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Women’s History Month: ‘Go, Tell Michelle': Wisdom For The Future First Lady

Is the color of Michelle Obama’s skin something that needs to be taught in schools, or even talked about at the dinner tables?  Is it that important? Now that we have a first lady, who just so happens to be black, that aged-Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady (Excelsior Editions) (Paperback)old topic of color – that has plagued the black michelle-obama-white-house-portrait.jpgcommunities for years – is at the surface again. This time though, it appears to be in a more positive light…a good thing indeed. 

Back in January, NPR’s, All Things Considered program featured two authors, Barbara Seals Never gold and Peggy Brooks-Bertram, and a review of their new book, Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady (State University of New York Press, 2009). In the interview, the authors addressed the need for people to understand the "intraracial" habits of mind and why it’s important for the first lady to be who she is, at this time in history.  It sounds convoluted. I know. But somehow, Michelle’s color is being worn as a badge of pride for those, who at times, may have felt under-represented because of their skin color. Not too long ago, a little girl whispered to me,"Someone who looks like me, Ms. Bowllan, is the first lady living in the White House!?" 

As a teacher and a mom, how would you respond? I said, yes, of course! But why is this little girl, so shocked? That’s burning question I still have. 

Anyway, here’s a portion of what the authors discuss."One of those themes has to do with the issue of the intraracial color line — and women who very clearly point out that it was very important for them that Michelle ABM was a recognizably black woman for example," Brooks-Bertram says. "That she wasn’t light-skinned with blue eyes and still classified as black, but rather she was a black woman and that it gave them a whole new feeling about their own lives. I really thought that it was powerful, because that tends to be a subject that we don’t go towards so readily because it has such deep pain associated with it." (Comes via NP R’s All Things Considered authors’ interview)

That deep pain the authors refer to, comes from the question, we have all asked at one time or another: What did the person look like? THAT, in my opinion, is the elephant in the room. That is where the pain originates. But, if presented correctly, that can be a guiding question for teachers to explore with their students. Once the question is asked, the door to understanding color, will open.  Tomorrow I will provide resources to jump start the conversations in your classes.


  1. Sydney Chase says:

    Interesting Post Amy..What did the person look like? The elephant I’ve always seen standing in the room is “what color was he or she?” Especially if a crime was committed followed by a sigh of relief depending on who is actually in the room.

    A reporter asked the President last night about the whole race issue. I liked his response but race/color (talk) there and will be here for a little while longer I think. The door is open for us to understanding better race relations here in the states..and that always is a good thing.

  2. Amy Bowllan says:

    Good points, indeed. The little girl was a darker complexion girl and her face was one of shock. I missed the president’s response last night-kids were acting up. My hunch is that he feels that slowly, and steadily, we have to not look to our look as a badge, but our deeds. Tomorrow I am going to take a look at what kids think, really think about their color and how it impacts them. We need to educate them. We are all teachers. Thanks, my friend.