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August 15, 2008

Michelle Obama "Happens" To Be Black

It's not her fault. We swear. It just happened:

She’s a type we’ve rarely seen in the public eye, a well-educated woman who is a dedicated mother, successful in her career, and happens to be black. This has created confusion for some people, who seem desperate to find a negative quality in her: She’s too big, too masculine, too much like a drag queen. While Obama may be able to play with urban tropes, like dusting off his jacket à la Jay-Z or speaking in a black patois when the time calls for it, Michelle has been increasingly forced to curtail her personality during the campaign, lest she attract rumors of uttering a verboten, anachronistic word like “whitey” or find herself labeled a “baby mama.” As much as any political campaign is an extended meditation on authenticity, the question of just how black the Obamas are has become particularly loaded. Michelle must project herself as black to one community, but she also must act white to another, whatever either adjective means nowadays. (Link.)

Where's the confusion, really? Isn't being black the "negative quality," even if it's no one's fault and just happens?

No, I'm not gonna let up on this seemingly small issue. This is the third time this week that I've read that Michelle just happens to be black. I could be wrong, but I don't think any journalists are writing that Barack "just happens" to be black. Maybe it's because there's a vague, unsubstantiated quality of intention around creating a child of a multiple racial mix when it comes to interracial couples, i.e. it didn't just happen, someone made it happen. But I guess all-black couples just happen to bump into each other hard enough for a penis to slip into a vagina, spurt some baby batter, and create another happenstancical black person. It just happens all the time.

There's two things going on here. The first is that, as I've suggested above, being black is negative quality enough. Saying someone "just happens" to be black is the same thing as saying that they didn't do it on purpose, and therefore can't be blamed for it.

The second is the implication that there are people who have babies on purpose and people who don't, or to put it differently: people who plan families, and people who don't. Intention is higher quality in the baby game, which is why "family planning" is the term used to describe simply educating people about sex. Nobody ever "just happens" to be white. White babies have an intentionality behind them, the quality of being wanted, of having a purpose. Black babies? Not so much with the intentionality, being wanted, or having a purpose. They just happen.

Do I really need to come up with a neat closing? Did I get my point across? Good. I'm just going to go off and hope I don't have to talk about this again, even though I suspect I will.

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