Michelle Obama: The Queen of Black Girl Magic
By Mary C. Curtis
Black women caught on to the power of Michelle Obama before the rest of the world – before she became First Lady, in fact. The first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama, would not have claimed that title were it not for the solid political and spiritual support of black women. And for that, Michelle Obama was the key. She was special, but instantly recognizable to all the women whose talents, smarts and beauty had been discounted and whose strength against unimaginable odds had been twisted into matriarchal stereotype.
She was ours, the perfect and perfectly human representative we dreamed of. If Barack Obama chose her, he was cool, too.
As she leaves the White House but not her mission of caring, of speaking out and speaking plainly, of working hard, everyone else appreciates Michelle Obama. Her mantra – “When they go low, we go high” – was first heard at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where I sat mesmerized as the down-to-earth woman dressed in imperial blue brought the raucous crowd to rapt attention. Her words have become the go-to phrase for those who have more important things to do than worry about the distractions of the petty and the petulant.
She spoke for all those who had had enough when she shut down a certain president-elect, then candidate, who was caught in a crude rant, joking about sexual assault; and she did it without mentioning his name.
She leaves accompanied by two strong, beautiful and accomplished young women and her mother — together the family modeled the multi-generational bonds so familiar in the African-American community. That was important to her, being there for young women of all races, “somebody educated, strong [and] outspoken … on a regular basis,” as she told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that reminded us again of why she will be missed.
The very presence of Michelle Obama as First Lady and first in so many ways spoke volumes. And if past is prologue, we know that voice and the voices she inspired will never be silenced.
Mary C. Curtis is a Roll Call columnist and contributor to NPR and NBCBLK. She has worked at the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Charlotte Observer and Politics Daily and as a contributor to the Washington Post. She is a senior facilitator for The OpEd Project at Cornell and Yale universities and the Ford Foundation. Follow her on Twitter.