African American women see their own challenges mirrored in Michelle Obama’s
As black women watch Michelle Obama on the national stage, they search — sometimes nervously — for nuances often lost on the larger culture. How she handles criticism, how she raises her children, even her style of dress, has the potential to counter negative stereotypes.
In a nationwide survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, black women described themselves as relating to Michelle Obama and sensing that she understands them. Nearly eight out of 10 black women say they personally identify with the first lady, and when asked to give a one-word description of Obama, among the words most commonly used were “intelligent,” “strong” and “classy.”
In follow-up interviews, black women say the first lady’s racial and gender identity are essential to the deep connection they feel they have to her. They call her a role model, someone familiar to them — like a sister or aunt.
That emotional stake makes watching Obama navigate the world stage both “thrilling and terrifying,” says Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of political science at Tulane University who has written aboutthe first lady’s impact on black women.