The Obamas: A Change is Gonna Come for Whom?

I have a new post up at Global Comment

Like most peoples of the African Diaspora I am thrilled to see a black family living in the white house; where once slaves toiled under the weight of the lash, a young black girl now sleeps peacefully. The love affair with Michelle Obama has become quite obvious. She has made the cover of people and the cover of vogue. There are some who would suggest that the high visibility of Michelle’s image stands as proof that women of colour will be finally be seen as beautiful rather than as exotic backdrops used to promote a Eurocentric beauty ideal. The images commonly used to represent people of colour have been highly racist, often reducing us to animals.

We are all somewhat uplifted by the Obama family however, overstating their ability to radically change the understanding of racialized bodies and in particular that of women of colour is indeed problematic. Even though they exist with a large degree of social power, they have continued to be assaulted by race-based attacks. Obama was most recently featured as a chimpanzee by the Post and it was only after a huge uproar that Rupert Murdoch finally apologized for the cartoon.

The ascension of the Obamas to the very pinnacle of power in the US has given many grounds to posit that we have moved into a post-racial world, but those claims can only be supported if we ignore the ways in which people of colour continue to be disenfranchised.

The high visibility of the Obamas has created new opportunities, but those only translate into new opportunities for those who already existed with a degree of social and economic privilege to begin with. As the staunch Washington insiders searched for blacks to include on their guest lists, those most likely to be approached for inclusion were already considered part of the Afro elite; celebrities and those belonging to old black sorority families quickly found themselves in high demand. It is not enough to say new opportunities for blacks without asking the question of opportunities for whom.

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