By Craig Hardegree | 

Michelle Obama…the most elegant, classy, sophisticated, poised First Lady in history. And tied with Hillary as the most educated — the only two in history to hold doctorate-level degrees. Only three first ladies have had graduate degrees: Laura Bush had a Masters in Library Science; Michelle and Hillary each have a juris doctorate.

And no two women have been more maligned in modern history than Michelle and Hillary.

But the ugly talk heaped upon Michelle by conservatives has been especially insidious because it centered on the racist theme that black people are “mentally inferior.”

I’ve always felt a connection with Michelle — her undergraduate degree was in Sociology, same as mine; she got her degree in 1985, same year I did; she graduated from law school and took the bar exam in 1988, same as me.

But because of white privilege, I didn’t have the same obstacles she had.

Michelle had already moved into her freshman dorm at Princeton when Alice Brown drove all night from New Orleans to drop off her daughter, Catherine Donnelly, at the front door of the dorm, while she went on to the Nassau Inn to rest. Catherine got all settled-in and acquainted with her new roommate before heading over to the hotel to report to her mother. And what her mother heard, made her head spin. Mrs. Brown was “horrified” — her word. She stormed over to the administrative office and demanded that her daughter be reassigned to other living quarters: “I told them we weren’t used to living with black people — Catherine is from the South.”

Michelle was 17; she was so intelligent she had skipped 2nd Grade; she had graduated at the top of her class from a high school for gifted students; she had been accepted to one of the top colleges in America, based on merit, not on affirmative action.

And a white woman from the former Confederacy pitched the mother of all fits simply because Michelle was black.

In 2008, we had a God-given opportunity to bridge the color divide in this country. Black people make up only 13% of the population. And only 13% of that 13% voted. Yet, President Obama received more votes than any other president in the entire history of our country. And that was because 43% of the white voters joined with black voters and other voters of color to put a black man in the White House.

And we didn’t do it just for that purpose; we didn’t do it out of “white guilt” as conservatives dismissively call it — we did it because we saw an extraordinary man of uncommon wisdom and brilliance and we knew he was exactly who our country needed to lead us out of the economic collapse and global upheaval which we had been left with after years of failed conservative policies.

So of course Michelle was finally proud of her country when 43% of the white voters in America asked her to move into the White House as the First Lady of the United States; when white people who once made her feel unwelcome in a dorm room were now welcoming her into the most prestigious living quarters in America.

But white conservative Christians couldn’t give it up. Their selfish pride prevented them from mustering even the tiniest bit of empathy that would have allowed them to see the world through the eyes of Michelle; to understand why she was finally proud of her country.

The same event which presented us with the greatest opportunity since the Emancipation Proclamation to bridge the color divide, so horrified them that they launched an eight-year character lynching of President Obama, smearing him, lying about him, robbing him of credit for his unparalleled-in-modern-history turnaround of the US economy, saddling him with blame for things which rightly belong at the feet of Bush and the Republican-controlled congress, repeating over and over and over, “he has taken over our country” and “we need to take our country back.”

And this is the problem with Melania Trump using verbatim lines from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech. It’s not about plagiarism. It’s not about Melania being “dishonest” or “lying.”

It’s not about her past modeling. It’s not about her morals — liberals berating her and calling her a “tramp” should be ashamed. We can’t be hypersensitive to disparaging comments about Hillary while unleashing a torrent of hateful misogynistic attacks on Melania.

What this is about is the same thing most everything has been about in the last eight years.

It’s the hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy rooted in racism.

It’s the racist hypocrisy that allows you conservatives to laud and applaud words from the lips of a white woman, after scorning and shaming a black woman who previously uttered those same words.

It’s the racist hypocrisy that makes you heap praise and platitudes on a white woman with no degree, after denigrating and disparaging a black woman with a doctorate-level degree.

It’s the racist hypocrisy that causes you to elevate a white woman whose claim to fame is baring her bosoms, after eviscerating a black woman for wearing dresses with no sleeves.

But opportunity still awaits — it’s never too late to do the right thing.

After eight years of demonizing President Obama and claiming without evidence that he created the new racial tensions; after accusing him, without facts, of instigating violence against law enforcement, we can still fix this.

It merely requires summoning our better angels to rise above our fears and let go of our pride so we can open our hearts to others and see the world through their eyes.

And the burden of the first step lies upon white shoulders.

We broke it.

We need to fix it.


Read more on changing hearts of stone to softened hearts of love and using empathy to bridge the racial divide, in my previous essay: “A House Divided Cannot Stand; Bridging the Divide With Love.”     

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