Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas

A dear friend asked me about buying The Obamas last night. I didn’t want to laugh out loud but I  nearly bust a gut quietly.

No, I haven’t read the book. I decided against it when I heard the NPR interview with Ms. Kantor. If one of Ms. Kantor’s keener insights is that African American and white staffers for Michelle Obama had different opinions about whether she should appear on the cover of Vogue, then I think this is a read I can safely pass up.

The unending contempt hoisted upon the First Lady ( and more importantly, the fact that she and the President have endured enormous pushback including an unusually large number of resistance including death threats ( makes me very skeptical of reviews like David Remnick’s in the New Yorker.  Here’s a quote from his description of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ conflict with Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett.

“It was Jarrett’s tone, calm to the point of condescension, that finally undid Gibbs,” Kantor writes. He seemed so “frustrated one colleague thought he was going to cry.”

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I don’t know a woman, person of color or any kind of “other” who hasn’t had emotions or thoughts attributed to them that bear no resemblance to reality. At all. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to talk with Jodi Kantor’s African American colleagues at the Times. I have a good hunch about what I might hear.

Getting back to the review and by implication, the book, if Jarrett’s calm angered a volatile Gibbs, I don’t think his anger is really her issue or her fault.  And these things happen within a broader context. Has everyone forgotten the contempt that Robert Gibbs displayed to this Black female reporter?

I object when Remnick indirectly critiques the gossipy undertone of the book citing the challenges of discussing a happy marriage but validating the Obama’s self pity and “occasional sanctimonies.” And why doesn’t Remnick get why discussing race is poisonous for Pres. Obama and other Blacks of his generation?

But they soft-pedal such discomforts. Obama, too, has learned to speak in clichés and orotund deflection about what it’s like to be a black President, governing from a house built largely by slaves. As one of his close friends tells Kantor, “The first black president doesn’t want to give any insight into being the first black president.”

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I will use Ms. Obama’s words to sum this up:

“I just try to be me. … There will always be people who don’t like me.”  But, she says, “Who can tell me how I feel?”

Or, I would add, think, believe, etc.

I look forward to the history written by the successors of Drs. Angela Davis, Manning Marable and John Hope Franklin.


About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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