For Michelle Obama, world is black and white — but skin deep

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY JOSEPH CURL

For “De­cider in Chief” Ge­orge W. Bush, the world was black and white. Good and bad, right and wrong, with us or against us. For Michelle Obama, the world is also black and white. But her black and white is all about skin color.

She talks about it of­ten, in­ces­santly, even, in­ject­ing race and racism into speeches and events in which they have no busi­ness. And she did so again on Fri­day, when she trav­eled to Topeka, Kansas, to deliver a speech to grad­u­at­ing high school se­niors.

First, a back­ground note: Her speech was moved up a day af­ter par­ents com­plained that her visit to a school district — just blocks from the his­toric school­house cen­tral to the Brown v. Ed­u­ca­tion Supreme Court de­ci­sion that out­lawed seg­re­ga­tion — would fo­cus on race, not their chil­dren’s ac­com­plish­ments.

And that, in fact, is ex­actly what the first lady did.

“To­day, by some mea­sures, our schools are as seg­re­gated as they were back when Dr. King gave his fi­nal speech,” she told the 1,200 se­niors and their fam­i­lies.

“Many districts in this coun­try have ac­tu­ally pulled back on ef­forts to in­te­grate their schools, and many com­mu­ni­ties have be­come less di­verse as folks have moved from cities to sub­urbs … And as a re­sult, many young people in Amer­ica are go­ing to school largely with kids who look just like them.

“And too of­ten, those schools aren’t equal, es­pe­cially ones at­tended by stu­dents of color which too of­ten lag be­hind, with crum­bling class­rooms and less ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers. And even in schools that seem in­te­grated ac­cord­ing to the num­bers, when you look a lit­tle closer, you see stu­dents from dif­fer­ent back­grounds sit­ting at sep­a­rate lunch ta­bles, or tracked into dif­fer­ent classes, or sep­a­rated into dif­fer­ent clubs or ac­tiv­i­ties.”

For the first lady, her glass is al­ways half empty. Rather than use the an­niver­sary of Brown v. Board to, say, marvel at the progress over the last 60 years and, say, point out that Amer­ica has twice elected a black pres­i­dent, Shelly O in­stead chose to wal­low in dis­con­tent and bit­ter­ness.

Again, the woman who said as her hus­band was nom­i­nated by the Demo­cratic Party that she was “proud” of her coun­try “for the first time in my life,” she wanted to make sure she ma­ligned the rest of Amer­ica as well, painted it as still stuck in the racist past.

“These is­sues go well be­yond the walls of our schools. We know that to­day in Amer­ica, too many folks are still stopped on the street be­cause of the color of their skin, or they’re made to feel un­wel­come be­cause of where they come from, or they’re bul­lied be­cause of who they love,” she said, throw­ing in a lit­tle gay racism to boot.

And she rev­eled in her own story, say­ing to the many Kansans gath­ered: “Maybe your an­ces­tors have been here in Kansas for cen­turies. Or maybe they came to this coun­try in chains, like mine. Or maybe your fam­ily just ar­rived here in search of a bet­ter life.” Just ar­rived? You mean, em­i­grated? Or “just ar­rived” by sneak­ing across the bor­der?

The New York Times took the bait, as al­ways. In a story ti­tled “Michelle Obama Cites View of Grow­ing Seg­re­ga­tion,” the paper cited a federal re­port as proof of racism: “To­day about four in 10 black and Latino stu­dents at­tend in­tensely seg­re­gated schools, the federal Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­ported on its of­fi­cial blog on Fri­day, adding that only 14 per­cent of white stu­dents at­tend schools that could be con­sid­ered mul­ti­cul­tural.

“We have slowly and very steadily slipped back­ward,” said Cather­ine E. Lha­mon, the depart­ment’s as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for civil rights. “All over the coun­try we are see­ing more and more racially seg­re­gated schools.”

Just for the record, that’s not at all what some fam­ily mem­bers of the plain­tiffs in the Brown case think. Sev­eral met with Pres­i­dent Obama on Fri­day.

“It’s our first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, some­thing that many people in­volved in Brown didn’t think they would live to see,” Ch­eryl Brown Hen­der­son said in an in­ter­view with The New York Times, call­ing the visit “a man­i­fes­ta­tion of what they worked for.”

Joseph Curl cov­ered the White House and pol­i­tics for a decade for The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twit­ter @josephcurl.

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