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Last summer, my wife and I watched former First Lady Michelle Obama give an invigorating moderated talk at the Essence Music Festival. She was a mainstage headliner whose conversation with Gayle King was the prelude to Mary J. Blige’s closing performance of the second night of the three-night concert. The world was undeniably different then.
Over 60,000 (mostly) Black folks of all walks of life sat in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on a seasonably warm New Orleans summer night and watched the woman many refer to as the “forever FLOTUS” speak nuggets of wisdom from her mega blockbuster book, “Becoming.” It was the type of candid discourse that only someone with as highly of a decorated public life as Mrs. Obama could offer. She was funny. She was thoughtful. She was introspective. Although I always knew her to be an actual human being, seeing her in real life talk about the overt and covert bigotry her family endured as the nation’s first Black family, while tussling with a hoop earring caught in her curly mane, made her humanity that much more tangible for me.
Last night, Michelle Obama gave the closing speech for the first night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. For just over 18 minutes, she stared directly into a camera, with the absence of a live audience, and spoke passionately and endearingly about the challenges the country is facing while giving her wholehearted support of Joe Biden. At one point she told us how she “hates politics,” and I could not help but think that I hate the position the DNC and America in general often put Black women of high esteem in.
I watched Michelle Robinson Obama do what she has done time and time again for this democracy. I saw her request for us to be strong in the face of social unrest, systemic racism and the uncertainty of the pandemic. I watched her call Donald Trump out for being unfit for the job and offer Joe Biden as the necessary remedy to get this nation back on track. I cringed, like I often do, when I heard her repeatedly call Joe Biden “decent,” because calling him an experienced politician is one thing but exaggerating his morality is something else.
I watched the “forever FLOTUS” once again activate her highest self to encourage us to submit to a system of politics she admittedly loathes.
Sometimes I wish only the Essence Fest version of Michelle would show up in the public sphere. The double Ivy League-educated auntie with career advice for her Black nieces and nephews. The sharp-tongued sister and friend that preserves her wisdom for family reunions and boisterous game nights. The former First Lady who pokes fun at her husband’s perfectionism and “yes we can” ideals, who doles relationship advice specifically to young Black lovers.
Most times I wish Michelle Obama, and Black women of a similar ilk, would not be tasked with providing clarity and conviction to a nation undeserving of their advocacy or their genius. I wish the best of them would just bottle their glory and only break it in case of an emergency “Electric Slide”.
Folks are too spoiled by the cape Black women like Michelle always have to wear, and very rarely acknowledge the mud it’s been dragged through.