Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Diversity and Black Pride

The ascent of Barack and Michelle Obama has led to increased mainstream discussions concerning diversity, and to a lesser extent, black pride. Consider Allison Samuels' recent Newsweek article, Michelle Hits Her Stride, which carries the subtitle "The first lady's diverse approach to diversity."

Samuels begins by noting Michelle Obama's involvement with the unveiling of the bronze bust of Sojourner Truth and goes on to explain how the first lady has actively involved a large number of black women in White House activities. Michelle Obama has also granted "interviews to publications that don't normally rate a seat in the White House briefing room," including Black Hair and Essence.

"What's remarkable," points Samuels, "is how quickly and decisively Michelle has taken on the issues that matter most to us." By "us," she means African American women in particular. Later Samuels writes that "You might think all this focus on African-Americans might be a turnoff to the nonblack part of the nation. But so far Michelle's approval ratings match or even surpass her husband's."

The article further elevated my impression of Michelle Obama. I was unaware that she and her aides were so actively involved in addressing African American cultural interests. Samuels' description of the first lady's activities gave me more ideas about programming that might assist young black men and women.

Notably, however, despite Newsweek's subtitle about diversity, Samuels' article is actually about how Michelle Obama evokes feelings of black pride. The discrepancy between the editor's labeling of the article and Samuels' reading of Obama suggests why we'll probably want to keep thinking about what we talk about (and don't talk about) when we talk about diversity.

To what extent, I wonder, does downplaying the black pride elements of Michelle Obama's activities in favor of diversity help keep her approval rating high among "the nonblack part of the nation"? And, in what ways do we move from addressing these issues on cultural levels to addressing them on structural or policy levels?

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