Thursday, July 16, 2009

Michelle Obama's Slave Roots

My guess is that CNN's getting some extraordinary news value from its reporting on First Lady Michelle Obama's slave history, "Tracking Michelle Obama's Slave Roots" (via Memeorandum):

In many places across the South you can walk in the footsteps of slaves, and if you understand the history, it is not a happy journey. The same is true at Friendfield Plantation outside Georgetown, South Carolina.

It's not exactly "Gone With the Wind," but what makes this overgrown 3,300 acres of marsh and pine trees stand out is this: The family of first lady Michelle Obama believes her great-great grandfather was held as a slave here and labored in the mosquito-infested rice fields.

It makes Friendfield Plantation a symbol of something more than servitude. It's the symbol of something that's never happened before: One important segment of an American family's journey from the humiliation of slavery to the very top of the nation's ruling class.

CNN recently was the first television network allowed to visit the plantation and shoot video. It's not a museum. It's just private land, still with shadows of its past.

Friendfield's most distinctive historical feature, perhaps, is the dirt road known as Slave Street.

Six white-washed little shacks are all that remain of the slave quarters, even though rows of these houses once stood on the property. About 350 slaves lived here during the 19th century.

The houses are nothing special -- no plumbing, of course. The wooden walls are paper thin in places. It would have been hot and humid in summer, and most certainly cold in winter, although the shacks had fireplaces.

They would have been crowded: probably one or two families living in a space smaller than a modern-day garage.
As a professor whose own ancestry includes grandparents who were slaves, the story of Michelle Obama's family is fascinating and vital to the national discussion of where we are today.

But as a political analyst, I find it extremely interesting that CNN would now devote so much coverage to President Obama's ties to the peculiar institution. The second video above includes snippets of Anderson Cooper's interview with the President in Ghana. As I wrote previously, Obama's visit to Africa was the latest stop on his global apology tour. And there's no greater sin in American history than the evil of slavery. CNN's shameless exploitation of racial sympathy is to be expected. But it's simply despicable that the President himself would pander this issue, given that his rise to national power was predicated on a pledge to advance the cause of post-racial America. Obama launched his career on the national stage with one of the most important political speeches of a generation. At the 2004 Democratic Convention,
Obama proclaimed:
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us - the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of "anything goes." Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America - there’s the United States of America.
But instead of those majesterial words, we have the lost promise of Obama's rhetoric five years on. Race relations have deteriorated under this administration. The politics of race is more bitter than ever, as we have seen this week amid the confirmation hearings for the president's racist "wise Latina" nominee.

See also, Shelby Steele, "
Obama's Post-Racial Promise: Barack Obama Seduced Whites With a Vision of Their Racial Innocence Precisely to Coerce Them Into Acting Out of a Racial Motivation."

Also, Glenn Beck, "
Is This How the Post-Racial Obama Administration Begins?"


Rusty Walker said...

This is a sad commentary on Obama and his wife. Could you ever imagine the dignified Colin Powell or Justice Thomas leveraging their slave roots?

Steve Burri said...

Is it possible that some of Barack's ancestors raided Michelle's ancestors' village and sold Michelle's ancestor to the slave traders?

Dennis said...

The sad part is when people keep using these things for political mileage is that it loses its importance. Racism has been used so much and so indiscrimately that it lacks any real meaning. The same is true for almostevery "ism."
It does real damage to actual Racism et al.