Abrams or Obama? Black women in­trigued, in­spired by role mod­els’ power-build­ing

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY SU­SAN CHIRA

Sit down with groups of black women in At­lanta as this tu­mul­tuous po­lit­i­cal year draws to a close, and two names dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion: Michelle Obama and Stacey Abrams, and what they re­vealed in 2018 about how power is gained and thwarted.

In gath­er­ings of friends, in book clubs and dis­cus­sions across the city, women said they were struck by see­ing their own ex­pe­ri­ences re­flected in the pos­si­bil­i­ties and con­straints faced by Abrams, whose nar­row loss in the Ge­or­gia gov­er­nor’s race they were still mourn­ing, and Obama, who just pub­lished the best-sell­ing mem­oir, “Be­com­ing.”

They re­lated to how Abrams and Obama de­fied peo­ple who ques­tioned whether they were good enough to suc­ceed. How Obama won over the white Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment – but only af­ter en­dur­ing at­tacks and car­i­ca­tures that some­times left her shaken. How Abrams did not tone down her words to please any­one, and how Obama felt she had to.

In a city that show­cases black achieve­ment and in­flu­ence, read­ing Obama’s mem­oir was a bit­ter­sweet re­minder for these women of a time when a black pres­i­dent and first lady seemed a cul­mi­na­tion of a long strug­gle for power. It comes as Demo­cratic women here are wrestling with out­rage over wide­spread al­le­ga­tions of voter sup­pres­sion in the race for gov­er­nor, fear that Abrams’ loss may disil­lu­sion black vot­ers they coaxed to the polls, and hope that next time, vic­tory could be within reach.

“I think Amer­ica can take Michelle Obama,” said Kia Smith, who gath­ered with three other young pro­fes­sional friends at a Star­bucks for what be­came a sear­ing ex­change about the prom­ise and bur­den of be­ing black women. “The story makes us feel good. And she’s on the day­time shows, she dances with Ellen, she goes on ‘Jimmy Kim­mel,’ she’s fun, she’s not a threat.

“But some­one like Stacey Abrams, who is smart, who is bi­par­ti­san, but who is un­apolo­getic about fair­ness and jus­tice – that’s a threat. And that also lets me know that we’re not re­ally ready for the po­lit­i­cal power of black women.”

Across town, in a neigh­bor­hood where yards are still planted with de­fi­ant Stacey Abrams signs, the Pearls lit­er­ary club con­vened an ex­tra ses­sion this month to dis­cuss “Be­com­ing.” They ze­roed in on the theme of striv­ing against den­i­gra­tion and self-doubt. The room of older women, with Ph.D.s and law de­grees, traded sto­ries of be­ing told, like Michelle Obama, that they did not be­long.

They rel­ished what Donna Ak­iba Sul­li­van Harper, an English pro­fes­sor at Spel­man Col­lege, called Obama’s “sassi­ness” in the book – an out­spo­ken­ness that the first lady held in check af­ter early crit­i­cism of her as an­gry or abra­sive.

AUDRA MEL­TON NYT

From left, at­tor­ney Bar­bara La­timer Jen­nings, her grand­daugh­ter Re­nais­sance Tay­lor, her daugh­ter Lonna Tay­lor and Judge Ruby Thomas dis­cuss Michelle Obama’s mem­oir Dec. 20 at a lit­er­ary club in At­lanta.

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