Michelle Obama's Speech: Spot-On? Definitely. Amazing? No.

Rebecca Carroll

I wasn’t able to see Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention until a few days after the broadcast (can we ever again imagine a world without YouTube?). Because my career is in media, I work in a fairly homogenized environment surrounded often and mostly by white co-workers, and those in my office who had seen the Michelle Obama speech the night it aired had not stopped talking about it. The comments were all pretty much unanimous that she had knocked it out of the park -- one co-worker said she thought Michelle was a better speaker than Barack; that she had known Michelle was brilliant, but had had no idea she “had it in her” to deliver such an amazing speech. Others said it gave them chills, but repeatedly, words like “amazing” and “brilliant” and “stunning” were used to describe this “unprecedented” moment where a prospective first lady had delivered such powerful oration. A few people threw a bone to Hillary back in the day, but my overall sense from people was that they felt this was a major, major moment, and Michelle Obama was like no other.

Needless to say, I went into watching the speech with higher expectations than I might have otherwise. And let me say right now, it was a very good speech. Absolutely, spot on. She nailed it. Like a dancer or a musician, she created a path of momentum and followed it, embodied it, sailed through without missing a beat. However, I did not find that it was amazing. I found it to be, what many folks in black America might say, the true voice of a culture -- a historically matriarchal culture, in which women’s are the voices of leadership, grace and hope. Many, many black people would say of this speech that Michelle sounded like their mother, sister, aunt or grandmother at church, a family gathering, or a moment of reckoning.

And so it struck me, yet again, as I was watching the speech and after, as I thought about the difference between my response and those of my colleagues -- in that to me, this was a perceptibly confident delivery; to my co-workers, it was “amazing” -- that the disproportionate exaltation of a black figure in America because he or she is articulate or smart or has some sense of style, is so indicative of how little people know about black culture.

Michelle Obama should be given her due propers; she is, without question, an extraordinary woman. But I hope that when she and Barack are in the White House, people will begin to understand, just as Michelle emphasized in her speech, that she and Barack are just like you and me; they are people with dreams, who work hard, who believe in art, imagination, integrity and family… they need us to see them, not to worship them.

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