Michelle Obama had an impossible task last evening. Her job was to bridge the huge gap between modernity and its still festering wounds of racism, and post modernity where racism and race for that matter are signifiers of things no longer relevant. Barack has the same challenge which, admit it or not, makes winning this november more difficult than we like to admit.
First, let me agree with Olbermann and suggest that Michelle was brilliant. Now, here’s the challenge. Michelle’s objective was to 1) sell America on the possibility of having an African-American first family in the White House. This task supposes a modernist America that remains muddied in the racist waters of the not too distant past in terms of law and the very real presence in terms of every day realities. As commentators suggested last evening and this morning, Michelle needed to convince America that the Obama’s were not “the Other.” Something unsettling about having mainstream media discussing and even judging whether the Obama family (a black family) “deserves” or should be considered eligible to be treated like a “white” first family. I don’t think Cindy McCain will be expected to give this sort of speech.
2) second, has to do with a “post racial” America, the idea that many people associate with barack’s candidacy. As the idea applies to Michelle’s speech, she needed to show america that the Obama’s are no different than any other American family. As unsettling as the first task was, this one strikes a different chord: on the one hand it is such a “no-brainer” as to challenge commentators to say anything at all that is not incredibly stupid or blatantly racist. And is there not something incredibly patronizing about forcing the Obama’s into the white fantasy of a color blind country? You see, the thing about post-racism is that it plays out on two different fields: one is the field of mainstream media fixating on the faux notion that if Obama gets elected, then, fantastically, racism becomes a thing of the past. Obama’s bio happens to represent the more complex notion of post-race and post-racism. This is the idea that Obama is mixed race, and is only considered black or african american because of the binary categories established and maintained by mainstream culture. It is my guess the Obama’s would rather challenge America to think about the latter category of post-race; but last, evening, Michelle was forced into the “black and white” version of the term.
Finally, as much as the Obama’s face an incredible test over the next 70 days or so, I believe the real test lies with the american voter who must answer some vital questions about american identity in the 21st century.