Jim Hoft links to this speech from January of this year by Michelle Obama to students at the University of South Carolina, presumably just before their primary. It shows how Mrs. Obama can utter some truth but put it in such a tone-deaf manner that she obscures the truth with hostility and sneering condescension. In this case, she starts by challenging students to actually embrace diversity by having the courage to reach beyond their social comfort zones, and winds up calling America ignorant:
We don’t like being pushed outside of our comfort zones. You know it right here on this campus. You know people sitting at different tables- you all living in different dorms. I was there. You’re not talking to each other, taking advantage that you’re in this diverse community. Because sometimes it’s easier to hold on to your own stereotypes and misconceptions. It makes you feel justified in your own ignorance. That’s America. So the challenge for us is are we ready for change?
Anyone who spent time at a college or even a high school with a diverse population knows that the first part of her statement is absolutely true. I discovered this for myself in college, ironically when I took an African-American Studies class at Fullerton State. We had a debate over diversity in public schools, and I said that my high school was a good example of how diversity could work — and I got challenged by a student who had gone to my school whom I had barely known. Despite the diversity, the populations didn’t interact much socially at either level of school.
However, the second part of the statement doesn’t follow from the first. America is not about being “justified in our own ignorance”, no matter how Mrs. Obama feels about campus life. America has been about fixing its flaws, sometimes haltingly and imperfectly, but always working towards that end. If she feels otherwise, then how can we explain the efforts made by many people of all backgrounds to end racism and protect civil rights? If anything, America is about hope, not ignorance. Her husband didn’t invent hope and change.
Besides, after the exposure of Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a racial demagogue, the Obamas are the last people to talk about reaching beyond their comfort zone. They financially support a church that excoriates black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice by using playground-level names such as “Clarence Colon” and “Condoskeeza”. The Obamas supported Wright as he called the nation the “US of KKK-A”, not exactly a formula for outreach and understanding. The Trinity United Church can hardly be considered an inclusive environment, given the nature of its pastor’s tirades.
The Obamas want to be seen as agents of hope. Calling America ignorant and framing the situation so that Obama’s election will be the only cure doesn’t sound very hopeful to me. Perhaps this is why we’ve seen so little of Michelle Obama on the campaign trail of late.
Update: I forgot to include the video: