Here is the abstract of an article in the Denver University Law Review called “The First (Black) Lady.” The author is Verna WIlliams, a law professor at the University of Cincinnati – College of Law:
First Lady Michelle Obama is an accomplished woman in her own right, defying racial, gender, and class stereotypes to excel in private practice and public service. Yet, during the campaign, a different portrait of this remarkable woman emerged that was noteworthy for its persistence and vitriol. Characterized as bitter, angry, and sassy, among other things, Michelle Obama exemplified life at the intersections of race and gender. Depicting Mrs. Obama in this intensely negative light, her critics essentially asked: How can Michelle Obama be First Lady when she’s no lady at all?
This essay examines the social meaning of the First Lady, an unelected position lacking any Constitutionally-defined job description. As the discourse during the campaign suggested, this role is a national institution of great significance, largely because it personifies domesticity and traditional femininity. This essay argues that, as traditionally understood, the role of First Lady supports privileged white femininity. The essay further argues that the gender and racial norms contributing to the traditional First Lady trope exemplify the intertwined nature of racism and sexism, and particularly, how together they have been used to justify Black subordination. In this regard, the essay discusses how African Americans have embraced gender conformance as a way of attaining acceptance and status within the existing social order, specifically through the “Black lady” trope, which has been applied to Michelle Obama in response to the hostility she confronted in the media. Finally, the essay proposes ways in which Mrs. Obama’s First Ladyship has transformative potential.
I would have thought that the “social meaning” of Michelle Obama is that if the spouse of a presidential candidate makes political pronouncements, he or she will be judged based on the contents of those pronouncements. And it seems to me that the spouse who spent 2007 and 2008 exemplifying life on the edge of race was Bill Clinton, not Michelle Obama.
But then, I’m not a law professor, so what could I know about these things?