The Corner


Does the First Lady Really Believe African Americans Have Been ‘Frustrated and Invisible’ for ‘Decades’?

Michelle Obama — with no further general or midterm elections looming as referenda on her husband’s tenure — has reverted to her 2008 and pre-censored mode of sloganeering (America is a “downright mean country”; “They raise the bar. Raise the bar. Shift it to the side. Keep it just out of reach.”) Recently she told a college audience that African Americans have been “frustrated and invisible” for “decades.”

But what does the aggrieved Mrs. Obama’s allegation of black Americans’ being “invisible” mean in the age of African-American ubiquity in high-visibility entertainment and sports, or in light of the careers of billionaires such as Michael Jordan, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, or Oprah Winfrey, or national black leaders such as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson, Eric Holder, or Barack Obama? Does she mean “invisible” academics like Cornel West or Henry Louis Gates? Are actors such as Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington “frustrated”? Do university admissions officers practice a sly sort of discrimination against college-age African Americans with impressive test scores and GPAs, as they do in the case of qualified Asian Americans? If Mrs. Obama is apparently referencing Baltimore, then what to make of the fact that three black police officers were co-charged for the alleged murder and assault of a black suspect? And these are officers who work for a black police chief, who in turn serves a black mayor, who in turn reports to a largely black city council — all of whom are overseen by a black state attorney, who again in turn can be audited by a black attorney general of the United States, who serves a black president. Invisible? Frustrated?

Earlier Mrs. Obama remarked of the opening of a new museum in New York that unfortunately young black Americans feel that such public museums have been off-limits to them:

You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.

And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself. So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this.

It is hard to believe that Michelle Obama, raised in a solidly two-parent family in the Chicago middle class, and Barack Obama, a child of relative affluence who was raised in Hawaii and attended prep school, were not welcome in museums that offer frequent free admissions and community outreach — and have for decades. If inner-city youth are not going to museums, as Mrs. Obama alleges, it is not because the museums are located out of reach in the distant suburbs or rural America, or do not have outreach programs, or do not frequently highlight accessible themes. There are far more museums in Chicago and Honolulu than there are in Appalachia or rural Tulare County, and they are usually directed by academics and friends of the arts who are likely to be far more liberal than conservative. Any visitor to any major museum in the last three decades can attest that race, class, and gender themes anchor popular shows and displays.

If Michelle Obama could put aside her racialized blinders and perennial sense of grievance, she would understand that youth of all races, classes, and genders tend in this high-tech age to prefer to play video games, watch TV, or surf the Internet than take a walk or ride public transportation down to a more-than-welcoming museum that is starved for young attendees who might be introduced to classical red-figure vases, the Impressionists, or contemporary, hip artists.

I fear we are seeing now the tip of the Obama racialist iceberg, and in the remaining 18 months are going to witness far more polarization and alleged grievances against the supposedly culpable so-called majority culture. 


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