FROM ta-nehisicoates.theatlantic.com

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About that Nubian queen meme…
25 Nov 2008 11:00 am

UPDATE: To be perfectly clear, I think she looks beautiful. Sorry for the initial confusion.

I don’t speak French, but I think I get the message…Man, it keeps hitting you doesn’t it? This whole “black president” thing is like fragmentation bomb. And I keep getting smacked by the shrapnel. This is f–embarrassing. Look, this blog is Ta-Nehisi thinking out loud. I say it’s embarrassing because I’m constantly worried about getting sucked in and churning out hagiography–to the point that sometimes I find myself just looking for things to disagree with Obama on.

I was writing yesterday about the need to say something different. And yet when I see a picture like this, when I see a black woman, who isn’t an entertainer, photographed like this I’m stunned. And the worst part is, as of this Fall, I knew all this was coming. I thought Obama would win, and I knew there’d be pictures just like this. Yet perhaps I’ve been too intellectual. I think intellectually, I was, and am, ready. But emotionally, I’m unprepared. I didn’t do much thinking about how all of this was going to make me feel toward black people, toward my own identity as a black person. We’ve always been the antiheroes of the American narrative. I love the X-Men not the Avengers. I love Spiderman not Superman. I love Boromir not Aragorn (in the film at least). Lucille Clifton has this great short poem, which goes like this:

Love rejected
hurts so much more
than Love rejecting;
they act like they don’t love their country


what it is
is they found out
their country don’t love them.

That’s who we were for so long–“The Love Rejected.” I’ve been hard on post-racial euphoria, because it’s so obviously stupid. But equally stupid is cynicism in this age, to walk around like nothing’s changed, like we simply are “The Love Rejected.” That probably has more to do with my own fears, than anything out there being written. Anyway, I’m rambling. Again.

Props to Blacksnob for the link.

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Comments (51)

Aw, quit it, T-N, you’re making me all teary.

Posted by elmo | November 25, 2008 11:05 AM

It’s like you got to go back to your HS reunion and find the cool kids were middle aged fatties, and you, the wall flower, were the new kool?

Never having been cool or kool, I’m just happy and proud that that beautiful, smart, wonderful woman is gonna be our first lady. We’ve been blessed.

Posted by zic | November 25, 2008 11:08 AM

TNC, if you stop seeing her as a black woman, and see her instead as a strong person, you will love this picture. She is such an important role model for women and girls everywhere– She is strong, intelligent, hardworking person, who is also 100% woman. Very much like Condi in this aspect. i respect her very very much for her work and intelligence, but i respect her just as much for remaining a feminine woman in a strong role.
Love love love Michele.

Posted by lebecka | November 25, 2008 11:08 AM

The article says that:”The First Lady is not used to playing second best”. Damn right!

Posted by Antoine Larotre | November 25, 2008 11:14 AM

Get it together, man.

I find this whole thing to be both awesome and anticlimactic. Having a black president is incredible, but at the same time, it feels totally normal and unremarkable. And maybe that’s because of who it is. Obama is the best man for the job, and it just feels right. His boringness and competence are more of a surprise to me than his blackness.

That’s not to say I don’t have a whole heap of race pride, though. When I saw that shot on Snob’s site I was totally blown, too.

(Also, Boromir?! Booooo. It’s all about Faramir from the books.)

Posted by shani-o | November 25, 2008 11:15 AM

Deleted. Got a post coming.

Posted by Ta-Nehisi Coates | November 25, 2008 11:17 AM

Does it not just feel like it should have been like this all along?

Posted by Berliner2 | November 25, 2008 11:19 AM

Deleted for transparent sock-puppetry. You’re an embarrassment to otherwise clever, racist trolls everywhere.

Posted by Harry | November 25, 2008 11:28 AM

“(Also, Boromir?! Booooo. It’s all about Faramir from the books.)”

To be fair to TNC, Faramir was a bit of a jerk in the movie. (He wanted to claim the ring too? Really, Peter Jackson?)

I don’t suppose anybody here can translate the French? Please?

Posted by PeterGuillam | November 25, 2008 11:35 AM

Wow… What a beauty…

And also someone with a Law degree from Harvard.

What more can we ask to have as our First Lady.

Thank YOU LORD for blessing us.

Posted by JohnS | November 25, 2008 11:38 AM

She looks amazing. I almost feel guilty staring – like Barack’s my mans and them or something.

Posted by Jonathan | November 25, 2008 11:39 AM

Haha. You nailed it Jonathan.

Posted by Ta-Nehisi Coates | November 25, 2008 11:43 AM

I’d throw my crap Canadian schoolboy french at it, but all I see on blacksnob’s site is a jpg, not a full link….

Posted by gracchus | November 25, 2008 11:44 AM

Amen, Jonathan. But at the same time…damn.

Posted by Jack T. | November 25, 2008 11:53 AM

Uh, maybe you’re smacked because that is A F** GORGEOUS PHOTO OF MICHELE. I can’t stop staring myself. Wow.

I don’t actually think Michele is pretty, but she has a quality to her that can be beautiful. Sometimes it comes through, sometimes it doesn’t. But wow when it comes through… Radiance.

See, this is why Rove’s whole Barack-is-that-snotty-guy-at-the-country-club-with-a-beautiful-date-on-his-arm dog whistle meme didn’t work. When the beautiful date on your arm is your wife, it isn’t going to work.

Posted by Breukelyne | November 25, 2008 11:55 AM

Translation (as best I could on the spot):

On his way to the presidency, it was she that Obama had to convince first. Michelle was afraid that politics would steal her husband from her. Today, she has been called on to become an exceptional First Lady. Her background is just as remarkable as Barack’s. Before she quit her job to take care of their daughters, in January 2008, she had made more money than he did… Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama defines herself as a “statistical anomaly”: born into a modest Chicago family, she reinvented herself thanks to her intelligence. In 1989, while working for the state legislature [I think?], she met Barack Obama. He fell for her immediately, she less so; she nonetheless agreed to go out with him that night. They were married in 1992. Since then, Michelle’s fight for her husband’s career has not eclipsed their family life. Her first priority: “To help my daughters adapt to the White House”.

Posted by Izabella | November 25, 2008 11:55 AM

Wow! Michelle looks unbelievable good. I first thought it was a model that resembled her. She looks as strong as always but “softer” and sexier at the same time.

Posted by Eduardo | November 25, 2008 12:00 PM

I’ve tried to do a rough translation of the article below. I apologise for any inaccuracies, i am not a native French speaker.

“On his way to the presidency, she was the first person Obama had to convince. Michelle was afraid that politics would rob her of her husband. Today, she is called upon to become an exceptional first lady. Her journey is almost as remarkable as Barack’s. Before taking leave off work to look after their daughters in Jan 2008, she was earning more than he did.

Michelle defines herself as a statistical peculiarity: child of a modest family from Chicago, her intelligence allowed her to succeed. In 1989, while working at a legal practice, she was put in charge of welcoming a trainee, Barack Obama. He fell for her, she less so: it took months before she agreed to go out with him. They married in 1992.

Since then, Michelle has fought to prevent their family life from being overwhelmed by her husband’s career. Her first concern from now on is: helping her daughters adapt to the white house”.

Posted by Gabrielle | November 25, 2008 12:13 PM

“In 1989, while working for the state legislature [I think?], she met Barack Obama.”

Not quite. “In 1989, while working at a law firm, she was charged with welcoming a summer associate, Barack Obama.”

Posted by canuck | November 25, 2008 12:15 PM

Izabella, it gets even better: They met when Barack got a job at the corporate law firm where Michelle worked – and she was assigned to mentor him, or something like that.

She is very accomplished and successful. I reckoned early on that Barack must be one heck of a guy to be her husband.

Posted by Bethany | November 25, 2008 12:20 PM

He fell for her, she less so: it took months before she agreed to go out with him. They married in 1992.
Since then, Michelle has fought to prevent their family life from being overwhelmed by her husband’s career. Her first concern from now on is: helping her daughters adapt to the white house”.

Oops… yes, that’s the correct version.

Next time: coffee first, French translation second.

Posted by Izabella | November 25, 2008 12:26 PM

Hey TNC, correct your Tolkien fan-boy spelling. Your commenters got it right.

(I have nothing of substance to add, btw.)


Posted by Brian Schmidt | November 25, 2008 12:45 PM

PeterGuillam – Did you see the Extended Editions of the movies? It completely puts Faramir’s character back to where he was in the books. Which I think is a great thing, in case anyone’s wondering.

Oh, yeah, this wasn’t originally a LOTR thread – that is an amazing photo. And I too keep getting smacked in the face about what this presidency will mean – not on a racial level as TNC describes here, but as a person who leans to the left. The most recent was Net Neutrality advocates being put in the FCC. I looked like a deer in headlights when I read that. So I think I can empathize, even if it’s not the same emotion.

Posted by KT | November 25, 2008 12:48 PM

So how do you feel about Condi? (That’s a serious question, not trying to be flip).

Posted by TW Andrews | November 25, 2008 1:11 PM

I met Michelle at a fund raiser in Phoenix and I was struck by her beauty. I’ve seen a lot of photos of her but this one is perhaps the finest I’ve seen yet.

Posted by Desert Dove | November 25, 2008 1:26 PM

TW Andrews

TNC wrote an article all about condi here’s the link its really a good apraisal.


“When Condoleezza Rice struts high-heeled into the Oval Office and dispenses advice, dictators seek plastic surgery, bombs float down over cities, and radicals turn up Jimmy Hoffa.”

But this is beside the point. The only thing that Michelle Obama has in common with Condi Rice is that they are both black. Drawing comparisons between the two is like trying to get Danes and Norwegians to get along at a Ludefisk dinner. It doesn’t work.

Posted by Sorn | November 25, 2008 1:50 PM

We like you, we really like you!

Posted by Beth in VA | November 25, 2008 1:55 PM

TNC–You can’t see Barack as Aragorn? Or the whole election as the African-American “Return of the King”? Hell, even Spiderman got Mary Jane (ok, if for a while).

Posted by Strong | November 25, 2008 2:11 PM

I usually don’t like Annie Liebowitz’ work, but wow, what a powerful photograph. Michelle is as beautiful as she is smart, and this picture captures that. Maybe its because I’m more used to pictures of Barack by now, but the whole “black first lady” thing seems almost more culturally revolutionary than the “black president” thing.

Posted by James Harrigan | November 25, 2008 3:03 PM

I totally get it. I’m still reading “behind the scenes” articles about the campaign and tensing up and getting nervous. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s over, we won, the Obama’s are about to move into the White House. And yes, damn that’s a gorgeous picture.

Posted by CJ | November 25, 2008 3:06 PM

She is just MADE made of awesome. Dizzamn!!

Love the poem.

that is all.

Posted by Faramir’s Girl | November 25, 2008 3:25 PM

I dunno: I’m a middle-aged white woman, and I had a total girl-crush on Michelle Obama from the first time I saw her. So smart, so elegant, and so beautiful.

I don’t know what hits you when you see this photo, TNC, but I see a strong, successful woman and it is a wonderful, wonderful sight.

Posted by Karen | November 25, 2008 4:03 PM

TN, it hit me that in the first paragraph of this story, the word ‘noir’, black, is not mentioned. This story may somewhere later on focus onto African-American issues, but at the start, it is very much about Michelle and her strong personality. Whatever comes next, and I dont know cause I’ve not read it, will be interpreted with the info that is already given. And that is that she is a independent woman, who is her own person.

The woman looks absolutely stunning in this photograph. Savour the moment. She your next First Lady. The fact that Michelle is black is self-evident, but that seems to me not to be the main message of this article.
Is this taken from a Canadian or a French magazine? The subtext may differ if this is a French mag – the French have a completely different thing going on with race in their society than North-Americans. How people all over the world view the Obama’s says a lot about themselves, of course, but this is not just about their history with race and racism.
First of all, we have already gotten used to the news of them being African American. They have been on our television screens for the last twelve months, too. It is more complicated, and has more to do with our inter-connectedness. People all over the planet are really happy Bush is on the way out, and Michelle and Barack Obama are international icons of change that effect us foreigners on a personal level too. We are all longing for Obama to end the war in Iraq, where other countries besides the US have soldiers deployed, or had them deployed before.
And there are some other issues, global warming, torture etc, that are truly global.
That great exhalation on the night of Nov. 4 was a global sigh of relief. So we are in a sense appropriating this gorgeous looking woman, who has never looked as good as in this picture, as our saviour. An to get back to your original point in your post, if I understand you well, you sound uncomfortable with the international interest for what Michelle looks like.
Look at it this way: that the First Couple are African-American will continue have a ripple effect on race relations all over the world that can only be positive – but it is too early to even make a prediction on the scale and scope of these changes.

And what’s this about you liking Boromir over Aragorn? How interesting! Where did that come from all of a sudden, in a post about MO?

Posted by Daphne | November 25, 2008 4:24 PM

She is a Black woman, with great makeup, for HER SKIN, and she just looks like a Queen.


I’m not letting anyone rain on my parade.

I will not retreat from this: I’m happier Michelle is going to the White House than I am Barack.

Yes. I am beyond thrilled that a Black woman..

a no-doubt-about-it-her-ancestors-were-in-the-belly-of-those-slave-ships SISTA

Is about to become First Lady.

Posted by rikyrah | November 25, 2008 4:25 PM

The picture is both stunning and powerful.

To the rest of the world, the sight/image/concept of a black couple rising to the throne in a world ruled for centuries by white people, it will be a very powerful moment. It’s a thought that I dared not savor before voting day, and have somehow almost skipped over or taken for granted since. It’s images like these that remind me. . .

Posted by Direwolfc | November 25, 2008 4:56 PM

Michelle Obama is a whole lot of woman. She’s hot, smart, & I’m more than proud she’s going to be our next First Lady.

Gonna be fun watching her grow into the role. And redefine it.

Posted by sv | November 25, 2008 9:11 PM

clarification: I hear you, Coates, on the racial pride emotion, although not in this case since Barack doesn’t share any race with me really. Otherwise I’m like one of your other posters above, for whom this feels rather natural and less remarkable than it is to older people. I guess it’s more multi-racial in NYC/Jerz where I’m from? I don’t know.

Also, Doctor Jay – Sigourney Weaver! Yes, man that nails it.

Michelle and Barack kind of blow me away as people, I couldn’t hack it as either of them for half an hour. It’s actually a little intimidating even as I empathize (especially with Barack) as a nerd. (clearly the man is a nerd, a cool nerd by even non-nerd definitions of cool but a nerd nonetheless. but i digress and you actually already had a whole post or twelve about this.) But Michelle especially, she’s so poised and projects this positivity.

This is all aside from my trepidation about the rough patch I feel our country’s about to go through, not on Obama’s account and I’m glad that such a competent and serious guy like him is in charge, but being a non-liberal (yes I know he is a centrist and i’m for workable healthcare and all but he’s left-er than me) i worry about some of the change that is coming. heh, classic definition of conservative.

Posted by sv | November 25, 2008 9:21 PM


I vote for “actually a little intimidating” as one of the reasons the whole thing–from the beauty and style to the intellect and strategy right on to the intense marriage and the poised happy children– feels so good from a white perspective. Being overshadowed a little bit is good for the character.

Posted by Sporcupine | November 25, 2008 9:59 PM

Yeah, I mean, the first thing I noticed (besides how unbelievably beautiful she is) is that the opening paragraph of this French article doesn’t mention race at all. Is that surprising? It seems surprising.

Posted by Jason | November 25, 2008 10:47 PM

“I love the X-Men not the Avengers. I love Spiderman not Superman.”

Dude, get out of my head.

Another thing that’s striking is how different Michelle is (besides the obvious) from just about all of her contemporary predecessors. Laura Bush looks like she’s hopped up on pills and doesn’t have a thought in her heard. Barbara Bush went to school just to get her MRS and is the reason the Bush children are so emotionally damaged. Nancy Reagan… well, that’s shooting fish in a barrel. Jackie-O was lovely, but fundamentally tragic and a bit of a pushover. Meanwhile, Michelle isn’t afraid to be feminine, but nobody doubts she’s as smart as a whip and isn’t a weakling, thus proving being feminine woman and being strong and smart aren’t mutually exclusive. Her and Barack actually seem to have an actual human relationship of equals unlike any president in my lifetime. (And her kids are beyond adorable.)

Plus, I cannot get over the fact we have a First Lady from the South Side of Chicago who wrote sympathetically about Stokely Carmichael in her college thesis. Awesome.

Posted by Reality Man | November 25, 2008 10:52 PM

But this is beside the point. The only thing that Michelle Obama has in common with Condi Rice is that they are both black. Drawing comparisons between the two is like trying to get Danes and Norwegians to get along at a Ludefisk dinner. It doesn’t work.

Sure their politics are totally different, I think it’s a stretch to say that the only thing they have in common is that they’re black. But mostly I was wondering how much of TNC’s infatuation with Michelle was due to her politics and how much was due to non-political identity. Based on the article you pointed to it seems that he liked Condi quite a bit too, even while disliking her politics, which is what I’d hoped.

And to get the Norwegians and Danes talking in agreement, all you need to do is bring up the Swedes 😉

Posted by Jugular | November 26, 2008 6:13 AM

First of all, I really enjoy reading your blog, glad I ran across it.

One of the things that went through my head after Obama won it was how many commonplace things are going to be shaken up now because it’s not a white family in the White House doing them. I was thinking of even mundane things like the Easter Egg Roll, how a) it’ll be great to have younger kids in the White House doing that sort of thing b) any non-white kids can see that on TV and just see it as the normal thing. It’s very cool to see this though a bit disorienting at first (BTW, I’m white). I had a little of that feeling myself when I saw Obama’s first press conference: black guy out in front, bunch of middle-aged grey white guys behind him. I think you don’t realize how many of these sort of things there are until they shift.

Posted by JoeC | November 26, 2008 9:07 AM

Goodness gracious me, I was really tired last night… sorry about the blabber, it could have done with a round of solid proofreading.

Posted by Daphne | November 26, 2008 9:12 AM

She’s stunning. I have a pretty serious crush on her. Smart, strong, beautiful, caring and grounded.

She has the same eyebrows that my mother had. When I was a little kid, I thought they made her look mean.

I don’t think that anymore.

Posted by patrick | November 26, 2008 11:51 AM

“Based on the article you pointed to it seems that he liked Condi quite a bit too, even while disliking her politics, which is what I’d hoped”

Hell its hard to dislike Condi Rice even if you disagree with her policies. She has a compelling story.

“And to get the Norwegians and Danes talking in agreement, all you need to do is bring up the Swedes”

I sense a paralell here, but I don’t want to bring it up. 🙂

Posted by Sorn | November 26, 2008 1:42 PM

This photograph reminds me of a John Singer Sargent portrait. She looks lovely, powerful, and a smidge elusive.

Posted by res ipsa loquitur | November 27, 2008 7:16 AM

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