Raising a Red Flag

michelle obama


First Lady Michelle Obama has set social media buzzing and drawn fire from the Glenn Beck faction for telling students at Tuskagee University about the racist insults she has endured during her time in the White House.

But she simply told the truth.

In her commencement address, the First Lady said that while Americans have made obvious progress in race relations, there’s more work to be done. She noted that she has had to deal with personal attacks during her time in the White House. One sketch showed her with a “huge afro and machine gun,”  she said. And she was described as “Obama’s Baby Mama” and one of his “cronies of color.”

She warned graduates that:

The road ahead is not going to be easy.  It never is, especially for folks like you and me.  Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away … And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry.  It can feel isolating.  It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter … And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real. They’re rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible.  And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.

Was it “polite” to mention these things? Some people might not think so. They might think it more polite to avoid “making a scene.”

But when racism is as ugly as it is in America today,  it’s time to “make a scene.” When so many young, black men are getting killed because of racism, politeness is not an option.

Tribalism is as old as mankind. But civilized people rise above such primitive impulses and learn to accept each other as human beings despite differences in skin pigmentation and ethnic origin.

The recent surge in racist incidents is evidence that civilization is under siege in Western society. While information and technology have exploded, education in its real sense has dwindled. As the world gets smarter in math and science, it seems to get dumber in the humanities.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how vulgarity is being embraced in popular culture, from marketing and entertainment to politics and even religion.

Meanwhile, economic injustice has bred an angry populism, which in itself is long overdue, but which has become contaminated in some instances with a kind of barbarism.

And the election of America’s first black President has created a backlash among some uneducated white Americans – an ugliness that is tolerated and encouraged by political opportunists.

In such a society – in such a world – it’s entirely appropriate for the First Lady to raise a red flag.

Click for more on the speech.

Click for the right-wing response.