On the first night of the 2016 Democratic convention, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke as a mother, a wife, First Lady and an intelligent black woman. As an African American woman, her words resonated to me in ways far beyond her text. In her authenticity, Michelle Obama spoke truth to power, gave a history lesson, a lesson on motherhood and shared her hopes for the future of our country. And she left me and perhaps others feeling a little more hopeful than I’ve felt in a while.
First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about how she has lived the past 8 years in the White House, a house built by slaves, where her two daughters play with the dog on the White House lawn. As a U.S. history major, I know most, if not all, of Washington was built by slaves. But the essence of her speech for me was an acknowledgment of how far this country has come in 151 years since slavery ended. For a black woman to be able to address the Democratic National convention and reference the history of slavery before millions is phenomenal. And she did it in a matter of fact, non-preaching way. But her point was not missed on me. In recognizing the labor of slaves in building the White House, Michelle Obama acknowledged one of the many gifts that my ancestors gave to this country. Despite all of our country’s many transgressions, there can be no denial that change has come to America with the Obamas in the White House.
Michelle Obama spoke loving of raising her two daughters, only ages 7 and 10 when they first arrived at the White House in January, 2008. And since that time, they have both grown into “beautiful and intelligent women.” She raised them in a political climate where many persons targeted, lied, ridiculed and bashed their entire family with racist rhetoric. But Mrs. Obama as an exceptionally strong and intelligent black woman taught her daughters their motto is, “when they go low, we go high.” It is a lesson that has been taught by many black mothers down through the ages in this country. Throughout history, when many whites refused to treat blacks with dignity and equal rights, the response often by blacks was never to stoop to the levels of racism and ignorance but to rise above it. It is a lesson that my own mother taught me. As Maya Angelou so eloquently stated in her poem, “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt. But still like dust, I’ll rise.”
Mrs. Obama was on stage to make the case for Hillary Clinton as the next Democratic nominee for president. And she intertwined her own story of her daughters in making the point. She spoke of Hillary Clinton’s work as a children’s advocate over the years. And she spoke of how her daughters could now take for granted that a woman could be president of the United States.
Perhaps the most inspiring and historically uplifting statement was left unspoken. The oldest daughter of the first black president will be able to vote for the first woman president in 2016.