When Michelle Obama speaks

President Barack Obama and the First Lady Mich...

President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama dancing at the “Obama Home States Inaugural Gala.” The event took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in the South. Folks who say Orlando doesn’t qualify as a Southern town didn’t know it before Disney. I attended Robert E. Lee Jr. High, where we flew a Confederate flag under the U.S. flag. I was accustomed to spoken English drenched in y’alls and dropped syllables. I knew no African Americans other than the maids of two of my friends.

When my husband and I left the South for Chicago, I tended to base my impression of people on how they talked. I judged anyone who pronounced every syllable clearly and said ing instead of ‘in at the end of a word to be a snob. I took an immediate dislike to a young neighbor my age, obviously more intelligent than I, who enunciated her words clearly.

So today when an acquaintance said, “I don’t know why, but I can’t stand Michelle Obama,” even though I didn’t agree, I sort of knew where she was coming from. Now, I know my acquaintance to be a warm-hearted woman. I’ve witnessed the respect she shows children, frail elderly women, everyone she comes in contact with. So why would she, like many people, say she can’t stand Michelle Obama? To conclude she’s a racist is to oversimplify the matter.

As I said, growing up in the South, daughter of a construction worker and a secretary, I didn’t often hear clearly pronounced English. Neither was I accustomed to complex ideas and demonstrations of intellect. Especially if spoken by a woman. (Nearly all of my college professors were men.) Apparently I wasn’t alone. Twenty years ago people hated—yes, hated—Hillary Clinton. Not because of her ideas, I believe, but because we weren’t accustomed to hearing women with her intellect speak. Certainly not publicly. Today she’s one of the most admired women in America.

Then onto the scene came Michelle Obama, not just an intelligent woman but an African-American. Now my intent here is not to sway anyone’s political stance, but to make the case that our feelings of less than (less articulate, less intelligent, less sophisticated) often lead us to make negative judgments about people. Especially when they are different from us in gender, skin color, or education.

My Chicago neighbor? Yes, she had a Yankee accent. Certainly in terms of intellect, I was less than. But neither quality ended up standing in the way of our friendship.

 

 

 

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Who’s a Real Christian, Who’s Not

Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he i...

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With a scripture to support each belief, Daddy denounced just about every form of fun there is: dancing, drinking alcoholic beverages, playing cards. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants or lipstick or nail polish, and when the time came for me to marry I was to be submissive to my husband. African-Americans, Daddy believed, were inferior because they were descendants of Ham, who’d been cursed by God. Homosexuals were headed for Hell.

An adult now, I play cards every chance I get; I wear jeans, lipstick, and nail polish, have an occasional glass of wine. No one who knows me would say I’m submissive to my husband. I consider African-Americans, gays, and lesbians children of God and worthy of every right that I have (including marriage).

If he were alive, Daddy would denounce me as a non-Christian.  And he’d be wrong. Oh, I don’t use salvation language, but I try to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus: loving my neighbor as myself, caring for the poor, the imprisoned. I am opposed to war and honor the beautiful world God created. I respect the beliefs of Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. For sure I don’t measure up to Jesus’ teachings, but I consider myself a Christian nonetheless.

So when I hear voices in the Republican Party question whether President Obama or Mitt Romney is a Christian, I take it personally. Sure, Franklin Graham said in Tuesday morning’s interview on MSNBC that he cannot judge what’s in a person’s heart, and if Obama says he’s a Christian… But then Graham went on to manipulate the audience to do the judging for him—by saying  Muslims consider Obama one of them, and that Obama only started going to church because someone said he’d be more effective as a community organizer if he did. (Though Obama has said that by going to church he became a man of faith.) Santorum has accused the President’s environmental policies of being the result of a phony theology.

Republicans throw around the word elite a lot these days, accusing the President and Democrats of thinking they know best what’s good for the country. More frightening to me is the religious elite who are convinced they are qualified to decide what the rest of us should believe. Everything else is heresy.

So here we are: Inquisition 2012.

And yes, Daddy, I am a Christian.