrying a White man with my mother, she shook her head and closed her eyes, thinking of a way to express her internal disruption.
Like Marian Robinson, she thought it would be difficult and specifically referenced raising children. In my mother’s mind, it was hard enough to establish a sense of identity, self love and confidence in children who only identified as Black. Raising a child who was both Black and White would prove to be an even greater challenge. Speaking with my biracial friends about their own self identification journeys, I noticed that all of them included a reconciling of their “two races.” My mother and Ms. Robinson had a point.
As Michelle Obama’s autobiographer Peter Slevin, the man one who dug up this old interview, noted Ms. Robinson’s concerns didn’t cause her to completely oppose the union. It was just a concern. Parents want, unrealistically, for their children’s (and grandchildren’s) lives to be as “easy” as possible. So they worry, often unnecessarily, when something or someone “challenging” comes along. And while we certainly can’t expect our lives to be a bed of roses all the time, it doesn’t make their worries completely unfounded.
What the media is neglecting to report though, is that Michelle herself, was more than comfortable declaring Barack an undeniably Black man. After he lost a congressional election in 2000, some in the Black Chicago community questioned whether he was too elitist and “not Black enough” to represent a predominately African American district. Michelle emphatically refuted of those claims.
“I’ve grown up in this community. I’m as Black as it gets. I was born on the South side. I come from an obviously Black family. We weren’t rich. I put my Blackness up against anybody’s Blackness in this state, ok? And Barack is a Black man. And he’s done more in terms of meeting his commitments and sticking his neck out for this community than many people who criticize him. And I can say that ’cause I’m Black.”
I’ll be the first to say that, in most cases, you should at least listen and consider your mama’s opinion (Moms be knowin’); but at the end of the day, Michelle’s is the only opinion that matters when it comes to her own marriage. And judging by that quote, she didn’t have those same reservations. So, this really is a moot (and rather old) bit of news. We can consider this little tidbit as yet another way for the media to have another fruitless, surface conversation about race relations in this country. And once again, they’re not saying anything we haven’t already heard before.
You can watch the entire special, which was really well done, in the video below. Ms. Robinson’s comments are at the 13 min mark and Michelle’s comments on President Obama’s Blackness comes at 14:55.
What do you think about Ms. Robinson’s comments? Have you heard similar statements about interracial relationships from your own family members?