Michelle’s Moment & Ours by Stephane Dunn

On my way to Denver on Tuesday, August 26, I talked to all kinds of excited folk headed to the Democratic National Convention—two sisters from Oakland who got here guerilla style, an older white woman from a small town newspaper, and a young writer fresh out of college. We talked about the great struggle to be at this historic convention, how we hustled for a space to lay our heads, and cheap plane tickets. We bemoaned the fact that we were going to be largely at a distance from the major convention folk; it helps not just to know “someone” but to be someone—that is someone on the political radar. When I finally got on the plane, my thoughts turned to Michelle Obama, who I’d watched the night before transfixed along with many others. I thought about how one word in particular, “different,” played like a needle stuck on a phonograph when the mainstream commentary dissected how well she did afterwards.

Michelle brought the color; she rocked that turquoise dress and her two other best accessories [besides Barack]—that chocolate skin and true you-know-her-parents-raised-her-right confidence, like we’ve never witnessed before. But it was more than the stunning picture she presented standing there, where sixteen years ago she never imagined being. As the camera scanned the faces of who’s who, delegates, and lucky on-site witnesses, there was awe and rapt attention to this could-be first black “first lady.”

The oft-repeated word “different” dramatized how long such a moment has taken. “She’s different.” She presents a “different picture,” and one commentator mused over whether America is “ready” for her. Her racial identity had everything to do with the repetition of “different,” and it underscored just how much the American mainstream and some black folk too register this dual successful, attractive couple with a seemingly successful marriage and family as some kind of anomaly outside television’s the Huxtables. Still, according to the CNN post-speech review, Michelle presented a “pretty” picture with her daughters and had effectively represented an intimate portrait of herself and her husband.

It was one of those Jackie Robinson-Marian Anderson on the opera house steps moments. Lots of us already know many Michelle-like sharp sisters out there, but we felt proud to have it affirmed under that bright spotlight. Sisters everywhere, including me, exhaled. Uh huh, told you.


Stephane Dunn is an assistant professor of English at Morehouse College and the author of “Baad Bitches” and Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films.

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